Small is Beautiful: Simplify and de-clutter to make your small room shine

We're all guilty of it to different degrees. We keep things we don't need or really even want, shoving them in dark, hidden corners to be forgotten until we have something else we need to put out of sight and out of mind. It's not hoarding, but the refusal to part with sort-of-useful stuff one might possibly use for some unforeseeable, vague future moment is a huge reason why homeowners – especially those working with smaller spaces – call in New Hampshire designer Julie Fergus.

"The biggest thing" says Fergus, "is that people just have too much stuff." Though many times clients will call with plans to expand cabinets or counter space to make room for all that stuff, Fergus ends up helping them think about how they live 90 percent of the time (for instance, maybe you don't need a gigantic dining room just because you host a holiday dinner once a year) and helps them design their spaces to fit their actual lives.

If you have a small room that needs to be functional, like a kitchen, the solution to a more attractive space can be as simple as getting rid of what you don't need or enjoy rather than enlarging the room or going so far as to build an addition. Small can be beautiful in its own way – you just have to be efficient.

"People think they need more cabinet space, but they don't," says Fergus. "People will buy cabinets to store things they don't use." Rather than expanding, make space for your actual, everyday life, she suggests. Haven't touched that springform pan in more than a year? Ditch it. If you haven't attempted a cheesecake in the past 12 months, chances are you aren't going to – and if you do suddenly find yourself in a cheesecake emergency, borrow one.

We all have a tendency to keep things out of sentimental guilt, adds Fergus. Maybe your mother gave you that springform pan three Christmases ago, but that doesn't mean you're obligated to keep it. Think about what you really use on a regular basis and donate the rest to Goodwill.

Another form of de-cluttering, adds Fergus, is getting rid of the things gobbling up your walls. For example, instead of separately framing a dozen family photos, make a collage or find a single frame that can hold multiple pictures. Cleaner walls can do wonders when it comes to making a small room seem more spacious and open.

The third arena of the clutter war is table and countertops, says Fergus. "People will spread out as opposed to going up." If you're working with a small space consider vertical shelving. Rather than spending money on more cabinets, spend it on clear plastic bins or other storage containers to fit those shelves. If it's something that you truly need but don't use on a regular basis, think about whether it can live in the garage or attic.

Finally, says Fergus, the key to a well-designed room is to measure properly before buying furniture. A couch that looks like the right size in the large showroom may completely overwhelm your room when you get it home.

The two rooms pictured here were designed by Fergus in ways that re-used existing space in more efficient ways. In the original cottage kitchen you would have felt a little claustrophobic. By using a built-in stove and refrigerator she both created more counter space and a dining area that actually worked. Before, the table was right in the work flow of the kitchen – by creating the little nook where the large appliances used to be people can eat without being in the flow of traffic, making the tiny room feel open and functional at the same time.

In a bathroom re-design Fergus also made efficient use of the tricky space under an eave (pictured on page 33) by simply moving the mirror and sink from the center of the vanity to the right hand side. By utilizing this space in a smart way there is room for a toilet, tub and shower in what many would consider a tiny bathroom.

By simplifying the objects in your life – whether that means donating to Goodwill or holding a yard sale in the warmer months – and planning around how you live, you can turn small rooms from cramped to elegant and functional. NH

Categories: Features