Is the quest for a simpler life self-deprivation, or does it unlock untold riches within ourselves?

“...we think a lot about the things we demand from our houses, but not so much about the things our houses demand from us.” --Apartment Therapy.
There has been a telling trend, the last few years, towards not only making the best of living in a small or even downsized place, but celebrating the situation outright. What for many begins as a predicament seems, in time, to become a blessing. As the blogger for Apartment Therapy notes in the quote above, we forget, in grasping for the gold ring of a home that meets our whims as well as our needs, that such a house may come to dominate us, to freeze us in habits that serve only the property--an inanimate master-- rather than our deepest selves.
“When the house is finished, death comes,” says an ancient Turkish proverb, quoted by the hero, Tom, of Thomas Mann’s novel, Buddenbrooks, in which Tom, a prosperous businessman, discovers, after finally building his dream mansion, that “It is almost too beautiful...anticipation was the best part of it.”
I am not advocating that everybody fortunate enough to own a mansion abandon or bewail it, but rather that we live in it thoughtfully, mindfully, staying finely attuned to whether it is a domicile or a dominatrix, figuratively speaking! (The two may, in some cases, be closely related.)
The Apartment Therapy author and others, myself included, have found that leaving a capacious house with all its upkeep for a space that, in her words, becomes a supremely protective “cocoon”, brings unexpected comfort and joy.
Here are some practical hints on how to live happily in a small space, should we find ourselves in one, whether by fate or by choice. Our suggestions are design tips meant to maximize the aesthetic potential of your room, studio or apartment.
  • Before you change or buy anything, measure every nook and cranny, becoming intimate with these dimensions. It is extremely helpful to informally sketch a floor plan detailing these measurements; take it with you wherever you go. You never know when you will stumble upon a beautiful piece of furniture, but you need to know if it will fit gracefully into your space.
  • Don’t push all the furniture against the walls. This will make your apartment feel like a waiting room rather than a place for gathering and conversation. A few inches between wall and sofa, for example, leaving space for a floor lamp or skinny Parsons table, creates an illusion of greater depth and more space.

  • When it comes to textiles, use solids - solids with an interesting texture - rather than “busy” patterns as your dominant fabrics (drapes and duvet covers or coverlets, for example). In a small space, you don’t want yards of lively pattern dancing non-stop before your eyes. Save pattern for accents such as throw pillows, or perhaps an upholstered armchair or two. Pattern will work if it is tone on-tone rather than of sharply contrasting colors.

  • Become familiar with the typical measurements of key furniture pieces. You will soon be able to visualize (or better yet, sketch) how such items might fit into your measured room plan.
          -Loveseat: A short sofa made for two -- hence the name. Pullout models accommodate overnight guests: 60”W x 33-36”D; height of back varies.
          -Armchair - 35W X 35D
          -Sofa table: Also called a console table, it's narrow and slightly lower than the sofa back. This makes it a good spot for a reading lamp. 26”H X 14”D x 72”W
          Coffee Table: 19”H x 18”D x 36-48”L
          -End or side table: 24” W x 28” L x 18-24”H

            • Keep window treatments simple. This does not mean that you always have to choose the rather austere option of Venetian blinds. Simple drapery panels augment immeasurably a feeling of luxury in even the most diminutive room.

              Remember to hang the draperies from above the window, ideally from just below the ceiling, rather than from the window frame, and make sure you are generous when it comes to width. You want your drapes to hang in bountiful folds, not flat panels. Above all, never hang curtains at half-length, or have them hovering an inch or two above the floor! They must brush the floor.

            • Don’t be afraid to use deep colors, at least for an accent wall. I frequently cite the example of famed decorator Billy Baldwin, who lived in a studio apartment and actually slept on his sofa and painted the walls of his small space a high-gloss chocolate brown! Dark colors, far from making a space seem smaller, actually make the walls recede, creating an illusion of more space.

            • Use shelving with doors. Some decorators think that open shelving adds an expansive look to a small space, but it is my experience that the items you have on shelves--from books to mementoes, from canned food to barware--are best kept hidden unless you arrange them rigorously with strict regard for color harmony. If the contents of your shelves are arranged decoratively, as in a collection, glass cabinet doors are especially elegant, creating a feeling of depth and keeping your books and objects dust free.

            • Don’t hide your bed, adorn it! A major challenge, if you live in a studio, is your bed, particularly if you have no space for a sofa. You need to think carefully about whether you want guests sitting on it. If you don’t mind the idea, layers of throw pillows are a wonderful accent that facilitate seating. Even if you don’t want people sitting on your bed, throw pillows are an opportunity to introduce a variety of lively patterns and colors into your interior without overwhelming it. The more throw pillows, the better! A beautiful headboard will give your bed a slightly more formal appearance if it’s in your living room; it’s a great design statement in a studio apartment.


            • Opt for legs and Lucite! Furniture such as sofas and beds will seem less bulky if they are perched on elegant legs. Consider, too, a glass or Lucite coffee table which adds transparency and light.

            • Mirror, mirror. It goes almost without saying that a large mirror may seem to double your space. But smaller mirrors, beautifully framed, also create an effect of light and depth.
            • Let there be light! Particularly if you don’t have much natural light during the day, the mellow glow of indirect lighting from floor and table lamps is key. Instead of the proverbial bare swinging lightbulb, or ugly landlord ceiling fixtures sheathing fluorescent light, look into the almost infinite lighting options, from traditional to high tech LED lights on the market. Consider using wall sconces; for a modest investment you will get a high return of elegance.

            • Create an entryway. Even if your apartment or studio does not feature a separate foyer, mark out the space just inside your door with a mirror and/or artwork, plus, if there is room, a console table or cabinet. Foyers add an aura of civilization and space.

              If you decorate your small space with devotion, implementing every lesson--from measurement to palette to furniture placement-- when the time comes for moreliving space, you won’t be overwhelmed with design dilemmas. Living on a small scale encourages us to appreciate quality rather than quantity, to search for really good furniture-- whether antique, vintage or new--that we’ll want to keep when we move on. From learning to value every precious inch of space we discover that the secret of beautiful rooms-- large or small-- lies in proportion, placement and editing.

            Artfully mixed and matched, Indigo2ash’s wide selection of rugs, drapes and pillows are available in thirty subtle shades and myriad textures and patterns. At Indigo2ash, home is not only a place, but an experience, the setting most central to our families, friendships and visual adventures. Sign up to receive our newsletter with special offers!