walls keep this open space visually unified, while
glass partitions section off a sleeping area.
is getting bigger for sure. The average American
single-family house will drop to 2,152 square feet this
year, 10 percent smaller than five years ago, according
to the National Association of Home Builders.
there’s a growing percentage who live large in much
smaller quarters — less than 1,000 square feet,
considered the benchmark for "small" by many,
and closer to 200, 300, or 400 square feet to qualify as
"tiny" or "micro."
experts are busy bringing out an arsenal of strategies
to make small-scaled life comfortable, even liberating.
Many homeowners know about using dual-functioning
furniture, enlarging windows, expanding space through
white palettes, and having fewer possessions. But in
doing so, many worry about giving up style.
no correlation. "Less really can be more if you
have around you what you love, and what works for you at
whatever time of life you’re at," says Sara
Emslie, an interiors editor and stylist who lives in a
646-square-foot, two-story home on the outskirts of
London, and has compiled ideas in her first book,
"Beautifully Small: Clever Ideas for Compact
Spaces" (Ryland Peters & Small, 2015). We
talked with Emslie from her London home for advice about
how to live stylishly on a small scale, which, she says,
works well for small spaces in larger homes. Here are
six favorite tips:
up architectural features. Start by taking advantage of
the framework — walls, ceiling, floor, and especially
a building’s history, which can add interest and
character. A partial wall or ceiling beams can minimally
and visually divide a multi-use space rather than chop
it into tiny rooms. Changes can be made for better flow
when there’s so little space to navigate, such as
relocating a central staircase in a two-story space.
Always look at the space vertically, too, especially if
it has high ceilings or unused roof space. You might
build in a mezzanine or loft level for work or sleep.
traditional living. You don’t have to have every space
a traditional home does — for example, a designated
dining room or area, if parties aren’t your thing and
you’re content eating at a breakfast bar, for
instance. Or if you’re not into cooking, devote less
space to a working kitchen. Dual purpose rooms and areas
also work well, such as a room with a bench for seating
with storage underneath.
beyond white. White may be the go-to color to expand
space, and there certainly are many white spaces in
Emslie’s book. But it’s not the only effective
choice. Grays are enjoying the limelight as a neutral
that works as well. Emslie also suggests painting floors
darker than walls if rooms have compromised ceiling
heights. For rooms with lots of natural sunlight, she
says, go with brighter hues; for rooms that are very
dark, she recommends going dark — not to expand space,
but make it feel intimate and cozy. Texture can also add
color by offering a layered effect with tactile touches
in velvet, chenille or leather.
one style. Any style can work, and even clutter can be
attractive if done with some restraint and organization.
Emslie’s one caveat: Don’t make the final result so
busy that the brain feels overloaded. How many is too
many? It’s a subliminal feeling, she says, which
requires practice. She also prefers objects grouped in
an odd number, perhaps, three, five, or seven.
"Nine may be too many in a small space, but it
depends on the objects grouped."
right. Small room proponents have all sorts of theories
about small versus large furnishings; so does Emslie,
who says it depends on the amount of other stuff in a
room. A large sofa can work in a small living room if it’s
not filled with too many other furnishings and
possessions; same goes for a big bed in a small bedroom,
or you can go with a smaller bed with a high headboard.
Vintage furnishings were typically scaled smaller than
modern pieces, so consider those, too. Again, hone the
eye for what looks right.
in the outdoors. Views draw the eye out and expand
interior space. Or bring in the outdoors through your
choice of artworks; perhaps, an image of a seascape by a
window. And if you have windowsills for planters or
window boxes then make the most of this — anything
that links the inside with the outside will allow the
eye to be drawn out and create a feeling of life beyond
the room and the space outside.
next for the small space movement?
than 17 years ago, architect/author Sarah Susanka helped
give birth to the idea of not-so-big houses with the
launch of her first book, "The Not So Big
House" (Taunton Press, 1998). Her concept stressed
going with a quality design rather than a quantity of
space. Others, such as architect Ross Chapin, took the
idea one step further by encouraging clustered
neighboring houses or apartments around shared open
then, houses and apartments have slimmed down much more,
with the trend expected to continue in step with rising
real estate, design and maintenance costs and interest
in being greener. There’s no definitive number of
people living in small homes — fewer than 1,000 square
feet or tiny houses under 400, says Ryan Mitchell, who
writes a blog, .
He also helped start the annual The Tiny House
Conference, and lives in a tiny house of 150 square
feet, though it sits on 23 acres.
pegs advocates as primarily boomers downsizing and
millennials not wanting to turn over their entire
paycheck for a mortgage or lease. "They don’t
want to repeat the mistakes of their parents and are
very relationship-focused about socializing with
friends," he says.
big developers like RMK Management Corp. are paying
attention; at its 73 East Lake building in Chicago’s
East Loop neighborhood, studio/one-bedroom hybrids
average between 680 and 690 square feet, smaller than in
other properties, says Diana Piettro, executive vice
president. What makes them work: movable kitchen islands
that can function as tables or buffets, opaque glass
sliding walls that partition off a bedroom area, and
multiple building amenities.
and frequent editing are also essential to make small
spaces habitable, says New York City designer Shane
Inman, who lives in a 275-square-foot, one-bedroom
apartment and emphasizes not validating ourselves by our
possessions. Instead, his goal has been to have an
apartment to relax in before "heading into the
crazy hustle and bustle of New York."
in Mitchell’s case, his tiny house offers proximity to
big-city Charlotte, N.C., 15 minutes away, which
reflects Susanka’s — and others’ — belief that
living small is improved when a larger community becomes
an extension of a home. Mitchell’s house reflects
another Susanka mantra — making whatever space you
have the best. He did so with beautifully crafted
drawers with dovetail joinery instead of closets that
would consume more space and 16 custom windows sited to
while green is not a requirement, many advocates believe
in using recycled and reclaimed materials. Social
media/digital marketing specialist Emily Moorhead at
InventHelp thinks the green movement has fueled the
trend, along with an explosion of blogs and websites.
"So many people want to be less dependent on the
government for electricity, or grow their own
food," she says.
major obstacles are that many building codes require a
house be at least 500 square feet to guarantee a tax
base. "I built my house to code — even exceeded
it in many ways, but technically my house is
illegal," Mitchell says. He has no concern about
of us design for ourselves. I’ve been able to save
enough to pursue being a full-time blogger and traveler.
I spent four months in Croatia last year. Before, that
would have been impossible," he says.
is a freelance reporter for Tribune Newspapers.
for maximizing space with color
can be a magician; here are 5 tips from Jackie Jordan,
Director of Color Marketing at Sherwin-Williams.
Use light, fresh, neutral colors since they make a room
seem larger — they visually recede and reflect more
light into the room.
Grays can make nearby colors seem brighter and, in turn,
Monochromatic schemes, even a variety of shades of a
single color family, can work; what’s important is
consistency to reduce the eye’s ability to perceive
Strategically placed pops of color are fine; for
example, paint two opposite walls with the same bright
Painting floors with a light shade can open up a small