Where to Begin with Decorating a Small Space

Good things come in small packages

I just ordered a new book for myself by my favorite author on design, Terence Conran. The book itself is maybe a decade old by now but Conran has never been out of date. The book, How To Live In Small Spaces, walks us through the des ign, furnishing, decoration and detail of living in small homes.

What drew me to the title was my general interest in small space living and the several reasons to go small. The greatest asset of a small home is often its greatest pain point, which I suppose is true of most things. The smaller the lawn the less space to play, but the less grass to mow. The more bathrooms you have, the more places to pee but the more toilets to scrub. The less closet space, the fewer clothes you have, but the less laundry you have to wash. Trade offs are part of it. The only way around it is to change your perception of what is useful space and focus on the benefits over the inconvenience.

People choose smaller living spaces for a lot of reasons. Often for a shorter work commute in a city, younger couples may opt for smaller living arrangements closer to town. Look at minimal design with little clutter. Your living room doesn't need to serve multiple purposes when the outside world has so much to do. Consider simple seating arrangements for a smaller group of guests and meet out and about with larger groups.

We enjoy a smaller home with limited guest space indoors but our back yard is much more spacious and accomodating. We set up an outdoor fire pit with DIY benches and other seating to comfortably fit a party of eight or more. Here is our simple set up. For a plot our size a larger house would eat up all this great yard space. My wife, Kate and I, really love it.


"At their best, small spaces can be both inclusive and flexible, which is perfectly in tune with the relaxed and informal way we want to live now." - Terence Conran, How To Live In Small Spaces

When designing a small space it's most useful to consider not how you think the space should be used, but rather how you naturally use the space. Sometimes this takes living in the space a while before you start designing. Maybe entertaining others is less important to you than producing and being creative. Why arrange a space fit for conversation when you're more apt to bring the coffee table closer to your knees so you can lay out a project? Why not ditch the coffee table and reserve more space for what you're actually doing?

A small kitchen, while limiting in counter space is often quite economical in terms of having everything you need all in close reach. You'll also be much more judicious with what kitchen items you do bring in. This might make you think twice about buying that expensive mixer you'll ultimately only use once or twice a year.

Lastly, don't forget about the use of color and placement of personal items to define the space as your own. Yes, squeeze in the functional utility in the unexpected spaces but the thing that will help you most in feeling fulfilled in a small space is only reserving the precious use of space you do have for only the things that bring you joy.

As Kate and I have made conscious choices about what comes into our house, because we choose to live in a smaller home, we only bring in things that we love. When the things we have run their course we feel free and liberated in discarding them. As a result our home can be cleaned in under an hour. We have a lower cost of living which allows us to make higher quality purchases of the things we do have. 

*A quick note about our home: You know, Kate and I have taken our time in getting our home just the way we want it and we still like to iterate and update all the time. Early on I remember trying to pick colors together. This was the first couple months of being husband and wife. As a color consultant I thought it would be a synch to come up with colors together, but after about five minutes I put the color deck down and said, you know what, I don't think we've been married long enough to handle this kind of commitment. It took us a while to figure out each other's tastes. After a while of living with plain white walls, Kate would come home from work, plop down on the couch exasperated and say, "I hate our home". Once I painted and got the colors just right she would come home with the same amount of exasperation from work but now when she plopped down on the couch she'd say with a sigh, "I love our home". Color really made a difference. I invite you to allow it to make a difference in your life too.