I’ve lived in some very tiny spaces.
In Paris, I lived in a two-room pied-à-terre with a fellow intern. She slept on the pull-out couch in the living room; I slept on the Murphy bed in the kitchen. Our shower head was directly over our toilet. We hung laundry on a clothes line in the kitchen, and cooked food from a mini fridge on a hot plate. We are lifelong friends.
In London, my then-fiancé and I lived in a dorm room. We pushed two twin beds together, and stacked kitchenware atop our wardrobes. We used the loo in a prefabricated, plastic “wet bath,” with the shower head (again) over the toilet. We ate, studied, entertained, and slept in 300 square feet. We survived long enough to get happily married.
Now we live in a 625 sq. ft. apartment — a big upgrade from a dorm room, but still pretty tiny.
Tiny spaces can sometimes be tough, but there’s something to be said for living simply. And in today’s economy, tiny living is as au courant as ever. Here are 10 tips to make life beautiful and comfortable in a postage stamp space.
1. Purge. My husband and I are a little crazy — we love to purge. (We move so often, it’s become a regular part of life.) At least once a year, make an inventory of your possessions and sell or give away everything you don’t need or doesn’t have real sentimental value. It might sting at first, but freeing yourself from possessions is unbelievably cathartic. Plus the cash from those extra wine glasses or designer purses might buy you something special that doesn’t take up space, like a fancy dinner or a plane ticket.
2. Shrink. Pick furniture that’s proportional to your space. Instead of a sprawling sofa, opt for a love seat with clean lines and just enough cushion — bonus if you can fit a fold-out for guests. Ditch the plush recliner for a slim side chair or two. Buy an expandable dining table and keep extra folding chairs in a closet for dinner parties. Trade in the king bed for a queen or double; spooning is the best, anyway. If you keep furniture small-scale and simple, you don’t have to sacrifice style or comfort in a tiny space.
3. Hang. Vertical space is the unsung hero of tiny living. Instead of a jewelry box, hang necklaces and earrings in a frame on a wall. Free up cupboard space by hanging pots and pans on a ceiling or wall rack. Hang pots of herbs, mitts, and spatulas near the stove. Display your shoes or scarves on the back of a closet door. Many items that clutter our drawers, shelves, and surfaces can easily be hung to save space.
4. Tuck. Hidden storage is essential to keeping tiny spaces uncluttered. Invest in sturdy bins or drawers that tuck away under beds, dressers, and even sofas to store photos, documents, guest linens, off-season clothes and shoes, or any other items you don’t need to access very often. Space can also be found in ottomans and benches with hidden storage compartments.
5. Stack. Never underestimate the utility of stacking bins. Many closets have ample vertical space, so take advantage by neatly stacking see-through bins of old documents, holiday decorations, or anything else that you don’t need very often. The interlocking bins can reach the ceiling without collapsing or shifting around, and you can identify your items through the clear plastic.
6. Flex. To maximize efficiency in a tiny space, make your stuff work double duty. Seat your guests on a bench or ottoman that hides storage underneath. A bedroom desk or dresser can also serve as a nightstand. Transform the space underneath stairs into a bookshelf. Buy window blinds that transform into a drying rack for clothes, or a wall mirror that folds down to become a dining table. Sleep on a pull-out couch or a Murphy bed. Get creative and make your furniture work overtime.
7. Display. Displaying and purging go hand in hand: if you love something enough to keep it, try to show it off by working it into your decor. On our travels, we have a rule that if we can’t use a souvenir — an ornate pepper grinder from Istanbul, a tea set from Hong Kong, a bottle opener fridge magnet from Santo Domingo — then we don’t buy that souvenir. Frame and hang your favorite old records. Display Venetian masks or whiskey decanters on the bookshelf between Hemingway and Fleming. Showcase the few things you truly value to keep your space neat and uniquely yours.
8. Float. Keep things light and airy by setting your items afloat. Install floating shelves above desks, dressers, nightstands, and even the toilet to display treasured collections, glass jars of toiletry items, indoor plants, or neat stacks of books or towels. If you’re very daring (and preferably if you own your home), you can even float your bed from the ceiling.
9. Slice. In extreme situations, slicing and dicing furniture might be the solution to getting the look you want in a tiny space. You can halve an ornate nightstand, desk, or vanity and attach the raw side to a wall — it will take up half the space but retain its original charm.
10. Clean. Minimize heavy window treatments to let in as much natural light as possible. Keep furniture and decor light and airy (or even see-through) to create the illusion of space. Designate a place for every item you own, preferably out of sight. Don’t keep stuff you don’t value, and don’t buy stuff you don’t need. And most boring of all: keep it clean. Tiny living means less space you have to vacuum or dust, but you’ll have to work extra hard to keep clutter under control.
With a little patience and creativity, you can create a beautiful, livable space in a tiny footprint. Happy downsizing!