Originally posted January 2010.
In a December 13, 2009 article in The New York Post, “Cozy-crazy couple makes tight all right in the city’s tiniest studio,” Angela Montefinise writes about how one New York couple is able to live comfortably in an 175 square-foot, studio apartment. Chances are, nearly all row houses are larger than this apartment. However, it’s possible that, especially in older homes, homeowners are squeezing a lot of living into a small space.
Over the last century, as the average size of homes in America grew, small space solutions took a back seat to cavernous French door refrigerators and mammoth washer and dryer combos that can launder the clothes of an entire neighborhood. However, people are downsizing and as they do, some really clever ideas are enjoying a revival. Sometimes it’s hard to truly appreciate small space solutions out of context so the Prokops mini apartment offers the perfect opportunity for some virtual interior designing to illustrate some ways to make the most out of a small space.
Fortunately the apartment seems to have high ceilings. (See pictures) When horizontal space is limited the vertical space needs to be optimized. There is no reason to have open space above the cabinets, which should, instead, go from floor to ceiling. To avoid this arrangement becoming overwhelming, when picking a cabinet face, something very simple, that seems more like furniture than kitchen cabinets, would be the best option. If budget allows, all the cabinetry in this apartment should coordinate. Additionally, a highly reflective surface would create depth. There was a wonderful, small kitchen in House Beautiful where they finished the cabinet in a high gloss with a stunning result. To make the higher cabinets easy to access use a collapsible step stool that can hang on the wall or on the inside of a cabinet door, or stashed under a table. Because counter space is limited, the use of roll-out lower cabinets with a top workspace, covered with the same countertop material can double the work area when needed and stow away when not. Although the Prokops don’t cook, with careful planning they could. With slim options, they could even upgrade their refrigerator to one with separate freezer and refrigerator sections. Covering the refrigerator with the same cabinet material will help hide the appliance from view.
The main focus in a multi-use living space is to design with things that seem to disappear when not in use. Gate legged tables accommodate meals when needed and can rest along a wall when not. Many collapsible tables have built in drawers for inconspicuous flatware and napkin storage. While stored against the wall, the folded table makes a pleasant place to display fruit or flowers.
Traditional beds take up an enormous amount of space. This is ok if the monstrosity is contained in a separate bedroom. However, if all the living is done in one space, it doesn’t mean that space has to include the black hole that is a queen size bed. Sofa beds, futons, murphy beds and flying beds are some options appropriate for everyday use, if a good investment is made. When choosing a convertible sleeping solution, the primary concern should be quality and support. New is also preferable since used bedding will have already conformed to the previous owner’s body. As with a regular bed, the investment made into a convertible will be what is gotten out of it, in terms of comfort. Since the Prokops will be mortgage free in about two years, they can likely afford to invest in the best quality. With most convertible sleeping solutions, as long as the support structure is well made, the bed can have longevity with regular mattress replacement. Using a bed that disappears when not in use means that there is more space available for other functions such as entertaining or watching TV and the apartment will resemble a more conventional living area instead of one big bedroom.
Another design black hole is the TV. Flat or not, it still takes up a lot of visual space and because the screen is typically black, it acts like a visual vortex, drawing the eye in. In this situation, it would be beneficial to install the screen into a media unit where the screen can be hidden behind doors when not in use. On either side, custom closets could be installed, the sort which hang the clothing front to back rather than the conventional sideways, which allow for a much lower profile. This is obviously not a solution for cramming tons of clothing in, but it does offer enough space for a few items or coats that are better hung than left lying around where they’re visible. Dry cleaner storage or not, once you get home, you’ll still need to hang your coat somewhere. Finally, it’s nice to have a place to put your drink while you relax on the sofa and a coffee table that can be rolled aside when the bed is extended is perfect for this.
There is one rule to follow. The perception of space is often not related to the actual square footage but rather to how the mind perceived the space between things. If you want your small space to seem spacious, you must decrease the clutter and increase the visual space between elements.
Although the Prokops apartment is very different from most row houses, the unique challenges it presents offer solutions that are applicable for any small space.