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Small Space Solutions

The cramped elevator. The jutting corner in the living room. Even the protruding windowsills. All are serious obstacles to innovative, urban decorating in the condensed world of condominiums. Plenty of people still crave thousands of square feet, massive gourmet kitchens and room for theater seating as homes continue to swell, but those on the first rung of the real-estate market are facing the exact opposite problem: shrinking floor plans.

These days, the average condominium in the hot urban market is about 750 square feet, according to Warren Ballard, vice president of Williams Marketing, which markets condo developments.

The growth in condo sales has been spurred by a revitalized downtown and even surging energy costs, prompting people to move closer to limit their commute, he said. But the more condominiums are built, the smaller the affordable ones have become. And this extends beyond apartments and condominiums. Cramped rooms in Craftsman homes and bungalows don't always allow much more room for decorating.

Figuring out a design scheme for less-than-generous living space requires some planning and flexibility, and it helps to have taste that leans to contemporary.
With a little creativity and help from stores that cater to urban living, you can master your floor plan.

Deborah Crump, marketing director for home store Kasala, said it's easier than ever to shop for furniture for small spaces.

"The good thing right now with furniture is there's so much wonderful stuff out there that is multifunctional and scaled in different ways," she said.
Here are some things to consider before you head out to shop, broken down by pieces for the living room, dining room and bedroom:

Overstuffed sofas work in massive suburban homes, but clean lines work better in small spaces. Width is the biggest constraint for sofas, and modern sofas have thinner arms or no arms at all. They also are typically off the ground for an airier look, Crump said.
  • Sleeper sofas. These often have a cleaner look than a traditional futon, plus they can transform your living room into a spare bedroom.
  • Loveseats . If you are set on a style of sofa that's too wide, a loveseat can accommodate your taste without overwhelming your space.
  • Daybeds. These backless sofas can be dressed up with pillows and provide an extra bed for a guest. They add an elegant, slimmed-down look to your home.
  • Chairs. Two armless chairs put together can function as a sofa and are convenient for parties, when they can be separated for guests.
  • Sectionals . You don't have to give up the comfort of an L-shaped sofa in a smaller home. Sectionals offer a variety of choices, including loveseats next to a chaise, sofas and ottomans.
Jason Hallman, co-owner of modern home store Area 51 in Seattle, recalled that one customer created a 62-inch-wide sectional by combining a chair with a chaise "just to get that L-shape."

"A lot of people like hanging out in the corner," Hallman said. "It's the sweet spot in the sectional."
Tables and chairs

There are fewer compromises for scaled-down tables, however, since most people want a table big enough to entertain several guests. One solution is to buy a table with a leaf or two that allows you to expand it when needed. Tables are more innovative today, with built-in leaves that slide or flip open.

Glass-top tables are another way to open up a room visually. And small "bar," "pub" or "gathering" tables � taller than standard dining-room tables � work for those with limited space. Combine a bar table with stools without backs to lend a feeling of openness and squeeze into spaces where chairs won't fit, said Jön Milazzo, co-owner of Retrofit Home in Seattle.

If you want chairs, think about downsizing, including eliminating arms to save your guests the trouble of squeezing in and out of their seats, said Linda Seefeldt, manager for Dania Home & Office's Southcenter store.

Bedroom furniture
A small bedroom can feel constrained by a substantial bed, and it can be a struggle to keep a bedroom feeling spacious.

Platform beds, which typically are lower to the ground, are one way to open up a room. Some have smaller headboards and storage drawers underneath, Crump said.

Some people have downsized from king-size beds to queen-size to accommodate a smaller room, Hallman said. Many also are reducing nightstands, taking one out or eliminating them altogether, he said.
He suggested replacing a nightstand with a rolling side table. They take up less room and can be moved between the living room, where they work as a side table, and the bedroom, where you can use them for your book and water glass.

"You have to sacrifice somewhere," he said.

Pulling it all together

Milazzo and Lori Pomeranz, Retrofit Home co-owners, recently were hired to decorate a Queen Anne one-bedroom condominium for a real-estate developer who wanted to show potential buyers how to use the space.

Preserving views out the expansive living room windows and showcasing the fireplace were priorities for the design team, but they encountered space issues as a full sofa would have blocked bar stools at the kitchen table.

Instead, they chose two armless sofas set in an L-shape that still offered views out the windows and plenty of seating. And they picked a low coffee table big enough for a gathering but low enough that the fireplace is in full view.

"It's very organized and fairly geometric," Milazzo said. "There's not a lot of room in a small space to have everything be chaotic and overfull."

In the bedroom, they used bamboo nightstands with just a shelf and no drawers to keep the bedset from feeling too big.

And they picked a ladder shelf for the hallway that narrowed at the top and opened up the space.
But before they did any of this, Milazzo and Pomeranz first sketched the furniture onto a floor plan.
Store consultants recommend you do the same. Take plenty of measurements, including doorways, counters, windows, windowsills and elevator doors and sketch where you think items will go.

Once you finish that task, you're ready to shop and then put it all together.

Remember to keep everything symmetrical and open in small spaces.

"You can't put every piece of furniture you ever wanted into a room anymore," said Dania's Seefeldt. "You really have to select it."
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