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9 Small-Space Decorating Sins

Small-Space Sin #8: Two Words - Lame Lighting

Decoration Salvation: Berkus heads to flea markets and local antiques malls for unique options in vintage lighting. O'Brien loves a beautiful, special table or floor lamp to give a room instant style and ambience. "You can get a lot of task light out of lamps in a small room without needing very much overhead light," he says.

For Smith, lighting is the difference between feeling comfortable and feeling claustrophobic. "I don't care if you have the most beautiful fabrics or artwork - it's useless if you're sitting in the dark," she says. Olson counts lighting as one of the most important factors in decorating, planning it near the beginning of every design project. "It's a big tool in a small space," she asserts. She prefers recessed halogen lights with adjustable fixtures that are positioned between 12 and 16 inches from the walls. "They allow you to direct the light where you need it," she says. "I'll wash the light down the face of drapery, accent artwork or a beautiful hutch. By positioning the lighting around the perimeter, it visually acts to push those walls out." The eye is drawn toward the lights along the perimeter of the room and you have the illusion of a much bigger space, she advises. No need to gut the ceiling if your rooms have older recessed-lighting fixtures. Retro-fit kits are available at home supply stores.

Small-Space Sin #9: Choosing an Unwelcome Matte

Decoration Salvation: "One interesting thing to do is to use a very high gloss or epoxy paint for a lacquered feeling," says Thomas O'Brien. "This works really well in hallways and in older houses with narrow passageways and odd-shaped rooms. Light bounces off the paint and makes the space feel wider." But be forewarned: The glossier the paint, says O'Brien, the more it will show any irregularities, lumps or bumps in the surface underneath it.

Laurie Smith recalls a beautiful small room that utilized polished Venetian plaster to brighten the space. This application, which gives walls a stuccolike appearance, is achieved by layering plaster with a trowel and then polishing the surface to a high gloss finish. Determined do-it-yourselfers can get the tools and instructions at home improvement stores. "I love this technique because light reflects off of it and it gives luminescence to a small space," Smith says. Need more incentive to get out the trowel? The technique can be used on imperfect walls, she adds. It's also durable and stain resistant. A word of caution: Stick to spaces where you want high drama and glamour, such as a dining room or formal powder room.


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