Space: the final frontier – and the perennial problem for condo and townhouse owners. There’s only so much that under-the-bed bags and stacking bins can do, and it’s not easy to stash belongings in a way that doesn’t disrupt carefully coordinated decor or a funky furniture setup. But there are plenty of ways to organize petite pads and to even create the appearance that they’re more expansive than their teensy square footage suggests. Interior designer Marika Meyer of D.C.-based Marika Meyer Interiors gave us some solutions to three common conundrums found in cramped city digs. While these tips won’t help you deal with your enormous CD collection (and isn’t it time to join the digital music age, anyway?), they’ll have you perceiving greater space in your home. After all, seeing is believing.
PROBLEM NO. 1: Big Furniture Overwhelms a Tiny Room
When purchasing new furniture, Cherry Reid, 33, a Mount Pleasant condo owner and nonprofit administrator, worried that the furniture she needed in her 110-square-foot living room would feel crowded by a couch, a coffee table, two armchairs, two end tables and an entertainment center. She could fit in all of the pieces, but “I was concerned the pieces would make the room feel smaller,” she says. With a cream-colored rug, Reid worried about spills and wanted plenty of surfaces for guests to put cups and glasses. “But wood tables seemed heavy in a small space,” she says.
SOLUTION: Furnish With Glass And Lucite
Meyer suggests that homeowners worried about furniture overcrowding embrace a growing trend of using glass or clear Lucite to create a sense of greater space. She recently advised owners of a Glover Park townhouse to use a small Lucite desk as both a side table and a work space in order to minimize space-hogging furniture. “The Lucite table at the end of the sofa was great because the eye doesn’t rest at the table but goes through it,” she says.
Reid also found that transparent furniture – a glass coffee table with a bronze frame and matching side tables – lightened up her look, giving her living room “a sense of airiness that I didn’t think I’d get.” (Initially, however, Reid took the glass-and-Lucite concept a bit too far. She purchased a clear, plastic lamp with a narrow, white lampshade, and placed it on a glass side table. “It was a little too much space illusion,” she says. “I didn’t like how the lampshade and power cords hung in the air.”)
When decorating with transparent materials, Meyer suggests that rooms retain some contrasting colors and textures. “Avoid placing a glass lamp in front of a window,” she says. “It loses the impression of the glass, and you see a floating lampshade.”
A wood table paired with Lucite chairs adds unexpected intrigue to a dining room and opens up the space, since the chairs aren’t focal points in the room. But don’t think about pairing a Lucite table with wood chairs. “Few of us want to look at our legs while we’re eating,” Meyer laughs.
PROBLEM NO. 2: Paint Dwarfs A Tight Space
Coloring the walls is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of changing the appearance of a room. Aware of the power of paint, Alison Bibbee, 39, wanted to turn the walls of her Capitol Hill condo, shown right, into a backdrop for her impressionistic artwork, but she didn’t want to break out the rollers and drop sheets until she could be sure her new color would help her condo feel larger, not smaller. John Ford, 29, an attorney who owns a rowhouse in Friendship Heights, had the same fear. He favors dark colors, but worried that painting his living room walls midnight blue would visually shrink his space.
SOLUTION: Stick to One Color or Vary the Shades of A Single Color
When painting a room, consistency is key. Use a single color across all wall surfaces so that “the eye doesn’t feel like it’s broken up,” Meyer advises. Bibbee tested that philosophy, using Benjamin
Moore’s Mannequin Cream, a yellow-cream color, throughout her condo. The one-tone color scheme brought a sense of airiness to her condo. The color brightens the room but does not compete with Bibbee’s paintings. “It unifies my home,” Bibbee says.
In contrast, Ford chose to paint an accent wall in his desired shade. “Painting an entire room dark blue would make me feel a little claustrophobic,” Ford says. “This way, I get some color without the panic attacks.”
Alternately, instead of an accent wall, Meyer suggests slightly changing the spectrum of colors in a room, to either darker or lighter than the first shade; or simply embracing a dark color. While it may make a room feel smaller, adding elements such as strong lighting and mirrors can counterbalance that perception. Sconces and small recessed lights will also accent walls, making them feel much farther away than they are.
To add even more depth, Meyer advises homeowners to think outside (and above) the proverbial box. “I very subtly tint the ceiling with pale blue paint,” she says. “I use Benjamin Moore’s Iceberg, cutting it to about 30 percent. It creates the illusion that the ceiling height is higher — hands down, one of the best painting secrets.”
PROBLEM NO. 3: A Room Lacking Light Feels Small
With a bedroom that faces north and tends to be dark even during the daytime, Mount Pleasant homeowner Cherry Reid wanted more natural light. She knew that mirrors are one of the oldest tricks in the book for making a room feel larger. But the key to mirrors’ magic is in their placement, and Reid wasn’t sure where to put hers. She worried about hanging them opposite her windows because of her ho-hum views. “It’s trees, trees and more trees,” she says.
SOLUTION: Strategize With Mirror Placement
Mirrors “automatically create a bigger sense of space,” says Meyer says, who suggests paying attention to the sight lines mirrors create. “Place mirrors perpendicular to windows,” Meyer suggests. Hanging them “across from the window could create a glare situation. With perpendicular placement, some of the light in the room reflects off the mirror, and the view isn’t straight out the window.”
Also, be careful when hanging reflective surfaces in dining spaces. “People do not want to see themselves eat,” Meyer says.
An alternative to hanging traditional mirrors is showcasing a piece of shiny furniture, like a silver chest. Using a mirror with an unusual shape or frame, such as CB2’s Spoke Mirror ($60) would also work.
Reid used uniquely shaped mirrors in her bedroom and was pleased with the results. “I bought mirror segments shaped like a wave from Ikea and hung them horizontally across my wall,” she says. Since the quirky statement pieces are displayed directly across the room from a window, they magnify the light in the bedroom. But because they’re irregularly shaped, their sight line isn’t a direct reflection of what’s outside.
Mirrors tend to be a big-ticket item, but that doesn’t mean you can’t purchase and display dazzling wall art. Meyer shares this money-saving tip: “At flea markets, I look for gorgeous, one-of-a-kind frames and have mirrors cut for them. Look for a frame that speaks to you, and any local glass store can cut a mirror to fit the frame. It’s less expensive.”
Written by Express contributor Roopika Risam
Photos courtesy Room & Board; CB2