Live and Work in a Small Space(page 1 of 2)

Living rooms are no longer reserved just for company. Think about your everyday needs.

CI-jarret-yoshida-tiny-studio-sofa_4x3 Design by Jarret Yoshida

With smaller homes, few homeowners can dedicate an area solely for one function. The living room has become a place for multiple generations to gather and watch movies, listen to music, play games, do homework, conduct business and enjoy meals in front of the TV. And often these activities take place in a room no bigger than 10’ by 12’.


When possible, architect Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House series, expands the space with a small alcove for reading or other purposes and gives the areas different ceiling heights to highlight the change. She suggests incorporating one focal wall in a stronger color to make the entire area seem larger. Designer Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home, likes to open a living room to other rooms or the outdoors to expand its visual reach.

Here are ways to make your small-space living room work harder and better.


Invest in Space-Saving Furniture

To meet many needs, choose furnishings that serve multiple purposes. Whenever you can, incorporate mobile furniture on casters that swivel to face different areas and roll into other rooms.

Ottomans. These multipurpose pieces can be a place to rest feet, provide seating, and open to hide files and other belongings, says New York designer Libby Langdon, author of Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions.

Tables. Use nesting tables as end tables, since they can be placed around a room for casual meals. Some coffee tables have been fitted with a lift that raises to dining table height or lower to display books and decorative items.

Rolling carts can work double duty for art supplies by day and bar paraphernalia at night. Make the top a practical surface rather than something delicate.

Seating. Many couches and chairs can be seating by day and comfortable beds at night. Smaller sectional sofas work well because their configurations can vary, and many have sleeper mechanisms.

In some cases, the same chairs can function for sitting in a living room and at a dining table, so you don’t have to hunt for extra seating at different occasions. Benches work for seating and can be stacked against a wall.

Retrofit furnishings. Use pieces in other ways than how they were intended; an armoire can open and serve as a desk. Entertainment units with doors and drawers can be fitted to conceal and hang clothing, as well as TVs and sound systems.

Lighting. Avoid floor lamps that take up valuable floor space and go with track, can or wall lights, advises Chicago designer Leslie Markman-Stern. To optimize natural light, don’t use heavy, old-fashioned window treatments that visually shrink space.

Create a Livable Layout

Besides having the right furnishings, arrange them to suit your living style and traffic pattern.

  • Pick furnishings in scale, preferably sofas without big roll arms and overstuffed cushions that physically and visually take up room. Include some pieces without arms such as a slipper chair.
  • Don't automatically place a sofa against a wall, with two easy chairs flanking a coffee table. Place two small sofas opposite each other in the middle of a room, especially when there are several windows, doorways or a fireplace focal point.
  • Forget sofas and group three or four chairs camp-style around a table for intimate conversations, says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman-Segal Design. Chairs also open a space more than a skirted sofa will, says Sue Pelley, with Decorating Den Interiors.
  • Display functional items artistically to avoid storage. Katie and Ruben Gutierrez of Errez Design like to display surfboards on walls. "Consider doing so with bicycles and kayaks, too."

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