fbpx Big Style for a Small Home

Big Style for a Small Home

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Oct 25, 2013

View of living room looking past into the hall
House hunting is a thrilling experience. Trying to find a home in a big city that meets your wish list while fitting in your budget gives a little more edge to the thrill. My twentysomething clients were on the hunt for a home with charm and character in an established neighbourhood close to shops, services and transit. But the real “gotta-have-it” was an address in a top-notch school district. You can renovate any house to suit your lifestyle and your taste, but you can’t pick it up and move it from one school district to another. So once my clients settled on a cute little semi in a coveted school district, it was my job to turn a cramped and forlorn main floor into a bright and airy living space.
White built in breakfast bar

Go Big

When you’re starting out with a small space, it may seem that your options are limited. I disagree. While you may have less of everything to start with, dramatic change is possible. The biggest challenge in small homes is a cramped floor plan created by defined rooms. Since most of us crave the bright and airy spaces offered by open-plan living spaces, I think it’s worth spending the money to knock down walls and open the main floor up. Of course, to make this happen, you’ll need to engage an engineer and do some structural modifications, add some beams to support the walls that you’re removing, and be prepared for a fix-up plan that goes beyond paint and paper. But, in the end, the dust and mess and chaos will all be worth it.

White built in breakfast bar showing seating and table top

Borrow From Thy Neighbour

The biggest benefit of tearing down walls is the ability to redefine what proportion of space belongs to which area. In a small house, every inch is critical, and pushing the boundaries slightly lets you redefine the space. I like to think of kitchen design as a puzzle, and playing with all the desired elements until you can squeeze them in and make them fit nets a winning result. This kitchen originally had a ridiculously cramped layout that was bordering on dysfunctional, but it now boasts an island almost eight feet long, complete with oodles of storage and a breakfast bar to boot. By anchoring one end of the island to the columns that were required to support the walls we removed, we maximized its length while also creating a bit of definition between the living and kitchen areas.

Full view of kitchen showing white counter tops, soft green paint and pattern
Big Style for a Small Home

Character? Check. Charm? Check.

Streamlined, contemporary style is a priority for many young, urban homeowners, but it’s not always the design brief we receive from our clients. Each house and each couple I design for offer a distinct opportunity to create an expression of personal style. In this case, the cozy little house had some charming original details, and the couple was drawn to a look that was more cottage-y than contemporary. Since a custom-order kitchen was neither in the budget nor the timeline, I opted for my favourite in-stock door profile (a solid pine door with a whitewash finish), and took the opportunity to add some extra character through finishing details. Antique corbels flank the opening created by the newly installed beam, a swirly marble mosaic adds a touch of whimsy to the backsplash, while tongue-in-groove panelling clad the island and amps up the cottage vibe.

White kitchen storage with stove

Be Brassy

The use of warm-toned metals such as brass and bronze, is nothing new, so I’m not going to try and tell you it’s an innovative idea; but I will tell you why I like it, particularly as it pertains to lighting. When you are trying to bring old-world charm to a newly renovated room, vintage lighting can be a great asset. Most vintage fixtures will likely have a brass or bronze cage, so utilizing them in their “as is” condition will save you money and help you get authentic old-school style for less than the price of new. That just makes sense (and cents).

Living room featuring couch and window with soft yellow walls
Dining room table with wicker chairs and hanging chandelier

Keep it Light

If your goal is to have the easy, casual entertaining style of your favourite bistro, why not bring a few signature touches home? Forego formal style and expensive furnishings in favour of practical and simple, classic styles, which can help you get the look for less. I scooped up a vintage harvest table for $175 (and repainted the base) then paired it with great new rattan dining chairs that bring texture and bistro chic to this cozy dining area (for less than $100 a piece).

Seating area around fire place with walls painted a soft yellow

Live Large

Every designer has his or her own approach to making the most of small spaces when it comes to furnishings. Mine is to max out the useful space using the least number of standard size pieces to get the best end result. Even the smallest rooms can accommodate a standard seven-foot sofa (choose a narrow arm so you get the most seat out of it). Flank your sofa with end tables that have an ample tabletop and storage beneath (to help keep the room tidy), and strike a pose with some high-impact table lamps. Anchor it all with a good-sized coffee table and add a pair of lounge chairs and you’ll have a lovely little spot to lounge and entertain.

Originally published in:
Globe and mail logo

Source Guide:

kitchen cabinetry, HanStone Quartz countertops in 'Swan Cotton', microwave oven, faucet, fridge, dishwasher, range hood, dining chairs, floor length mirror, wine glasses, whiskey glasses, dinner plates, table cloth, dishes on island and window ledge, wall clock, glass vases on console table and kitchen shelf, candles & media unit, IKEA | hardwood flooring (PLAY.2 Talc), Floorworks & Relative Space | floor tile, backsplash tile & chair rail, Saltillo Imports | kitchen sink, Blanco | cake stands on island and window ledge, bowl on window ledge, round vase on fireplace mantle, egg holder, vase on kitchen counter, picture frames, salad plates, napkins & vases on coffee table, Indigo | rug, basket under bench, striped bud vase on side table, white linen pillows & grey and yellow trellis pillows, Homesense | range, The Home Depot | Lawren sofa & Coco chairs, Sarah Richardson Design Inc. | light fixture in front hall, light fixture over dining table, pendants above kitchen island, floor lamp, magazine holder, oval mirror at entrance, umbrella stand & side tables, Green's Antiques | silverware, coffee table, dining table, vintage dishes on console table, vintage scalloped edge bowl on coffee table & covered candy dish on side table, Elegant Garage Sale | wooden bench, hook board, occasional table between chairs, console table, mirror above fireplace, bamboo utensil holder & striped glass dish, Vintage Fine Objects | brass mortar and pestle, brass teapot & collection of vases on window ledge, Of Things Past | collection of brass candlesticks, brass bowl on coffee table, napkin rings & pair of lamps, Around the Block | throw, metal horses, large silver ball, tall vase on fireplace mantle, cutting board, measuring spoons & kitchen utensils, West Elm | counter stools, Pier 1 Imports | decorative corbels, The Door Store | drapery hardware, fabric on valances and drapes (Style - 21040 Leaf/Foliage, Colour - Lemongrass, Origin -33430), fabric on sofa, fabric on pair of chairs (Style - Doodle, Colour - Platinum, Origin - 32903), pillow fabric on pair of chairs (Style - Spice Market, Colour - Putty, Origin - 32606) & floral pillow fabric on sofa (Style - Omoko, Colour - Smoke, Origin - 31148), Designer Fabrics | pillow sewing & inserts, Dreams | cabinetry hardware, Lee Valley Tools | television, Best Buy | Nuheat heated floor in mudroom, Ciot Toronto Inc. | dish towels, Putti | artwork, Acadia Art & Rare Books | canisters on kitchen counter, 1698 Queen Antiques | multi coloured paperweight & clear glass paperweight on side tables, Eclectisaurus | all trim, Brenlo | spraying of furniture, Benjamen Furniture Refinishing | flowers, orchids & orchid pots, Jong Young Flowers | umbrellas, sunglasses, white enamel pot, trench coat & straw hat, Client's own


contractor, MBKL Ltd Custom Contracting | kitchen installation, IKEA Installation Services | painting, Russell Painting Inc. | electrician, Spindel Electric Inc.

Paint Colours

living room & dining room walls - Pale Hound 71, Farrow & Ball | fireplace brick & front entrance walls - Lime White 1, Farrow & Ball | mudroom & kitchen walls - Light Blue 22, Farrow & Ball | ceiling - Cornforth White 228, Farrow & Ball | trim - All White 2005, Farrow & Ball