Design Solutions for Small Spaces



What do the adorably miniature products in Clinique’s free gift with purchase, a sweetly compact Volkswagen Beetle and a perfectly poured shot of espresso have in common? They’re all solid proof that smaller is better. Although sprawl has been the norm in Calgary’s housing market, recent additions to the city’s inner-city condo options mean small-space living is becoming a stylish alternative. Downsizing requires a different decorating approach. The overstuffed recliners, stacks of CDs and six-foot-tall bamboo plant can’t make the move with you.

Whether you’re moving into a small studio or want to rework your diminutive home office, our design experts offer terrific tips for tiny spaces.

Cut the clutter

“The best-case scenario is to have as much closed storage as you possibly can. Use the backs of closet doors. Go up with hanging organizers. If your kitchen cabinets don’t go up to the ceiling, use a series of uniform boxes across the top. Buy extra and then you have room to grow.” –Kim Purvis, design consultant, Resource Furniture and owner and principal of Aurora Decor

“A sculptural coat rack is interesting and functional. It’s perfect for guests if your teeny-tiny closet is already full. The Ton Tee oak coat rack is a beautiful option.” –Kary Benner, interior designer, Robert Pashuk Architecture

“Hang a piece of artwork on your coat rack when it’s not being used.” –Robert Pashuk, principal and owner, Robert Pashuk Architecture and Pomp & Circumstance

Artful arranging

The sleek Sancal Soul chair from Pomp & Circumstance comes with a swivel base.

“For small spaces, people automatically think small furniture. I think the best way to approach it is to go as big as you possibly can. The smaller you go, the more pieces you’re going to have in the space, which tends to take on a more cluttered and less cohesive feel. Keep in mind that a small space tends to typically have small doorways, corridors and hallways, so, if you do go large, it might be tricky to get in there.” –Nyla Free, interior designer, Nyla Free Designs

“I see this often in condos and small spaces: The couch is pushed up against the window. It’s a design no-no and bad feng shui. A lot of people will also buy a big couch and matching chair, but having a collection of different-sized pieces is more interesting. Our number-one seller is barstools. They’re another key piece to small-scale living because many people don’t have dining tables. Having a comfortable and height-adjustable barstool is critical. Your eating height might be different than your laptop height.” –Robert Pashuk

“A furniture grouping with swivelling chairs is a seamless way to divide a small space. The chairs can be spun around to watch TV, entertain or work.” –Kary Benner

Small appliances

Dyson’s DC51 Animal

Dyson’s newest mini-model stands less than two feet tall and weighs in at 11.8 pounds. Despite its smaller size, it's a powerhouse vacuum. It manoeuvres effortlessly around furniture and into tight spaces, its self-adjusting head works on almost any floor surface and its advanced cyclone technology zaps up dirt, hair and microscopic dust, including icky spores and bacteria. It's easy to tuck away, but it's so sleek and adorably mini, you might want to keep it out for guests to admire. The Animal is perfect for small-space living — it's like having a cutely compact, high-tech pet.

Defining the space

Clei Lollisoft space-saving bunk beds from Resource Furniture fold away when not in use.

“You don’t want to make a space feel boxed in. A low couch can divide a room nicely while still maintaining open sightlines into the kitchen. Use a low bookshelf or a tall bookshelf that you can see through. Open sightlines create spaciousness.” –Kim Purvis

“Drapery is a nice way to divide a space. You can hang it right from the ceiling with a tracking system so you don’t have to worry about a heavy rod. Don’t be afraid to add colour and texture in a drapery element.” –Nyla Free

“Consider buying customizable pieces based on the measurements of your living space, such as the Clei Lollisoft bunk beds for guests. The beds fold into the wall and take up almost no space.” –Kim Purvis

Big colour, small room

“I’m a huge fan of white on the walls — white, off-white, pale greys. Lighter colours definitely give a nice sense of spaciousness.” –Nyla Free

“Soft grey or brown walls are good anchoring colours in a small space. But, if you have a bright, signature colour that you love, like a cheerful yellow or orange, go for it in accessories.” –Kim Purvis

“Paint the ceiling the same colour as the wall. A lot of people will do a dark wall and white ceiling and it creates a two-dimensional plane that cuts off the room. A lot of times we’ll use a darker colour or wallpaper in a smaller space, like a powder room, and carry it right across the ceiling. That way, your eye’s not drawn to the limits of the room.” –Robert Pashuk

“Go neutral and classic for big-ticket items, like a couch, dining table or bed.” –Kim Purvis

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