Of men and mice. And small spaces.

By , on August 5, 2013


This bed with a hidden storage compartment, as shown by Apartment Therapy, is a great example of multi-tasking furniture.  Multi-purpose pieces are a must-have for small spaces.
This bed with a hidden storage compartment, as shown by Apartment Therapy, is a great example of multi-tasking furniture. Multi-purpose pieces are a must-have for small spaces.

A small living space may be viewed by some as a nightmare:  a journey into a realm known only to mice; akin to the proverbial mouse-hole-in-the-wall.

Call me Squeaky, then, because I live in a decidedly small space.  Like way fewer-than-50-square-meters small.

As a turn of events would have it, I recently moved from a large-ish home to my own little hole-in-the wall.   And although it definitely has its set of challenges, compact living also has its perks:  being in the heart of the city, it’s near my place of work; everything is within reach (almost at once); cleaning up is a cinch and does not take huge chunks of time out of my day; it forces me to be creative with my design ideas; and it has taught me to edit my life.  Ok, so maybe I am still learning the last bit, not having fully-mastered the art of organizing and reducing the stuff I need, versus the stuff I want.  Desire, after all, can be a very powerful motivator.

But what to do if you are a mouse with big dreams for your small space?

Better Homes and Gardens shows us how to “float” a couch.  A great way to define zones, while maximizing both spaces behind and in front of the couch.
Better Homes and Gardens shows us how to “float” a couch. A great way to define zones, while maximizing both spaces behind and in front of the couch.

Rented or otherwise, living in a small space can be more rewarding than frustrating.  And you don’t have to give up on your dreams of having a stylish space to call your own.  Here are some tips I learned along the way that helped me make the most of my small space:

  1. Play with color.  Deep, dark colours – contrary to popular belief – create depth and warmth, giving the illusion of a larger area.  If your lease prohibits you from touching the walls, play around with the colour of your cabinets and shelves, furniture and accessories.  Add touches of vibrant, sharp and intense hues as repeating accents throughout the room, to give the space a cohesive feel.
  2. De-clutter!  Get rid of the unnecessary.  You only really need 4 basic pans to whip up most meals, for example. Clutter creates a stressful atmosphere, and hinders the flow of good energy.  It also eats up your precious space.  Self-confessed sentimental packrats (such as I) should store precious mementos in space-saving storage options (think under the bed containers, stacking containers, or pretty boxes that double-up as book stands and side-tables).
  3. Determine your priorities.  You need to know what is important to you and your new small-space lifestyle.  Determine what your needs are.  For instance, my writing dictates that I have a small desk on which to work.  As such, I skipped the dining table, in favour of a writing desk.  Meals are eaten on the couch, off a portable folding table.  Traditional living arrangements will have to take a backseat to the dictates and demands of your lifestyle.
  4. Measure away.  Next to creativity, your tape measure is your best friend when trying to figure out how to arrange your space.  Write the measurements down, and find furniture that fits.
  5. Go for “multi-tasking” furniture.  Opt for multi-purpose pieces wherever possible.  My couch folds out to a comfy enough bed, with hidden storage compartments on either armrest. A daybed is also another good option.  A nifty little kitchen trolley or kitchen island doubles as my cooking space (with just enough room on the counter top for a small electric range) and storage for dishes and oft-used kitchen gadgets). My TV now sits atop a fairly large buffet hatch, surrounded by a few of my daughter’s artwork.  Hidden, expandable panels pull-out from atop drawers, and serve as a serving table for meals.  A large bookcase does not necessarily have to be used solely for books.  When put in a central part of the room, it can hold books on one shelf, dishes on another, flatware and other small items tucked away in baskets on the other shelves.
  6. Visualize your space prior to arranging.  It is best to do this when the space is still empty. Do not make any rash decisions as to furniture arrangement; give yourself time to play around with it in your head, or draw it out if possible.  Most people resort to putting all pieces of furniture against the wall, but this does is not always the best move towards maximizing the area. If the room is large enough, divide it up in to zones in order to make the space more functional.   A good way to create “zones” would be to utilize floor rugs, and learn to use furniture creatively. In some cases, it might be best to keep your couch “floating” in the middle of the room, with your TV on the wall facing it. This way, the space on the other side of the couch can be utilized as an office or dining area. If space allows, putting a console behind the couch makes for added storage for both zones.
  7. Make the most of wall space.  DIY floating shelf systems are readily available at major hardware or home centers, easy enough to install without much fuss, and perfect for a variety of items.  Fill empty, unused wall space up with bold frames to define spaces.  With some decorative hooks, bare walls near your dressing area can double as a “display case” for necklaces scarves, and other accessories. 
  8. Have a smart storage system.  Employ smart storage, such as hidden or secret storage like stow away plastic bins, decorative boxes and hampers (great for storing extra linen, towels, seasonal clothes, craft items, kids’ toys, what-have-you!), shelves hidden underneath skirted tables (pretty exterior, hides a functional interior), and other such wonderfully sneaky space savers.  Open storage, on the other hand, such as open shelves, metal racks, etcetera, are an awesome alternative to kitchen storage space.  Use baskets or bins to hold small items on the shelves.
  9. Mirror, mirror on the wall.  Still one of the best ways to create an illusion of space.
  10. Think green. Small potted plants by the window sill or lining a balcony are very therapeutic and create a relaxation zone.  Personally, I must have plants.  I get very antsy without the soothing touch they bring.  As such, my tiny balcony has been transformed into a pocket-garden (my plants seem to thrive on city pollution, and are now lusher than ever).  If you cannot have plants, for whatever reason, add some outdoorsy touches to your space:  colorful garden stools brighten up a space and make for good impromptu side or coffee tables.
  11. Give your space some personality.  Add your own sense of style and flair with accents and accessories: pillows, candles, vintage items; whatever defines you can also help to define your space and make it homier.  Create a feel of luxury by giving windows the treatment they deserve, and put up some good-quality drapes.
  12. Light it up!  Proper lighting is key to creating warmth and ambience; no matter the size of your home (I prefer a natural, yellow glow to white light, which is often harsh and glaring).  Add a lamp or two, either on an end table or in a corner (again, a nifty space-maximizing trick) behind a piece of furniture.
The Wooly Pocket Gardening Company, as featured in Apartment Therapy, makes amazing planters and plant boxes for you own little indoor pocket or vertical garden.  A stellar idea for giving your place a relaxed and refreshing feel.
The Wooly Pocket Gardening Company, as featured in Apartment Therapy, makes amazing planters and plant boxes for you own little indoor pocket or vertical garden. A stellar idea for giving your place a relaxed and refreshing feel.

Do I ever imagine myself in a slightly bigger place?  Oh, yeah.  For now though, this tiny mouse-hole is where I set down my cheese; and I never have to wonder who moved it.  Literally.