Live Large in a Small Space

Designer Kenneth Brown, of HGTV's ReDesign, found loads of clever ways to increase the style quotient in this tiny L.A. apartment. Discover what your small space has been missing.


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No matter how big or small your space or budget, great design comes in all shapes and sizes. "Design is still design," assures Kenneth Brown, host of HGTV's ReDesign. All it takes is an eye for details and a nose for putting them together.

The designer has the eyes, the nose, and definitely the teeth for gnashing through droves of design elements so he can get to the heart of what is good, clear, and beautiful. "[I advise] clearing out the room to the bare minimum," Brown says. "Learning to purge the unnecessary pieces of a room can bring instant clarity."

Clearing out the room was the only way Brown could start on this decorating challenge: the living room and attached eating area in a small third-floor walk-up apartment in Los Angeles. Make that a tiny space -- about 228 square feet. Oh, and it's a rental unit. Not that that's an excuse. "You can still make a space interesting without committing to it," he notes.

Brown's tips for packing a lot of style into a small space will help even the most lilliputian pad resonate with smart design and personality. And, if you're fortunate enough to live in a larger space, you'll still find his decorating advice useful. After all, design is still design.

To make the humble windows (shown above) look taller and highlight the brick wall, Brown hung the shades and curtains from the ceiling, draping the exposed brick and framing the wall, turning the expanse into a more prominent feature. A band of brightly colored, boldly patterned fabric (sewn on by his dry cleaner) livens up the basic, neutral curtains that Brown bought.

Ban All Arms

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Brown methodically chose armless furniture to maintain openness throughout the living spaces. Armless pieces "allow the room to breathe without creating boundaries," the designer explains. The furniture arrangement in the living room is also key to the airy look.

Everything is centered on the rug, which Brown says acts like an island. "By allowing the sofa to 'float' in the middle of the room, the room can be accessed from all sides," he says. "This gives the eye a chance to move around the room and not feel limited to one traffic pattern."

"Break the bank for a well-made sofa in a durable fabric," designer Kenneth Brown says. It will last for years. A mirror between a pair of curtain-clad bookcases looks like a window and makes the room feel bigger. A pair of lightweight coffee tables can be used together to hold objects and separately for dining or working, or moved out when extra space is needed.

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Always start a design project by sketching a floor plan, designer Kenneth Brown advises. "Walls are the only boundary -- what lies between is a blank canvas," he says. "It can also give you a fresh perspective of the room. You'll be amazed at the potential you see from this bird's-eye view."

A little pattern and color can go a long way in tiny rooms. That's why Brown balanced the vibrant wallpaper panels with serene wall paint. "I wanted a color that would allow the patterned wallpaper to pop, but also could stand alone if the panels ever came down," he says. Having said that, the hanging wallpaper panels are Brown's favorite element; they add style with no commitment.

Slipping a slim glass-top console behind the sofa creates a small home office area. The glass top stays airy and it reveals the latticework top. The desk doubles as a snack station for entertaining.

Narrow Shelves

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Shallow wall shelves not only serve as a photo gallery, they're also spots to drop keys and sunglasses inside the door. Plus, they visually extend the walls.

Curtained Bookcases

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One thing apartments often have going for them is open wall space. Here, Brown reworked a pair of the owner's existing bookshelves into an attractive storage wall, covering them with the same curtains as on the windows, and layering on wire sunbursts as art. "We then placed a floor-length mirror between the shelves to give the illusion that the room expands past these covered shelves," he says. By hanging window curtains and bookcase curtains on the ceiling, the room looks taller.

Lounge Around

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A small side chair along a sliver of wall provides lounging space without taking up depth. Repeat a design element or color throughout a room (and into adjacent rooms) to visually connect the furnishings. However, in a space this small, beware of pattern frenzy. Opt for small splashes of pattern, on accent pillows or a small chair, for instance. The largest pieces of furniture in this room -- the sofa and chair -- were chosen for their classic lines and solid, neutral hues that give your eyes good places to take a rest.

Versatile Ottomans

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No room for furniture? Windows long and in the way of wall art? Go low with scootable ottomans that seat and store. When shopping for accessories, "Consider playing up texture. By varying textures in a space, the eye is stimulated, but not overly so," says Brown.

Dual Purpose

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"We selected a bar cabinet that also holds the TV," Brown says. "This creates an entertainment zone that is great when watching football with the fellas. Simply open the bar, grab a drink, kick back, and watch the game."

Eating Space

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The living room's orange and blue accent colors carry into the kitchen as a way to link the two rooms. In the small dinette, armless bamboo chairs are less bulky. These were bought unfinished online and painted brilliant blue.

Play a trick on your eyes. Stare at the painting in the dinette. Feel like you're flying? That's because the painting has a definite horizon line. "By hanging a piece like this on a blank wall you give the illusion of depth to a room," Brown explains. "This visual trick leads the eye beyond the wall. A beautiful landscape accomplishes this best."

Tricks for Apartment Dwellers

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Bright light: "Most renters are not allowed to install overhead lighting, so we selected a simple lamp with a small base that can tuck nicely under the edge of the sofa," designer Kenneth Brown says. Plus, it swivels to the console table as desk lighting.

Paint pad: If your super approves, paint walls a lively hue that can easily be repainted white when it's time to move out.

Smart art: For an affordable art piece that wouldn't damage walls, Brown hung banners of tangerine wallpaper -- wrapped around dowel rods at top and bottom -- from tiny eye hooks installed in the ceiling.

Super storage: Closet space is usually nil, so put small furniture to work. Under the windows, inexpensive wicker ottomans store throws, unused pillows, board games, and movies.

Color bursts: Did your super nix the wall paint idea? Don't settle for drab. Add color in ways you can take with you when your lease is up. Use colorful boxes to corral small items in bookshelves -- they'll look like objets d'art. Find a quirky flea-market chair (or an unfinished one) on the cheap and paint it a daring hue. Roll out a colorful rug; it doubles as cushy floor seating.

Like what you see here? As of 2006, the items featured in this story were available from these manufacturers.

Sofa Amile in Cream -- Au Furniture; www.aufurniture.com. Coffee table Jacqui side table in Spring Green -- Bungalow 5, New York City; 212-204-6325; www.bungalow5.com. Occasional chair Astrid in white leather -- Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; 800-789-5401; www.mitchellgold.com. Television cabinet Steamer bar cabinet, desk Lattice console, floor lamp Clare -- Crate & Barrel; 800-996-9960; www.crateandbarrel.com (product line varies). Glass tabletop for desk -- Duarte Glass Co., Duarte, California; 626-358-7347. Tray on desk Begonia leather serving tray in orange -- Global Views, Inc.; 888-956-0030; www.globalviews.com.

Wallpaper for banners Georgina Trail in Tangerine from the En Vogue collection -- Gramercy; 800-332-3384; www.fschumacher.com. Storage ottomans -- Wal-Mart; 800-925-6278; www.walmart.com (product line varies). Window treatments Ritva tieback curtain, Picture frames on shelves, barware, and stemware -- Ikea; in the United States: 877-345-4532; in Canada: 888-932-4532; www.ikea.com. Window shades Modern Classics bamboo woven shades -- Bed Bath & Beyond; 800-462-3966; www.bedbathandbeyond.com (product line varies). Rug by Allegra Hicks in Infinity Green -- The Rug Co., New York City; 212-274-0444; www.therugcompany.com.

Sunburst artwork Sunburst Wire wall art in silver, wall shelves Basic wall shelves in Chocolate -- West Elm catalog; 866-428-6468; www.westelm.com. Kitchen table Pinot bistro table -- Design Within Reach; 800-944-2233; www.dwr.com. Chairs at table and desk Bamboo Chippendale chairs (purchased unpainted) -- Chairs International, Ltd.; www.chairsint.com. Storage boxes on shelves behind curtains Book-cloth boxes in green -- Hold Everything; 888-922-4117; www.holdeverything.com.

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