From Cramped to Well-Crafted

Challenged by how to expand a small space without changing the room’s footprint through expensive remodeling? The solution is to create a sense of horizontal and vertical expansion. These tips will help transform your tiny space from cramped to cozy and comfortable.

Think up and down by adding vertical illusions. Painting stripes or hanging wallpaper strips in vertical lines will stretch wall space, says Carolyn Allman ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), owner of C. Allman Design Group in Medford.

create largeness with lighting

Clever placement of a variety of light fixtures can literally illuminate the unused corners in a small area, creating more breathing space.

“The key is to make the room so interesting with levels of light that the adjectives change from ‘small’ to ‘cozy’,” says Medford designer Carolyn Allman ASID.

Shining light on horizontal artwork will visually expand the wall space while can lights hidden behind plants add intriguing and space-stretching shadows all the way to the ceiling.

“You can also expand a low ceiling by hanging a lighting fixture that’s shaped like a bowl,” Allman says. “The glow downward will provide light and the upward lighting will bounce off the ceiling and visually raise the level.”

Don’t rely on single ceiling fixtures as the primary source of light in any room. Invest in recessed lighting around the ceiling’s perimeter for a softer, more encompassing effect.

In the kitchen, consider installing lighting under, on top of and even inside cabinets. An eye-catching lamp on the counter creates a new level of light and generates a warm, inviting feeling.

Use table and floor lamps for an intimate conversation or television-viewing area. “Be sure to have enough lamps around the room — a minimum of three to four lamps is a necessity,” says Mary Ann Metzger of DesignWorks.

For softer light throughout the living space, choose frosted bulbs. And for work spaces, remember to use a good task light with strong wattage.

Allman also likes to start window treatments at the ceiling instead of at the top of the window frame. “And artwork displayed vertically in groups continues to create vertical illusions,” she says.

Capitalize on intimate areas. Many small homes, cottages and apartments combine a dining room and living room into one long, narrow space.

“A good visual trick that will make the room seem larger is to break up this room into two spaces,” says Mary Ann Metzger, owner of DesignWorks in Medford. “Try positioning a buffet, bookcase or paneled screen at a right angle to the wall where you want one room to end and the other begin.”

Or hang a piece of art or weaving from the ceiling for an imaginary wall. Intimate seating areas can be created by pulling furniture together, away from the walls. “But be sure to include some round tables or chairs in your arrangement to take the edge off the square box effect,” Metzger advises.

Break the rules. “It’s a misconception that large furniture should not be used in a small space,” says Metzger. “The secret is to use one or two pieces that double as extra storage.”

Search out an armoire that hides the television or computer but also has room for paperwork, extra clothing and books, or an ottoman that can hide magazines, blankets or pillows.

Use tall pieces and plants to bring the eye upward, creating the illusion of higher ceilings.

Add interest by varying the height of the furniture. “Think of a city skyline or a wave as opposed to the railroad effect where everything is lined up like boxcars,” Metzger says.

To create an “extra” window, hang mirrors in strategic places so they reflect beautiful objects and lovely views.

Be open to creative hues. “Everyone believes you need to have light colors to expand a space, but often dark, rich colors actually make the walls disappear and the space appear larger,” counsels Allman.

Use gloss paint to reflect light for more space-giving illusion.

“Refrain from using too many colors, keeping the palette in the same tone,” says Metzger. “And using the same color on woodwork and trim will unify the entire space and tie all the rooms together.”

If outdated paneling is part of the space, consider painting (be sure to use a good primer); if it’s quality paneling, use it as an architectural element, designing the room around it.

In all cases, avoid “very strong or bold colors that will bring attention to the walls and may give a closed-in effect,” Metzger says.

Make sure it’s all the same color. “If there’s wood flooring in the living and dining rooms, then the vinyl or tile for the bathroom or kitchen and carpet in the bedroom should be a color consistent with the wood floor,” says Metzger. “This trick will also tie the rooms together and keep the space from looking chopped up.”

Edit, edit, edit. Any small space can contain some of the items you love — even large furnishings and artwork — as long as it is arranged with care. Stow the rest of the stuff, rotating it through whenever you desire.

Now sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy your cozy, comfortable
new space.

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