Northwest Renovation Magazine

A Home Improvement Magazine

“More is better” has been losing popularity in our increasingly downsizing culture, but making it work in our homes can be tricky. We have learned to eat less, but more nutritionally. We know to conserve more natural resources and waste less in unnecessary purchases. Our culture has embraced the idea of frugality, yet we find it difficult to practice when it comes to home design. Just as people need information to change their daily eating and consumption habits, so we need to learn to live well in smaller spaces.

A flip-up butcher block on the side of the island adds an as-needed work station without permanently disrupting traffic flow.

Glass-fronted upper cabinets, smooth granite countertops, and an under-mount sink all contribute to this kitchen’s streamlined feel.

A three-inch-deep niche next to the stove top holds oft-used cooking tools and ingredients.

A frameless clear-glass shower door creates the illusion of an open fluid space, furthered by the color palette and lighting scheme.

This main-floor bath is small but luxurious with radiant-heat flooring and towel bars, a small built-in bench, and a fold-up shower seat.

Built-in cabinetry hides home office equipment, allowing this reading nook to do double duty.

Windows near multi-functional small spaces are essential for both natural light and a more expansive feel.

An exterior set of stairs leading into the kitchen was enclosed to create a versatile mudroom.

Built-ins hold storage spaces designed for the clients’ specific gear.

When it comes to our homes, thoughtful consideration of the impact of larger spaces — on the environment, our budget, and our quality of life — is required. For example, basements and large spaces are the most evident testament to the truism “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and many of us are tired of having our accumulations of things dictate how we live. It’s the quality of the space, not the quantity of it, that matters.

What the Experts Know
The key to making smaller spaces work is research and planning up front, to consider how the room is going to be used. Some may imagine it more difficult to design in smaller spaces, and it may seem impossible to accomplish what you want in a small space. But with an expert who knows how to make every inch serve a purpose, the task can be easy and rewarding.

A professional can help you discover the possibilities for your small space and show you how they can be realized. Professional designers know what can be done and how much it will cost, and have the resources to make them reality. Most importantly, an expert will employ customization to the maximum extent possible to get the most out of a space.

Kitchen Considerations
One of the more challenging and enjoyable projects our firm has worked on recently was a 150-square-foot kitchen remodel. Without changing the footprint, we made a cramped, inefficient space feel airy and work effortlessly. Focusing on the way the client used her kitchen, our design made the space feel purposefully compact.

Built-ins on every wall make the most use of limited space, as does a flip-up butcher block attached to the side of the island, open storage for cooking trays next to the oven, and even a three-inch deep niche next to the stove top to hold oft-used cooking tools and ingredients. Aesthetically, the glass-fronted upper cabinets, smooth granite countertops, and under-mount sink contribute to the streamlined open feeling.

Blissful Bathrooms
Everyone seems to want an in-home spa these days, and for good reason, considering the hectic times we live in. While a small bathroom may not accommodate a sauna and massage table, it can still be a sought-after place to unwind at the end of the day. Essentially, you want to create a space that is as relaxing as the tub of bubbles you sink into.

Clean lines and reflective surfaces work wonders in creating an airy feel. While it costs more, a frameless clear glass shower door can make a huge difference in the open illusion it creates. Selecting the right color palette and lighting scheme will determine whether the end result is stark or soothing. And don’t overlook the luxurious touches that even a small bathroom can afford. For ultimate pampering, consider a heated radiant floor or towel bars, a tiny built in bench for storage and pedicures, or a fold-up shower seat.

Hidden Home Office
Even if we commute to work, many of us still want a work space at home to pay the bills, check our emails and maybe write the anachronistic letter or two. But we don’t always have an extra room to devote to that purpose. We’ve found that you can often carve space from a larger underused room to make a niche for your home office. Even a closet can do if designed right.

Again, customization is key. Do you need a space for a desktop PC or do you only use a laptop? What books or reference materials will you need at hand? How much filed paperwork will you need to store? How many outlets will you need for recharging, printers, etc.? A professional designer will ask you these kinds of questions to ensure that the final design works for your needs.

With that information in hand, a designer can configure built-ins that make the most of tight space. For instance, a reading nook can hold pullouts for computers and writing surfaces, while cabinetry disguises bulkier equipment and unsightly wires. Wherever you find the space for your office, the built-ins and millwork should all blend seamlessly with the existing surroundings, so it feels as if they have always been there. Also, a window is nearly essential, both for the natural light and a more expansive feel.

Mini Mudrooms
In our climate, a mudroom is virtually a must-have, but space can be hard to part with. An experienced designer can help uncover underutilized space, usually near a kitchen or back door, that will store your gear and keep mud out of the rest of your home. Working with our clients, we have configured storage spaces for their specific needs, whether room for recyclables, closets for coats, or vented cabinetry that hides a cat box. With the right partner to guide you, finding and maximizing hidden spaces can be a virtual treasure hunt.

Chelly Wentworth is an award-winning certified kitchen and bath designer and living in place specialist with Craftsman Design and Renovation, a full-service residential design-build firm in Southeast Portland, OR. To view their site go to

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