Keys to living artfully in one room

Tips on how to turn one room into a functional, stylish space for entertaining, working at home and just getting a bit of privacy.

By SUSAN ZEVON of the The Associated Press

In a recurring dream, I walk down a hallway in my apartment and discover a whole wing that I never knew existed.

Fantastic! I now have a spacious dining room, library and guest suite.

I suspect that many people living in cities where space is the ultimate luxury share this dream. And while many make do with limited space, living in just one room is particularly challenging. It’s not just city dwellers coping with that challenge, but also students, seniors and those decorating a pied a terre.

width=223Designers have some guidelines for making the most of living in one room. The first step, they agree, is assessing how you live.

Do you work at home? Do you like to entertain? After a thorough editing, how much stuff do you have left to store — clothing, books, shoes, DVDs, etc.?

On page 1 of her book Design Rules (Gotham, 2009), New York decorating diva Elaine Griffin writes, Whether you are a studio apartment dweller or are gifted with a sprawling suburban domain, the design rules for the public spaces are the same.

Except that the rules are even more important when you must make the most of one room.

The biggest issue in designing for one-room living is separating public and private space, says Kenneth Brown, a Los Angeles interior designer who appears on reDesign, on the Fine Living Network and HGTV.

Nobody at a dinner party wants to be staring at a bed, Brown says. For a one-room project featured on his show, Brown used a bookcase as a room divider to separate the public and private areas of the room, as well as to store books and provide a stand for a swivel TV.

He is a fan of the new-style Murphy beds, which he says are both sleek and comfortable. He masks the Murphy beds with custom finishes such as paneling, antique mirrors and art work to blend with the architecture of the room. One that he especially recommends, from Zoom-Room, rolls down from behind a panel where you can hang a flat-screen TV.

While each room differs according to how his clients want to live (how much space they want devoted to entertaining, to a home office, etc.), Brown says there are rules that always apply:

• Don’t be afraid of big pieces. Lots of small ones will clutter a space.

• Select furniture on legs so you can see under the piece.

• Don’t float the furniture in the center of the room.

• Try lining the walls with two large sofas.

• Select a coffee table that may double for dining.

• Commit to one color and bring in different textures. That way the walls recede and the eye is not stopped by an accent wall.

• Create zones in your room with lighting. For example, hang a chandelier over the entertaining area.

Brown believes that concealing stuff in pretty boxes is key to living artfully in one room.

Imagine a luxury hotel room

Ron Marvin, an interior designer who appears on the HGTV show Small Spaces, Big Style, has designed two one-room apartments for himself, in San Francisco and New York City. First, think about what you need the space to do, he advises. Think of your room as a beautifully appointed hotel room.

Marvin believes in allowing for the luxury of a queen-size bed. In San Francisco, he did not work at home and so was able to create a separate space for entertaining, using a large antique sideboard to store serving pieces and other items. Open shelves only work if you are neat, he says.

For his apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where his home doubles as an office, Marvin tucked the bed into one corner and a desk with storage boxes underneath it in another.

Marvin loves lamps. They are sculptural and make your eye move around, he said. He believes lamps have a cozier effect than overhead lighting, and has 13 of them in his apartment.

As for wall color, he advises, don’t be afraid of the dark. Dark colors make the walls recede. It is only one room — experiment with wall color. If you don’t like it, paint another color the next weekend.

12 more stylish tips

Griffin, the author of Design Rules, offers these tips for living comfortably and stylishly in one room:

Create Zones. Divide your space into zones dedicated to certain activities (sleeping, socializing, eating, working). L-shaped studios can work well when divided roughly into thirds: the front space, the rear corner and the ell of the L. It’s OK for some zones to do double duty (i.e., working and dining).

Plan for Company. Even if you are the world’s biggest hermit, you should still be able to seat at least three guests. Pull-up seating lets you do that: Think ottomans, benches or small dining chairs that can be moved over to the sofa when folks come over.

Sofa goes on short wall. In long, narrow rooms, sitting the sofa on the shortest wall will actually give you more space for other furniture. Sixty-inch-long loveseats never sit more than one person comfortably. If you have enough space for a 72-inch-long apartment sofa, it’s a better option.

Make an entrance. Even in the tiniest spaces, you still need a foyer. Create a faux foyer near the front door by installing a shelf or low bookcase with a little tray on top for keys and mail.

Color cohesively. Keeping your color palette tight in small spaces gives visual cohesion and prevents the walls from closing in.

Hide it in plain sight. Stack pretty storage baskets and boxes in the open spaces at the bottoms of consoles, desks and end tables.

Guest Relations. Invest in a twin-size inflatable air mattress to accommodate overnight guests. But splurge on the most luxurious linens you can afford to make up for when guests have to sleep on the floor.

Multi-tasking furniture. In a small space, you have to love every piece of furniture because you’re looking at it constantly. Think outside the box when shopping: Stools, benches and plant stands make terrific bedside tables. Dining room sideboards and foyer-style chests are great buffets for serving guests, and also make perfect dressers.

Small desks rule. Beware the behemoth desk. Yours should clock in at no more than 48-by-24 inches.

Be upwardly mobile. When you don’t have space to go horizontal, go vertical. Shelves, wall-mounted cubes and bookcases are must-haves for one-room living.

Purge ruthlessly. Let your space dictate the quantity of your possessions.

Think of the kitchen as a bar. If your kitchen is contained in your one-room space, it should be painted either identically to the rest of the room, or designed to delightfully contrast.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Written by Lorenzo

Lorenzo has been hanging around the office for the past 24 years, and, in the process, has become the president of,, and His mission is to build into New York's largest no fee apartment rental service. Before, Lorenzo was a Regional Sales Manager for Time Equities, Inc., one of New York's largest converters of rental buildings to coops and condos. Lorenzo was once a part owner of Swift & Watson Real Estate in NYC's Greenwich Village.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *