Just because your home isn't a huge castle doesn't mean you can't have style. Think of all those young New York designers who put so much charm and ingenuity in their studio apartments that they are featured in magazines.
You want your home no matter how small to look its best. And we rounded up designers who want to help.
Here are their tips on how to deal with small spaces.
• Furniture. One of our favorite ideas comes from Mollee Johnson of Style 1519 in Lake Zurich. She accomplished the dream of every empty nester turning the bedroom once occupied by Sandy and Alan Drizd's son into a multifunctional couple's space. The 12-by-13 room in Buffalo Grove was too small for the wish list: A two-person desk, crafts, a television and two chairs. Johnson chose a drop-leaf table that could fold down out of the way when not needed. But when the leaf comes up, voila, it's a craft table and second desk. "Furniture needs to either serve more than one purpose or it needs to be easily moved when not in use," she said.
• Great trick. What about a coffee table that can rise up to desk or dining height, suggests Linda Navara of LMR Designs in Arlington Heights. But an ottoman that provides storage and seating, and with a tray can even be a coffee table is Navara's favorite. This solution is easy to find and doesn't have to be expensive.
• More tables. Tables are the most versatile furniture, says Pam Rawles of Designs in Context, Inc. in Libertyville. Put two small chairs beside one, and you're ready for a meal. "It can be used as a desk, a surface for playing games, a place to lay out a project," she said. Nesting tables are there when you need them but can be stored in a small area when you don't.
• Colors. Johnson chose Benjamin Moore's butternut squash to give the Drizds' walls a comfortable and warming feeling without making the room feel small and dark. She says painting two opposite walls a darker color could make a room feel larger. Monochromatic color schemes can expand spaces, said Navara.
• Artwork. A large statement piece of art provides drama in a small space, said Rawles. If you choose several smaller pieces of art, they should have a theme, the frames should be the same scale and the same color.
• Impact. A dark chocolate flocked wall covering made a focal point of one wall in an apartment that Jamie Myers of Susan Fredman Design Group in Chicago designed for a young woman. The rest of the walls are taupey. "We like the contrast of the light and dark," she said, "and it's not drenched in all one dark color."
• More walls. Rawles likes all the walls in a small space to be the same color with artwork and accessories providing punch and contrast. Navara said dark walls disappear and "give the illusion of going on forever."
• Stuffed furniture. Don't use overstuffed furniture, but a few simple large pieces with clean lines and a small pattern or solid colors will work, said Navara. You want features like exposed legs or an armless chair because if you can see the floor the room will look larger, she said. And arranging it on an angle will trick the eye.
• Lighting. Lighting is so important that Rawles tries to put at least five sources in every room. The top of all lamps should be at the same height so you get a warm, even glow around the room. If one is too short, raise it with books or a decorative box. Avoid heavy drapes to make the most of natural lighting, says Navara. And consider a spectacular chandelier, she suggests. If it works in your space it can provide light while being fabulous art.
• Just starting out. Johnson has a great tip for young people with a first home and not much money: Swap with your friends if furniture that doesn't work in your home would be terrific in theirs. She also likes reversible bedding two looks in one.
• Save money. You know how you fall in love with a glitzy fabric and then everything affordable looks drab by comparison? Here's the deal, says Myers. Buy something plainer and less expensive for the big things the sofa and the drapes, say then spice it up by putting the more expensive material on smaller items like pillows.
• Kitchen. Rawles stretches space in a typical kitchen by putting the sink in a corner and creating a 4 to 5-foot working counter under the window. "If I can I put a large tambour unit (appliance garage) in the opposite corner from the sink," she said, "that counter then becomes the breakfast bar with coffee pot and toaster, or the baking center when the mixer is used, and then can become the serving counter for a buffet supper. So, in that same square footage I have created a big space with multiple uses."
• Bathroom. Extending the vanity counter over the toiletjust 8 or 9 inches deepallowed a 48-inch tall cabinet to rest on it and provide storage, said Myers.
• Expansion. Rawles removed walls in a tri-level. "A half wall defines the new sitting/living room, but gives the feeling of a larger space as you see over and beyond it," she said. A new bay window also opens up the room with angles and more light.
• Ugh. Homes are rarely perfect. The young woman whose apartment Myers decorated has an in-wall air conditioner. Fortunately she doesn't use it very often, so Myers and co-designer Lonnie Unger hid it behind a custom-made television cabinet. The television goes on top, and when the homeowner wants to use the air conditioner she opens the lower doors. And here's another fix we think is inspired. The electrical panel was right above the stove where the homeowner wanted a nice backsplash. Myers had a board tiled with the same little brick mosaics used for the rest of the backsplash and attached to the door of the electric panel.
Here's how to contact designers in the story about decorating small spaces.
• Mollee Johnson, Style 1519, Lake Zurich, facebook.com/Style1519? v=info, (847) 209-4194
• Jamie Myers and Lonnie Unger, Susan Fredman Design Group, Chicago, susanfredman.com, (312) 587-8150
• Linda Navara, LMR Designs, Arlington Heights, lmrdesignsllc.com, (847) 577-2567
• Pam Rawles, Designs in Context, Inc., Libertyville, designsincontext.com, (847) 367-7817