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Small space, maximum impact: 3 homeowners on working with limited square footage

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We look to three Curbed House Calls subjects who live large in petite spaces

Every week, we visit a home with style and soul in our House Calls feature. We’ve noticed a trend: There’s no correlation between good design and size. In many cases, making great design in small spaces is a matter of good choices and editing. As Justina White, an interior designer whose 500-square-foot apartment was recently featured says, "In a small [home], you have to decide what’s important."

For Bridie Picot, a homeware designer and the founder of Thing Industries, the most important feature that makes her petite Catskills cabin (a prefab unit that weighs in at 502 square feet) work is flexibility. "Most of the furniture is moveable so the room van be configured in different ways for different uses," she says.

Bridie Picot started Thing Industries when she couldn't find multi-functional pieces for small spaces. She puts her products to the test in her 502-square-foot cabin. The bright print is from Pure Evil.

In other words, being able to move the furniture allows her to set up a single living space in a way that makes it work for her family (husband Harry Bugden and dog Rabbit) or for a gathering of friends.

Another strategy: Furniture you can see around (and under). "Where I can, I have items raised off the ground so it doesn’t block the flow of the room," she says. In this house, even the kitchen cabinets stand on legs, allowing the eye to travel around the room and making it feel more expansive.

A library ladder, necessary for accessing the loft above the living space, hugs the wall in a vertical installation and can be rolled to the side. The fact that it doesn’t intrude into the room makes it a good choice for a small space.

When guests visit, they come with the expected bags and toiletries. Picot gives them a place to put everything to keep clutter to a minimum, and thus keeps the space feeling open. In the bathroom, she gives each guest a Cabin (a wall-hung unit she designed) to store their necessities.

Hadiya Williams lives in a small apartment in Washington D.C. Since space is at a premium, she uses only pieces she loves.

Hadiya Williams, a Washington, D.C. graphic designer and art director, says the large windows in her 700-square-foot apartment keep the smaller space from seeming cramped. "The light is really important to my work and my state of mind," she says.

In her home, she makes the most of every object by selecting only things that are meaningful to her. For example, she added African mud cloths (items she loves and collects) to the furniture for pops of pattern and texture.

When it comes to pattern, she keeps it from overwhelming the space by playing with scale. She chose a small print for the floor rug, and keeps larger prints at eye level.

By flanking the television set with bookshelves, Williams gave it a built-in appearance.

Williams has a large book collection, and she chose the glass-fronted Billy Series shelves from Ikea to contain it. She says the reflective glass doors make the room feel larger.

The glass-topped coffee table has the same light-bouncing quality, and it’s see-through nature doesn’t block the eye, thus making the room lighter and airy.

Justina White is an Oakland, California interior designer who conquered a tight housing market by making a one-bedroom, 500-square-foot apartment work for two people (herself and her nine-year-old daughter).

She started by thinking about how she would really use the space. Realizing that she stayed up later than her daughter, she chose to make the living room double as her bedroom with a daybed that works as a sofa during the day and as a bed when the sun goes down. "When I had a regular bedroom, I was rarely in it, I just slept there," she says. "Most of the time I was out in the living room or the kitchen."

The idea follows her design policy of using pieces with multiple functions. Not only does the move promote versatility, it also saves space.

Another space-saving decision: Turning the dining room into her office. She and her daughter, Jasmyn, opt to dine at the eat-in kitchen counter. The choice was made by weighing what was really necessary in their lives. "I need a place to work at home," she says.

She also gave their personal possessions a hard look. "We’ve been working on purging, because we don’t have room for excess clutter. When we get new things, we get rid of or donate old things," says White. "We try to save space by having just enough clothes. You don’t really need hundreds pairs of jeans or leggings. By keeping it minimal, we can keep things organized."

Old school design tenants say that dark colors and oversize pieces make small spaces seem smaller. White says some rules should be broken. In her home, she painted some walls black and installed an oversize photograph in the living room to set a dramatic tone. "Some people think large, dark elements make a room feel small and depressing, but I don’t feel that way. I think the color black adds a lot of character and feels chic. You just need to balance it with some lighter accents," she says.

For more big ideas on small-space living and a weekly dose of real-world style, join us on Mondays for our weekly House Calls feature.

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Watch: Tips for tiny living

Bridie Picot started Thing Industries when she couldn't find multi-functional pieces for small spaces. She puts her products to the test in her 502-square-foot cabin. The bright print is from Pure Evil.