The tiny or micro house movement is gaining traction. With real estate prices on the rise and not enough actual real estate to go around, developers and creative wannabe home owners are finding ways to turn tiny spaces into liveable, stylish homes. Tiny condos that are less than 300 square feet are becoming the new norm, while micro homes built from shipping containers or sustainably-sourced timber are popping up all over the globe. But you don’t have to be a home- or land-owner to take advantage of this growing trend. There are lots of apartment dwellers whose studios or small one-bedrooms could use some tips for packing lots of style and function into a small space.
Inspired by Vancouver’s 291-square-foot Micro Lofts—which actually are rental units—by Bruce Carscadden Architect and run by Reliance Properties, we turned to interior stylist Lisa Canning for her tips on how to make the most of any small space, no matter your budget. Canning specializes in two-hour, in-home interior design consultations where she helps clients find strategies to make their space suit their goals, family’s needs and budget.
The Loop: What is the most important part of making a very small living space liveable?
Lisa Canning: “Organization. From personal experience living in 1290 square feet with five other humans, this is of utmost importance. This is how a space remains beautiful—when you can put clutter away and everything has a spot to live, your beautiful vignettes and fun accessories won’t get upstaged by daily clutter and mess.
Every house needs closed storage, especially if space is limited. In the kitchen, it’s really important unless you are committed to ensuring every piece you leave on display is pretty to look at.”
Seen in the image above, Vancouver’s Micro Lofts were Inspired by Japanese small space design, aiming to use the very limited space effectively without sacrificing beauty. A tiny closet at the entry allows the owner to stash coats and shoes, while a small, flat galley kitchen includes plenty of storage. A built-in office area does double duty as an entertainment centre with a television hung above. Additional storage could be included above and below the desk.
TL: Should all furniture have multiple functions?
LC: “In a small space, furniture with multiple functions is really essential to keep you organized. In my own home, I have a sofa that has storage in every seat, a coffee table that can become a dining table and a console table that expands to seat eight for large dinner parties. Not only is this helpful on your budget (I love a 2-for-1 deal anytime!), when space is limited, the ability to be flexible with your floor plan is really key. I love Modern Sensibility and Resource Furniture for furniture with multiple functions.”
Micro Lofts’ one-room units are multifunctional. The open galley kitchen leaves lots of floor space to turn the room from living room to dining room to bedroom, just by rearranging a few pieces of furniture or pulling out the Murphy bed.
TL: How important is the use of thoughtful lighting?
LC: “Lighting is important regardless of space limitations. Always work with a layered lighting plan, where overhead lighting, sconces and table lamps work harmoniously to create functional and ambient light.”
As you can see from the one-room loft, big windows, pot lights, under-cabinet and embedded lights in the kitchen add multiple layers to the lighting scheme. There’s also a sconce in the corner of the living area that could be used as a reading lamp in the evening.
TL: How do you create good flow in a small space?
LC: “In a small space, colour can really contribute to the mood—harmonious, eclectic or otherwise. Commit to the mood you want to create and select a palette accordingly. To ensure flow, I love limiting a colour palette to three colours. Additionally, I make sure to use a colour at least three times to keep the space harmonious.”
TL: Does a small space have to be so functional without ornamentation?
LC: “Absolutely not! You need the fun frames, the cute accessories and certainly as much textile and pattern as you can handle, but it cannot be at the expense of function. Good function—meaning proper storage, dedicated places for things, thoughtful order—is the way a space remains beautiful in the day to day hecticness of life. Spend a lot of time investing in organizational strategies—where do keys go when you come home? Where does mail go? Where do you store oversized, not often used items? If you have trouble with this aspect, consider hiring an interior designer and/or professional organizer to ensure your small space is maximized to the very last inch.”
The palette of the Micro Lofts is soft, using lots of white, to create an open airy feel, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of colour. While tenants will decorate as they see fit, these renderings include pops of green and blue to add colour and personality.
Chances are that your small space is a bit bigger than 300 square feet and you may even have more than one room to work with—or enough space that you could turn your studio into multiple rooms. In this case, Canning is a big fan of room dividers.
TL: Is it important to have dividers that can effectively create rooms in a seamless way?
LC: “If you don’t have the budget to go custom, I encourage you to think about making dividers look as fixed as possible by ensuring they have substance and weight (no flimsy folding screens, please).
I have recently been introduced to Loft Wall: customizable metal dividers that are as functional as they are beautiful. Their metal material makes them look quite substantial and like a work of art in itself.
To create privacy I love sheer panel tracks like this one from Ikea. They are an inexpensive way to create a division and sense of privacy very simply. Use these to hide an open closet or provide visual separation for a bedroom.
A really functional way to create division is with shelving units like this one. I love that light is able to pass through and it provides storage and decorative surfaces.”
So, there you have it. Whether you’re working with 300 square feet (or less) or 1000 square feet, the key design rules to remember are:
- Stay organized
- Use multi-functional furniture
- Layer your lighting
- Keep a harmonious colour scheme
- Use dividers smartly