As we come face to face with small spaces, there is no doubt we're going to have to give up traditional ideas about what one should in a room. It takes courage and imagination to look at traditional rooms in a home and figure out solutions to problems.
One of the more creative ideas comes from a team of designers living and working on Capitol Hill. Barbara Charles and Robert Staples run a busy firm of artists who put together museum exhibitions for instutitions all over the country. Part of what would have been living space in their town house is devoted to offices. The kitchen/dining room is on the second floor, as is the master bedroom. Like many divorced parents, finding a place for a visiting child is not always easy, particularly in what is essentially a one-bedroom apartment within a home. The solution developed by Staples for his daughter Samantha and any other occasional guests was to gut an old 8-foot by 5-foot bathroom and convert it into an extraordinarily efficient sleeping alcove.
One side of the room contains a built-in set of storage units and a small table where Barbara Charles does sewing and where Staple's daughter Samantha can work drawing or writing letters. The opposite wall contains a fold-out ironing board and a hook for hanging a few articles of clothing. The bed itself is a banquette arrangement that folds up to form a standard single bed, leaving anyone staying in the room barely enough space to turn around in when the bed is set up.
"It's by no means a place to spend a lot of time, but it does provide a private space," says Staples, who did all the carpentry himself. There's not even enough roolm for a television, and when Samantha comes to visit, they open the swinging doors and set a television in the closet opposite the bathroom so Samantha can sit on her bed and watch her favorite programs.
This room of many lives serves the couple well, even when Samantha is back home in California.
Providing for little people in small houses may mean that bedrooms take on a different character and become places in which to sleep and not much else. In a small second home near Annapolis, a Washington couple asked John Heyman of Potomac Woodwork to come up with a self-contained bedroom. Heyman designed a loft bed with a built-in armoire and chest of drawers so that the 10-year-old who sleeps in this small space has enough room to store all her precious possessions and can still walk in and out of her room. There was no room to put the television in such a compact space. Rather than force the child to endure favorite programs of her parents, or vice versa, a television was mounted on the ceiling opposite the bed, allowing her to watch from a lofty perch.
The ultimate in an iconoclastic approach to contemporary living is in the home of a Virginia real estate investor. The owner of a modest two-bedroom brick Cape Cod, in Arlington had always dreamed of having a spacious bathroom instead of a tiny closet. But to do so, thinking traditionally, would have meant giving up his second bedroom. Why not have the best of both worlds? Working with architect Robert Miller and designer Sara Jenkins of W & J Sloane's, this imaginative fellow got himself a man's dressing area with enough clothes storage to make anyone living in more spacious quarters envious. He has a large sunken tub, a handsome vanity -- and a bed in his bathroom.
When he has guests, he moves out of the master bedroom and sleeps on a comfortable bed in what is now a bathroom. It may not be everyone's perfect solution, but for this homeowner it works.