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I need space
Design experts share creative ways to gain space in any home




Kris Bilty of Renaissance Design and Renovation in Milwaukee used space-saving secrets, such as adding lighting and built-in storage, to add extra room to one bathroom.


Whether your home is a small apartment or a 5,000-square-foot house, it can feel crowded if you simply have too much stuff. According to home design experts, the key to living well in a small or crowded space and finding room for the things you want to do is to use your imagination. With the proper strategy, you can reclaim the room you need for a play area, exercise room, office ó whatever the purpose.

"The size of your space isnít as important as how you use it," says Anne Francois, owner of Collaborative Design in Waukesha. "Take time to analyze how you want to use your space. There are many different ideas you can use to unclutter and maximize the room you have," she says.

Move It or Lose It

"Unless you want to be on the TV show ĎHoarders,í you need to get rid of the stuff you donít use or need. That is the first step," says Kris Bilty, owner, Renaissance Design and Renovation in Milwaukee.

Francois agrees. "It may seem obvious, but the first thing I advise clients to do is to go through the extra things that seem to be cluttering up their space and life, and really pare it down. Just like you should be doing with your closets, if you havenít used something or even noticed it in the past year, itís time to say goodbye to it. Donate it, give it to family, or sell it on eBay or Craigís List," she advises.

"I know it can be incredibly hard to let go of some items because of memories attached to them. If thatís the case, sometimes Iíll advise my clients to take a picture of the item and put it in an album or on their computer so they can still look at it. Itís often the memory associated with the item and not necessarily the item itself that is truly important," Francois says.

Another way to remove clutter without giving away items you love is to recognize that not every item has to be on display at the same time. "You can display some of the items and tuck the others away. Rotate accessories seasonally to reduce clutter and give your home a fresh look," Francois says. "Itís amazing how quickly we forget those stored items and how much fun it is to rediscover them."

Jack of All Trades

When a room or a piece of furniture serves more than one purpose, you have effectively increased your space. "One area that many of my clients are trying to multipurpose is the home office/guest room. The good news in home offices these days is that, unless you are actually running your business out of your home, the amount of space required is minimal, giving you more flexibility with the room," says designer Donna Sweet, co-owner of Haven Interiors in Milwaukee. She notes that a simple desk with a comfortable chair is adequate for a laptop. And, while a larger surface might be required for a desktop computer, many of the new monitors can double as a television. Add a bookcase with some closed storage for filing and a fax machine, and you can keep the room organized, and looking less like an office when guests come to stay.

As for sleeping quarters for guests, a small sectional or sleeper sofa provides a cozy den/guest bedroom. "The mattresses are so much better in sleepers these days," Sweet says. "Add a side table with a great lamp and you have a night stand." 


Organize It

"Small spaces are all about organization. Itís vital that every inch have a purpose," Bilty says. "One great way to create space in the kitchen or dinette area is by installing built-in banquette seating with storage below along one wall or under a window and pushing the table toward it. This can gain extra space in high traffic areas," she says.

Take advantage of your walls from floor to ceiling, says Sweet. "Built-in bookcases with shelves that reach ceiling height and storage or file drawers down below provide the maximum book and display space possible, as well as give the room height," says Sweet. "Look at the window arrangement in the room. Perhaps bookcases can be added on either side of the window with storage beneath the window. The depth gives the window a nice architectural feature, too," she adds.

The Illusion of Space

Consider these "fool the eye" tricks to make a space look bigger. For example, use interesting lights to make your home more vibrant. And, make the most of natural light. When arranging furniture, try not to block views out of windows and doors.

While people often think "small room, small furniture," that doesnít have to be the case. Move out some of your small pieces and place one or two big pieces in the room. Youíll be surprised how often fewer, larger pieces help to make a space appear less cluttered and more useful.

Finally, Sweet busts one decorating myth. "Small spaces do not have to be painted in a light color. While that is certainly an option, a great dark color can be dramatic and special, particularly if you have painted woodwork, so that you get a crisp contrast," she says.

Creating Space

One of the most common ways used in the design industry to create space is to take down a wall between rooms or even a half wall to open up the space, Bilty says. "This simple step can make a big difference in a home. And, in the bath, consider replacing an outdated shower with an open concept shower with taller glass doors in the same space. It will be more beautiful and more user friendly," she says.

What if you need to create a play area for kids or a craft area for adults in an already overcrowded house? Bilty offers some advice: "Determine the kidsí interests, whether it is art, video games or other projects. This is the perfect use for a built-in custom designed entertainment center with deep bottom drawers for toys or crafts, cabinets to hold games, and pull-outs for videos and DVD storage. There are many ways to find space, just get creative," she says.

More storage ideas:

ē Use a trunk or ottoman with storage for a coffee table.

ē Put additional poles in your closets for hanging smaller items of clothing or accessories.

ē Place long flat storage boxes or drawers under the beds for out-of-season clothing storage. m