If you think about it, people who live in small spaces are pretty lucky. No, really.
Unlimited space is boring. You can just put all of your stuff in there and call it a
day. Where’s the fun in that? Restrictions, be they on physical space, budget, or
what your landlord says you can do in terms of alterations, are what lead to the creative solutions that will make your home unique. Those weird nooks and crannies, those impractically placed light switches and power outlets, and that oddly-shaped closet are all just waiting for you to figure out how to make them work for you.
When Laura Broomhall, 32, and her husband left New York City to live on the
coast of Maine, they traded in their small city apartment for an itty-bitty country
cabin. Broomhall says that the 16 x 24-foot home feels “ginormous” compared to an 8 x 10-foot cabin they’re building further north, but admits that sharing a one-room space with another person (and no septic system) is “definitely a challenge.”
Overall, though, Broomhall says it’s worth it to live in a place she calls “magical.” Her place is the perfect example of how, with a few simple tricks, even the most miniature crib can be transformed into a fully functional—and beautiful—home.
First off, here are some rules that apply whether you’re living in a restored rural
cottage or are renting a wee studio. Following the Tiny Space Gospel can help you
make the most of what you’ve got and turn your home into a little piece of heaven.
The Tiny Space Gospel: Universal Principles For All Small Space-Dwellers
Determine what you need and want
Anyone who’s despaired over a tiny paycheck and tight budget knows the pain
of “needs” versus “wants” all too well, and the same goes for a tiny home. It
might be tough, but you need to prioritize your belongings. One way to do this
is to determine what you need on a daily basis, on a seasonal basis, on a yearly basis, and what you almost never use. Start with what you need for your
daily routine. Literally go through your day and figure out what you lay hands on
inside your home. Those are the most important, and should be placed in the
most accessible spots. Then there are those items that you use less frequently. But how much less?
If you live for margarita nights on Fridays and waffles on Saturday morning,
your blender, glasses, and waffle iron can still have a place in your cabinets.
But that juicer you got for Christmas that’s still in the box? Maybe it’s time
to re-gift that sucker. Anything that you actually, honestly use (your “needs”) deserves a place in your home. Any space that’s left over can be used for your
“wants,” like that box of limited edition Beanie Babies you just can’t part with.
Cram it all in there, and then make it look beautiful.
Now that your necessities have found their homes, and your chosen “wants”
have their places, too, it’s time to step back and give it the ol’ artistic eyeball.
In small homes, a lot of your possessions end up on display, so ask yourself
if there’s a way to arrange your things in an aesthetically pleasing way. Swap
out the containers your food or sundries came packaged in for matching
bottles, jars, tins, or boxes. Restaurant supply stores are wonderful for simple
small storage, and they’re cheap, too. Retailers like Muji or IKEA also offer
tons of storage systems to contain your clutter. But even if you’re just recycling
glass jars of pasta sauce, storing your things in neutral, matching containers eliminates the visual clutter that can make a room feel crowded.
Not enough space? Find more.
Still not enough room? Are you sure about that? Because I don’t believe you.
“Dead space” is the bane of the small space-dweller’s existence. Wasted space
is wasted opportunity. Look under your bed, look in the corners of your room,
look into the gaps between furniture—if you can fit your hand in there, you
can use that space to store something you might need or want. You can even
help expand existing dead space and therefore make it more useable. For example, bed risers can give you an extra couple of inches of height underneath
your bed so that you can slide in bins for storing shoes, linens, or out-of-season
The Small Home Scriptures: Solutions For Your Biggest Little Problems
Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s take a look at some specific ideas for maximizing your space.
Create vertical storage
One of the most overlooked areas of dead space is right up the wall. Shelves, pegboards, corkboards, and hooks can create storage practically out of thin air. The most important thing to do when installing wall storage is to go all the way up to the ceiling. This maximizes the storage space available and gives your room a sense of height. Broomhall and her husband hang heir guitars on the walls of their cabin, rather than taking up floor space with stands, and she displays her jewelry above her dresser rather than on it.
For renters, installing more serious shelving systems can be tricky. You’ll have to clear it with your landlord, or accept that you’ll have to patch up some holes when you move out (or just say goodbye to some of your security deposit); but it can be entirely worth it if it means making room and getting organized.
If it’s still a no-go, 3M’s Command Strips series of temporary (but strong!) adhesives peel away with almost no damage, and are perfect for smaller hooks or corkboards.
You can get twice the usefulness out of some pieces of furniture just by giving them a second look. An ottoman with a serving tray easily doubles as a coffee table, and can be transformed back into a footrest or extra seat anytime you need
one. Console tables can become long, narrow desks; a chair can be used as a bedside table that’s just the right height for a few necessities (like water or a phone charger), but can also be brought out to the living room for an unexpected guest, or into the kitchen as a stool for reaching a high shelf. Broomhall put hooks on the side of her bookshelf so that it can hold her tomes and hang her clothes.
Hiding storage in plain sight by using cute and unexpected vessels is one of my favorite small space tricks, one that Broomhall uses to great effect in the lofted space of her cabin. A suitcaseor steamer trunk can give a room a funky, vintage vibe, and no one will give a second thought to what’s inside. Some furniture
is even made with this in mind; look for ottomans with liftable lids, or sofas with storage space beneath the cushions.
If you’re not ashamed to show the goods, make like Broomhall and display items like towels in open shelving, so you always know what you’ve got on hand.
Turn Your Closets Into More
Closets aren’t just for clothes. If you’re lucky enough to have a large closet (maybe the architect who designed your studio felt sorry for its potential occupants), consider what else can go inside it. Maybe your bed can fit inside; sure, it’d be too small to be called a “bedroom” without bursting into laughter halfway through the word, but in a studio, a separate sleeping space of fers precious privacy. A large closet is also perfect for a crafting or office space.
A dedicated space for work often helps your mindset switch to “work mode” when sitting down to get things done. Best of all, when you’re all done, you can close the door and get back to relaxing at home.
Divide Your Space Into Zones
One of the biggest challenges of living in a one-room studio is keeping it from feeling too much like a college dorm. Being able to reach your coffee table from your bed might seem convenient—until it’s time to have guests over. It can get kind of awkward hanging out in what’s essentially your bedroom. Create
different zones in your home to combat the “dorm perception.”
Designate areas to serve different purposes, such as sleeping, watching TV, eating, or working, and group your furniture accordingly. This kind of division not only offers privacy, but also a general feeling of organization. The use of room dividers can really help here. A large bookshelf not only serves as a pseudo-wall, but also offers tons of storage. Broomhall’s big bookshelf provides the all-important distinction between her dining space and living room. Curtains can also serve as more-mobile dividers; you can draw them when you want to close off a space.
Whether it’s for extra guests or for extra work space, folding furniture can help you play a neat little game of “now you see it, now you don’t.” Drop-leaf tables can increase your surface space on an as-needed basis, then collapse back down for everyday use. Folding chairs are great when entertaining, and fold so nearly flat that they’re easy to store in one of those aforementioned dead spaces.
This is a tip that seems to go against common sense, interior design-wise. But if you know you’re not going to need to access a certain space in your home (such as a cabinet or part of another piece of furniture), don’t be afraid to block it. Sometimes your closet or cabinet is full of long-term storage items, like holiday
decorations or those damn Beanie Babies. (They might be worth something someday!) If you only have to deal with the hassle of shifting furniture to get to it once or twice a year, feel free to shove something in front of it. Broomhall says that behind her clothing racks hide “high school art projects, piles of old sweaters,
and boxes of I-don’t-even-know-what.”
In summary, you shouldn’t have to struggle to fit yourself into your space. While it’s cute when Internet cats wiggle and twist to sit inside a too-small box, your life should fit easily inside of your home. The unique features of your humble abode, including its size, can be used to tailor your space to your creative vision. By working with what you have, a one-room rental can be so much more than just an apartment. It can be a reflection of your personality, a ready-room for your daily tasks, a refuge, and, of course, a perfect place to curl up and watch cat videos.
By Simone Chavoor
Photography by Joel Desmond
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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