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June 01, 2017

Micro-suite mix

Living small doesn’t mean living less

David Crosson

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According to the oft-repeated adage, “Good things come in small packages.” This can be especially true when it comes to living spaces, as small-footprint dwelling is on the rise and being embraced with gusto in housing markets where it’s not even a necessity. New HGTV shows like Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House, Big Living and Tiny Luxury are testament to the growing movement, even though they do tend to represent the extreme end of the spectrum.

Obvious benefits aside, if you are used to living in more sprawling digs then the adjustment to functioning in reduced square footage can present some challenges — at least as far as perception is concerned. Truth be told, nothing you do will make 400 feet feel like 4,000 (or whatever your ratio is) but if you heed these few simple pointers you will find yourself living large even in the tiniest of spaces.

Face facts — and measurements

As I mentioned, your home can feel larger, it just won’t be larger. When looking for ideas in magazines or on sites like Houzz, be sure to scale your expectations appropriately to your dwelling. Looking at large spaces for inspiration when you live in a small one is like obsessively watching the Food Network when you are on a diet.

Speaking of measurements

Be sure to get exact numbers on everything before you buy anything, be that the actual dimensions of the rooms or the width of the doors your purchases have to fit through. I always measure access points on behalf of my clients but this is something that rarely occurs to the general public. As much of a fuss as it may seem, pre-purchase measuring will save you from permanently placing that new sofa out on the sidewalk or your front lawn.

Size does matter

Scale—the actual size and (to some degree) proportions of things — plays a huge part in savvy reduced-space living. Many people think they are restricted to only buying small furnishings but the reality is a few well-chosen larger pieces will help anchor a room and delineate its purpose. A great go-to sofa is Crate & Barrel’s LoungeII, which is substantial enough to act as the nucleus of a room but not so large that it dominates the space. It’s always best to start with your biggest pieces like beds and sofas (again, ones that will fit through the door) and then back-fill with smaller, supplementary items. Be sure to include a few “leggy” things to help light move through the space but balance them with more solid pieces so your furnishings don’t come across like a flock of flamingoes!

Reach for the stars

Making use of vertical space is one of the smartest things you can do — in a home of any size. The available square footage of walls often goes untapped and it’s a great opportunity for both storage and display. Don’t be afraid to use dramatically high shelves to accommodate everything from books and TVs to lighting and tchotchkes. Forcing the eye upwards makes you appreciate your “airspace” more and can help even a seven-foot ceiling soar. Just make sure to use appropriate hardware to anchor furniture to the wall so there’s no chance of anyone getting hurt; that is definitely considered a “design fail”.

Colour your world

A lot of people think light colours will help a room feel larger but that’s not necessarily the case. Contrast is what makes your eye stop within a space and recognize its limitations so eliminating that factor goes a long way in making something feel bigger than it actually is. (By the way, darker colours are beautiful in small spaces and make them feel more intimate and cozy.) I often ‘wrap’ wall colour onto a ceiling for visual consistency and flow, or do it at 50 per cent pigmentation if it’s particularly dark or rich. Similarly, your home can look like a fun-house if doors and jambs are done in contrasting colours so consider painting everything out in one hue to help your eye move more freely. If you really want to highlight them, do it in a subtle way by employing a sheen change, such as matte on the walls and satin on the trim.

Get a two-fer

Dual-purpose furniture is always the right answer when it comes to maximizing square footage, be that in the form of storage coffee tables (touched upon in the April issue) or the new crop of surprisingly comfortable sleeper sofas for occasional guests. One model I really like is Vancouver-based Van Gogh Designs’ Galaxy Storage Ottoman, an upholstered piece that does triple-duty as a perch for feet, a coffee table (if you add a tray to the top), extra seating at a party, and a catch-all for pillows, throws and all manner of other household debris. CL

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Crosson is a freelance design writer and principal of the David Crosson Design Collective. He is a frequent media commentator on matters of life and style as well as a regular guest on CTV Morning Live. For more of his design ideas, visit

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