The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance allowing the building of apartments as small as 220 square feet. Whether those apartments get built or not, many Bay Area residents likely live in a small space — either a small studio, an in-law in the basement or one bedroom in a house divided among roommates.
Below are 10 tips for making the most of a small space, culled from Forum’s interview with Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy and author of Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces and Miranda Jones, style editor for Sunset Magazine.
- BE SELECTIVE ABOUT YOUR SPACE. “Not all spaces are created equally,” said Jones. “If you’ve got natural light, high ceilings, and natural materials in the apartment, you’re going to feel as though you’re living well even though you’re living small.”
- EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. “Keeping your items very well edited” is one of the top things to keep in mind when living in a small or unusual space. That means when you bring something into your apartment, you bring something out. It’s about quality versus quantity.
- TIDY UP! “In a way, large spaces just allow you to be lazy,” said Gillingham-Ryan, “and to not have to deal with stuff until much later when your space fills up. With most everybody, after about seven years they have a clutter problem. With a smaller space it just comes a lot quicker.” Jones also recommended keeping surfaces clean, because tabletops and countertops are usually not abundant in small apartments.
- TAKE SOME TASKS OUT OF THE HOUSE. If you live in a small space, chances are you are going to have to call on your surrounding neighborhood to fill some of your needs. Nature and laundromats are a given, but even some tasks may just be better suited elsewhere. Gillingham-Ryan recalls that after married and became a father, he started doing bills and other paperwork at his office. “Your home doesn’t have to be everything, all the time,” he said.
- MAXIMIZE EVERY INCH. “All unused space is fair game,” said Jones. “You’ve got to take your storage vertical, you’ve got to prop up your bed so you have extra storage under there. When space is at such a premium, Jones said you have to look at it differently. “Every door is a possible storage location.”
- MULTI-TASK (OR BUY ITEMS THAT DO). “Because there is no room for anything extra, everything has to do two jobs,” said Jones. “Your dining room table is also your office space.” Indeed, this video tour through a small Airstream trailer and micro-apartment shows that multi-tasking is a key element to making small spaces work.
- BUY BUILT-INS. Gillingham-Ryan is a fan of built-in features like shelves and drawers. “Spend your money on built-ins whenever possible because built-ins are wall-to-wall, they suck up all the space and you can use every inch,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “And visually, it creates a lot less busy space.”
- LET THE LIGHT IN. “Light is what makes a space feel expansive,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “I always tell people, ‘Three points of light to every room.’ It doesn’t seem like a lot but every client I’ve ever worked with has had trouble getting to two.”
- USE MIRRORS. “I’ve seen people over the years use mirrors in such incredibly inventive ways,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “They not only reflect light, they expand the space that they’re in. They can make the space brighter and just remove that sense of wall that is there otherwise.”
- PLAY WITH PAINT. Light colors are key. “It doesn’t have to be white, it can be off-white,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “There’s still color in off-white.There’s a lot you can do between warm and cool colors. They can really change the feeling of a space.” In fact, Gillingham suggests that something as simple as a difference between off-white and regular white can make your room feel larger. “If you do a bright white on the ceiling and an off-white on the walls, there’s a separation between wall and ceiling,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “It will make your walls feel taller.”
- By Amanda Stupi