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Micro Spaces

Updated: Feb 11

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


Can you fit a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, closet, and living space into 220 square feet? San Francisco may soon change its building code to reduce its minimally allowed apartment to such a size. People living in micro, mini, or small spaces may welcome a few design tips.


1) Paint the ceiling your favorite color. A real color, not a safe off-white. Don’t be timid. This not only creates a surprising and pleasing impact, but also forces your gaze upward. Every time you look up, your mind thinks you are in a bigger space.


2) Pay attention to lighting. It’s more important than ever. In the evening, small recessed cans on a deep color ceiling will mimic the vast, starry-lit sky. Use free-standing can lights on the floor aimed upward through plants or architectural elements. Place spotlights on artwork and layer different intensities of light all around. This creates ambiance as well as volume and shapes without taking up any room.


3) Look for dual-purpose furniture – I know you already thought of that. Storage ottomans can be used as tables or extra seating. Push a twin bed into a corner with an upholstered headboard at the head and also along the side. Use the short side as a regular headboard and the long side as the back of a sofa. Rotate a bookcase 90 degrees from a wall to turn it into a room divider.


4) Choose art work with expansive images - horizons on the beach, soaring birds, or wispy clouds. Modern art with broad strokes and minimal colors also make big statements. Using triptych art (a single image broken into three separate panels). The more you spread each panel, the longer or wider your wall appears. Hang fewer but larger pieces of art.


5) Use bigger rather than smaller pieces of furniture. This may sound contrary, but a room seems more spacious with larger pieces as its reference. A lot of little pieces look busy and chop up the room.


6) Choose straight or narrow-armed upholstery. Flared arms can waste up to two feet of space.


7) Keep window coverings simple. Wood blinds, grass shades, or structured fabric shades take up less space than draperies. Valances or cornices, installed at the top of the wall, are another way to raise your eye.


8) If you passed on my colorful ceiling idea, then paint one wall a bold color. Or, cover it with a large, graphic design using wallpaper or stencil.


9) Store items in a series of large and identical boxes or baskets. Line them up on the tops of your kitchen cabinets so they almost look like part of the cabinetry. Or, stack them to create side tables.


10) Design with one predominate color throughout and add one accent color. Use the accent color sparingly and thoughtfully. Think of how a guest would describe your space: “The yellow apartment with the dramatic black and white wallpapered wall”, “the beige condo with all bamboo furniture and the olive green rug”, “the all-white cottage with pops of red”.


Small spaces have their advantages. There are fewer places to search when you lose your keys and fewer areas to clean. Small spaces also force you to determine what material things you really need. And, they give more reason to design with real purpose.

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