Living (small)

It's a living room, a dining room, a den, a guest room  --  and all in an 11-by-17-foot space. Condo owner Marc Boutin, below, turned to a designer to help him get the most out of his cramped quarters.
It's a living room, a dining room, a den, a guest room -- and all in an 11-by-17-foot space. Condo owner Marc Boutin, below, turned to a designer to help him get the most out of his cramped quarters. (Photos By Len Spoden For The Washington Post; Photo Illustration By The Washington Post)

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By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

When Marc Boutin went house hunting in Dupont Circle three years ago, he found that even the small ones were out of his price range. So he bought "the next best choice" -- a really small condo.

Here's how small: The main -- the only -- living space measures 11 feet by 17 feet. That's 187 square feet. There is a compact, well-equipped kitchen on the same floor, plus a bedroom and bath upstairs. But that single living room has to accommodate everything else: dining, reading, watching television, desk work and entertaining. And oh, yes: putting up overnight guests.

Boutin remodeled the kitchen and bathroom on his own. But when it came to that main room, he struggled.

The usual suspects crowded the space: a sofa marketed as "apartment style" that still overwhelmed the space; a matching oversize chair; bookcases for the TV and storage; and an antique card table with two chairs for dining. Accessories and treasured collections were banished to storage. "If you had more than two people, you felt like you were on top of each other," says Boutin, 40, executive vice president of the National Health Council.

Hunting for a smaller sofa one day, Boutin met Jason Claire, a designer and co-owner of Vastu, a home furnishings store on 14th Street NW. The shop, in a burgeoning neighborhood of condos, apartments and lofts, specializes in mid-century modern design and furniture that can be customized to fit any space.

Boutin showed Claire his one-room challenge and ticked off everything he wanted from it: a living room, dining room, guest room and den, with space to display his collections of Buddhas and antique clocks. He also wanted a "wow" factor.

"I didn't want people to walk in and think, 'What a small place to live.' I wanted them to walk in and think, 'What a cool/unique place to live,' " e-mailed Boutin. "I didn't want the size of the place to dictate my guest's first impression."

Claire was undaunted. Small spaces can be perfectly comfortable and functional, he said. "They can be handled in a way that makes them feel larger."

Boutin was specific about what he wanted, Claire says. "He had very beautiful collections and was open-minded about mixing Asian antiques and dark wood with mid-century objects and designs from the '50s and '60s. It was a great collaboration."

Boutin had already used a creamy parchment paint color to enlarge and soothe the space (Tangier Island by Ralph Lauren) and chose a custom-mixed off-white for the ceiling. The light shade makes the ceiling seem higher.

Claire recommended a warm, neutral color for a new sofa, chosen for its sleek profile and smaller scale. The 66-inch Vastu sofa built specifically for the space houses a full-size air mattress for overnight guests.

Boutin invested in built-ins rather than free-standing furniture pieces to open the space: a dining banquette that provides seating for four (or six when the armchairs are pulled over) with storage under the pale blue cushions for pots and pans.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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