Designing For Small Spaces

In a world where bigger usually means better, smaller spaces have one major advantage.  Intimacy.  More and more clients are deliberately choosing to live in smaller spaces for a variety of reasons.  For some, it’s simple economics but for others, the choices represent a shift in lifestyle, especially for the baby boomers.

For many, smaller homes represent a time when life was good and there was more to life than having a 5-car garage.  The trick, however, is to create a space that will still indulge us with all the amenities that we’ve grown accustomed to.

The financial upside is that smaller spaces are usually less expensive than their counterparts and therefore allow us to move up the real estate scale in terms of location.   Living in the suburbs in order to get a larger house may, to some, not be as desirable as living in a smaller space that is closer to downtown and a more active lifestyle.

But designing that small space so it doesn’t feel like a cracker box can be a bit a design challenge.  There are several ideas you can employ to make your small space feel like a designer’s dwelling.

First, consider what areas are a must and which can be consolidated.  Dual usage of space not only gives you extra room, it shows creativity which people find interesting.  A good example of this is converting a guest bedroom closet into your home office.   Or maybe using a desk behind the sofa instead of a console table and replacing your PC with a laptop.  Using wireless printers/faxes allow you to store your devices anywhere out of sight.

Next, consider the furniture layout.  Here’s where it can get a little unnerving since most people think smaller spaces should have less furniture.  This is not necessarily true.  A good trick is to simply select smaller scale pieces, allowing you to introduce more accent pieces which are typically only found in larger rooms.  If your room only allows for a sofa and two chairs, don’t use matching pieces.  Adding variety gives the eye more to look at and again, fools the brain into thinking there is more to the room.  The same holds true for tables.  Different shapes and sizes give you more opportunity to create small visual vignettes rather than a big grouping of furniture.

Another factor in the layout is to avoid the straight line effect.  Break up the space into smaller areas so that you walk around the areas rather than through them.  Also keep in mind the view that guests will have when they are seated.  Arrange furnishings so that they direct the view to the largest area rather than facing into a wall.

Keep in mind a few points when designing your layout.  The point of view that people see when they first enter should be a focal point.  In some cases, it may be nothing more than a short wall in a foyer.  If so, think of ways to make a statement without taking up any space such as mounting large moldings to the wall and inserting vintage mirror into it.  Then hang a large oil painting over the mirror and feature it with special lighting.  This could also work in a small dining area to make it feel larger and brighter.  By hanging something over the mirror, the mirror becomes secondary and layered, and it keeps people from seeing their own reflection.

Planning ahead before you move in can allow you to make some minor construction changes that could change the appearance of your home entirely.  Door swings can be changed or eliminated with pocket doors, long blank walls can be broken up with partial columns or detail moldings, and ceilings and soffits can changed to incorporate accent lighting and different living areas.  Once you know your furniture layout, these are things that can be planned to make the presentation look much more impressive.

Certain items are a must, but keep your thinking cap on while thinking about each item.  While a bed is going to take up a certain amount of space no matter what you do, think about how to get more use out of it or make it more interesting to the eye.  Some beds have drawers in the base while others can be lifted to access a full storage area.  Wall sections can be built to extrude from the wall to make the bed appear to be recessed which then allows for bookcases, lighting and bedside storage.  By having the bed appear recessed, the room will actually feel larger since the bed won’t look as long.

Consider having multiple sources of lighting.  Recessed, picture lights, buffet lamps, chandelier, sconces, etc. can give the room featured areas at night rather than lighting it up like a gymnasium.  Lighting can make or break or room as most people think only in terms of having a couple matching lamps.  Yawn.

If you’re lucky enough, or have the means to install it, hard surface flooring such as wood or stone will give you the added advantage of using area rugs.  Rugs can define large or small areas and the combining of them adds another layer of interest to what would otherwise be a solid color floor.

When making design decisions about specific items, remember that in small spaces it’s all about the details.  If you only have one chair, make it something to remember.  Pick colors that can have an impact on the space and go for shades that seem a little less mainstream, whether dark or light.  Avoid buying matching pieces of furniture at all costs.  Avoid patterns or excessive draping on window treatments.  If possible, use glass tops for cocktail and dining tables to minimize the visual weight and allow the eye to see through them.  And when you’re just about done, accessorize.  Arrange small, tight collections in areas to catch the eye leaving open areas next to them so the overall effect doesn’t appear crowded.  Place artwork in prominent positions and use larger paintings to act as backdrops or fill large blank walls instead of multiple pieces.

And by all means, if you have any outdoor space such as a balcony or patio, make the most of it. Bring your sense of design outside and make it an extension of your interior.  It’s like adding a free room to your home.

In the end, your home will feel intimate, personal and dramatic.  It’s not about size, it’s about style.


“A Designer’s View on Opportunities”

Some of the topics I write about work well mixed with a little humor or sarcasm.  Some, like the one I’m writing about today, are best left as they are.  This is written for people who are feeling a little discouraged with the economy.  There is hope.

And one of the best sources of hope comes from designers.  Whether they work as auto designers, graphic designers, product designers, etc., they can make a huge impact on your life and the way you see the world around you.  They make a living out of turning nothing into something.  And then, without you even realizing it, that “something” becomes part of your everyday life. Maybe it’s your iPad, or your hybrid car.  Or maybe it’s your new sunglasses or that favorite new pair of jeans that you just paid a small fortune for.  Every product, every piece of clothing, everything you see on TV or print, has all passed the scrutiny of a designer before you were allowed to see it.  One good look around your home and you’ll see just how much influence designers have on your life.

If there’s one trend that I’ve noticed over the past few years it’s the concept that the good times are gone.   People are complaining about jobs, taxes, gas prices, loss of home values, etc.  It’s become a national pastime to find something wrong with everything.  Just listening to people who complain all the time can put otherwise optimistic people into a tailspin and it just propagates the whole situation.  It’s contagious.  We need to change our view.

Those things do exist and of course, it’s a concern to everyone.  What most of us forget when things get rough are the opportunities that present themselves.  It’s during these times when creative minds have a little more time to think, they think harder than ever  and as a result, we usually end up better in the long run. Remember the late 70’s and early 80’s?  A global recession was going on, mortgage rates were at 18%, but it was also a great time of inventions.  MS-DOS(Microsoft Software), Cell phones, the Hepatitis B vaccine, the IBM-PC computer, CD-ROM, Apple Mac, Sony Walkman, MRI’s, and of course, Prozac to name just a few.  Apparently, not everyone was sitting around relishing in their misery.

In the past, most designers in my area relied heavily on new home sales.  South Florida was in a building boom for many years and designers rode that gravy train to the last station.  Clients were spending like there was no tomorrow, some of them as if they were posting their W-2 forms on their front door.   It was a great time for everyone.   Unfortunately, things do change and we need to change with them.

The late designer, Jay Spectre, always had a positive outlook on life and business.  He used to say “The time to take the cookies is when they pass the plate.”  In other words, when opportunity comes your way, grab it.  And while the economy appears to be in the toilet for most people, it is creating opportunities for those who have the ability to see them.

A good example of one of the opportunities in the home industry is that while new sales are at a standstill, more and more people are deciding to stay in their current home for the next several years.  In doing so, many of them will be doing renovations and additions to make their homes more comfortable.  They are saving money by doing this instead of buying a new home and paying the higher property taxes or selling their home at a substantial loss.  They are making their homes worth more in the future.  These are opportunities for both designers and clients.  These projects may be a little more work, but it’s new way for people to consider upgrading their lifestyle without incurring more debt.   It’s also a great time for people to save money as many vendors and workrooms have lowered their pricing in order to survive.

Another opportunity that we are seeing as a result of the economy is that many people need to sell their homes and the competition is brutal.  The market for staging firms is increasing dramatically.  It may only cost a small amount to stage your home professionally but for most homes, it will increase its marketability and value.  This may be especially true for the condo market where several identical units may be competing for the same buyer.  Don’t kid yourself into thinking that all buyers are just looking for the cheapest price.  That is just not so.  If they are from out of town, they may want something that is already done rather than deal with the headaches of construction or decorating a new home via long distance.

The economy has misplaced a lot of homeowners into rental properties.  Some of them will stay in the rental market for some time while they are rebuilding their credit and savings accounts.  For investors, this creates a new market for investment.  For renters, it presents a more affordable cost of living allowing them to save money for their future.   For those with families and careers, a rental home does not mean living like a college student.  They still want the same comforts of a home to raise their family.  Some of these new clients are renting luxury properties. These customers may not be looking to make lifetime investments so for those designers who have well-priced resources and ideas, this is a whole new market.

The economy has had an effect on everyone and hopefully we will now see the rebuilding of it in a stronger, healthier environment.  For many, the process has changed our values.  I strongly suspect that it’s one of the driving factors why contemporary furnishings have had a strong influence over the past few years.  People may be wanting something fresh, something less complicated and fussy.  It’s not unlike during the Depression, the most glamorous decade of the American century.  The Depression was the zenith of an era of unbridled, unapologetic and authentic luxury.  While our economy was at it’s worst, people were finding comfort by throwing the most lavish parties our country had ever seen.  It’s how they found balance in an world that otherwise seemed overwhelming.

While things seem a little rough right now, it might look a little more tolerable if we change our perspective.  Thankfully, my job as a designer gives me the chance to work on creating something for the future.  I  spend my days looking out the windshield instead of the rear view mirror.  And the view ahead is encouraging.




Burglar Alarms and Video Surveillance-Your Home’s Most Important Design Detail


Imagine coming home after a long day at work and walking into your home only to find your backdoor is standing wide open.   In a split second you notice the broken window and glass (and yes, they can even get through hurricane impact windows and doors!)all over your floor.  Your stomach instantly wrenches at the thought that you’re about to discover your entire world has been turned upside down and your peaceful home has become the target of a home invasion.

This probably isn’t something most people consider when they are thinking about remodeling or decorating their home.  Our thoughts are usually about furnishings, colors, future entertaining and raising a family in a beautiful new environment.  But this is probably one of the most important details that you should consider to protect yourself, your pets, your loved ones, and your new life.

Burglars do more than just steal your belongings.  They steal your sense of security.  As you look around your home after a burglary, you imagine some stranger rifling through all of your possessions, touching your things and randomly grabbing anything you’ve collected during your lifetime like they were at a flea market. You try to imagine the moment that they approached your house to see if you were there.  Did they knock first?  Did they walk around the house a few times first?  Did they operate alone or with someone else?  Did they have a weapon and if so, what would have happened if you were home?  Did they scare or hurt your pets?  Did your arrival scare them out of the house and if not, how long had they been gone?

In addition to stealing your security, there is a high chance they can steal your identity as well.  Most homeowners have “safe places” where they store important documents and items such as passports, social security cards, credit cards, checks, etc.  Once in the hand of a thief, this can disrupt your life for months to come as you try to regain your financial security.

As the first few days go by, it becomes more and more difficult to rest at home.  Falling asleep takes longer as every little noise in and around the house makes you want to get out of bed to make sure everything is okay.  There’s that little voice in your head wondering if they are coming back for more.

Nothing will give you more peace of mind than a good burglar alarm.  Doors, windows, and motion detectors all help catch any movement within the house.   Motion detectors can be set to preclude any pets to avoid false alarms and you can set your alarm to allow you to stay in the house at night by bypassing the motion detector while leaving the doors and windows still protected.

And if you want superior protection, the new standard in home protection is video surveillance.  High resolution infrared cameras, now available with up to 700 line resolution, can be place indoors and outside to capture every smallest detail in color, day or night.  They are accessible by an internet connection or smart phone to view while you’re not home even if it’s to check on your babysitter or the housekeeper.  Systems can be custom built to fit your needs with up to 12 cameras if needed.  In addition to the cameras, you’ll also need a separate DVR, hidden in a remote spot, for recording purposes.   It’s an excellent backup if you should have a problem or even suspect a neighbor who may be abusing your property while you’re not home.

Video monitoring is also great to see who is at your front door before you open it.  Complete systems with installation could run $2500 to $4000 depending on your specific needs.  Once installed, they are pretty much a “set it and forget it.”  If you should have a problem there is no need to remember all the details of trying to download any video.   Police departments now employ specialists who will come to your home after an event to download any video that might be helpful.  However, a simple thumb drive inserted into the front of the DVR will allow you to download any footage that you want to save.

Burglar alarms and video surveillance systems will not guarantee that you still won’t be the victim of a burglary.  They will, however, provide an excellent deterrent for anyone who thinks you are going to be an easy target.  And they will substantially increase the odds of catching any perpetrator.

So protect your family and yourself.  Protect your pets, family heirlooms and most of all, your security.  Once it is taken from you, the world will never look the same.


“Interior Design Books-The Best of The Best”

Inspiration comes in many forms.  Sometimes, for visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, inspiration may come from something as simple as nature itself.  For others it might come from years of conditioning and exposure, and the ability to notice a nuance that sparks the imagination.  Designers have always seen the world through a different set of eyes and sensibilities.  They can take something old and make it new again.  They can position an object or color in such a way that not only makes us notice it, but makes us feel it.

During my years in the business, I’ve met a lot of people working in the interior design business at different levels.  Some of them are very successful but a better salesperson than a designer.  Some have talent off the Richter scale but not a nickel to their name.  For some it’s a business but to a special few, it’s a passion.  These are the people who inspire me.

Anyone interested in interior design deserves to surround themselves with some inspiration from their peers.  We’ve all hit that wall once in a while when we are trying to put together a presentation.   Our minds are drawing blanks, the deadline is bearing down on us, and we feel like there isn’t an ounce of creativity left in us.  That’s the time to put my pencil down, turn off my brain and relax with a great design book and get lost in another world.  Seeing pictures of some of the most beautiful rooms in the world recharges me.  It gives me a fresh outlook and I no longer feel trapped by the ideas of my past.

I’ve decided to share some of my favorite books here.  I’m not selling them or recommend where you buy them, but these are by far some of the best.   If you have any favorites you’d like to share with me, please send me a comment.  I’m always in the market for a fresh read.  These are not listed in any order of preference…that can only be decided by you.



Architect and interior designer, Jose Solis Betancourt is a regular on the AD 100, Architectural Digest’s list of top designers, sometimes called the Oscars of the design world.  “Essential Elegance:  The Interiors of Solis Betancourt” covers 14 of his projects.   These are rooms where you find refuge and comfort.  His use of luxurious fabrics contrasted by his simple arrangement of furnishings and accessories create a subtle and sometimes dramatic effect.






Axel Vervoordt is a Belgium antique dealer who, along with his family, runs an 85 person design firm, a multidisciplinary center of decorative arts and crafts in the Kanaal, a complex of restored nineteenth-century warehouses and silos.  His is considered to be a master of color and light.  “Timeless Interiors” contains over 20 of his best projects.




Alexa Hampton’s “The Language of Interior Design” demonstrates the exposure and expertise she acquired as the daughter of interior design icon, Mark Hampton.  Now regarded as one of the top interior designers of our time, she also licensed product lines from different manufacturers.  Her style runs from the classic to the contemporary…each with an astonishing eye for proportion, finish and details.




“Mary McDonald Interiors:  The Lure of Style” combines vintage Hollywood glamour with everyday life. She is consistently ranked one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 designers.  Her personal style of layering and collections are neatly organized to add intrigue without appearing cluttered.  Her combination of styles has been called many things…it needs to be seen to be appreciated.



“Victoria Hagan: Interior Portraits” is the first collection of works for this seasoned designer. First discovered by New York magazine in 1998, Victoria Hagan has become renowned  for her” intelligent integration of architecture and interior design.”   This is a book about an artist with interior design…relying on what’s not there as much as what you see.  Her rooms are magically calm and organized, clean and crisp.  This is a book you’ll pick up more than once.



“Vincent Wolf, Lifting the Curtains on Design” is his most recent release from 2010.  It provides a glimpse into the mind of designer from concept to completion.  His work is clean, sophisticated, and uncluttered.  His palettes are weightless and his uncanny sense of using surprisingly affordable objects as focal points is refreshing.  Based out of New York, his work spans the globe in both residential and commercial projects.


Also released in 2010 is David Easton’s “Timeless Elegance: The Houses of David Easton”.  The book features mostly work that has been unpublished prior to this book and includes blueprints and drawings from the projects to better understand the design decisions that were made.  His work is layered, classic even when doing contemporary styling and finished with tons of detail.  This is a man who understands art as much as interior design and architecture.  Although his clients have great means, the rooms carry an artful refuge and calmness.



Thomas Jayne’s “The Finest Rooms in America” is a collection of 50 interiors spanning the history of the United States.  It includes everything from Monticello to New York loft.  It’s about the best of the best in both design, periods, furnishings, accessories and fabrics.  Jayne himself is an accomplished interior designer but he has chosen not to include any of his own work in this book.  This is a book you will reference over and over.

I’m sure all of these books are available through or the like should you care to purchase any of them for yourself or someone who might really enjoy them as a gift.  They will provide hours of enjoyment.   You’ll probably find that if you leave them lying around on your cocktail table, your friends are likely to pick them up and get immersed in them…and probably ask to borrow them.  All of them provide excellent examples of some of the finest interior design work of our time.  You’ll find them to be an endless resource of ideas and inspiration.  But of course, as with libraries, the collections grow and designers rise to the top.  As I discover new books, I’ll be happy to share them with you.

Happy reading.                                                            








“Southern Comfort, Fort Lauderdale Style”

“Southern Comfort”


Florida has long been a haven for those looking for a better life.  For the young, it’s the promise of beaches, sunshine and a new beginning.  For the elderly it may be the thought of an easier life playing golf, strolls along the beach in the morning or not having to worry about the dangers of living with snow and ice.   It’s a place where people come to play, and for us lucky ones, a place to live and work.

The interior design climate in South Florida is one of the strongest in the country along with places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  People come here from all over the United States and Europe to find a place to call their own.  For some it’s a permanent move and for others it’s a vacation home.  The one thing most of them have in common is that they want it to look great.  After all, not many are willing to invest in a dream home with the intent of having it look poorly.

South Florida, as a result, has become a leader in the interior design industry.  Our styles are constantly evolving but one thing remains…above all else, we want comfort.

The day of quilted floral sofas and matching draperies is over.  Formica built-ins have been laid to rest.  Mirrored walls have lost their sparkle.  Wall-to-wall carpeting has been rolled up and hauled away. And households of matching rattan furniture pieces have been sent off to distant consignment shops.  The new Florida has emerged as a sophisticated, casually elegant design haven.

During the 80’s we saw a huge boom in the building industry that lasted 20 years.  Homes were commonly being referred to as “McMansions” for good reason.  Design was secondary to size and the bigger, the better.  Ceiling heights soared and rooms became oversized just because they could.  And in the process, many of us began to realize that the one thing we were striving for was actually eluding us.  Comfort.  The giant scale of the rooms created an impersonal feeling that even the largest pieces of furniture couldn’t compensate for.  What were intended as family gathering spaces turned into lifeless museums now dotting numerous country clubs and gated communities.

Sometimes we have to experience the effect before we can actually understand it.  The younger clientele, having grown up with these large homes, suddenly started asking for their spaces to be tamed into smaller, livable, and family- friendly rooms.  Although we have grown accustomed to the additional square footage (which many still request), our attention has turned to the layout and architectural details that create a backdrop that is inviting instead of intimidating.  More and more homes are being built with two stories instead of having 20’ ceilings.  Smaller rooms, wider hallways, custom millwork and details reminiscent of historical quality are taking the stage.  It has become quality over quantity at every corner.

This is not to say that one style is better than another.  Traditional interiors are still the most requested by those looking to make long term investments, especially for clients in mid-life.  Younger clients, as well as some older clients looking for a change, are turning to crisp, clean contemporary interiors.   In either case, what seem to be diminishing are the extremes.  The traditional interiors have lost their dripping in ornamentation and the contemporary interiors are beginning to soften up with the addition of transitional design elements.   Add a light color palette, simplify the patterns, introduce some earth-friendly finishes, and you have what is becoming the new Florida look of the future.

Personally, I think it’s a welcome change.  The variety that is now available will hopefully prevent us from falling into the trend vortex that caused the interiors to become outdated every few years.  The cost of fine furnishings has become a major investment and they should last a lifetime.  It makes more sense to build on our collections rather than starting over each time.   By being able to add personal elements such as color, textures, finishes, and accents, homes will now begin to have an identity that will become part of the South Florida landscape.

Big or small, our home is our home.  It’s where we find refuge, where we go to relax and be ourselves.  We want our guests to feel like family.  And while we want it to look nice, we don’t want to have to be a slave to it. Our priorities have changed.   We have become more practical and sensible.  And as a result, I think we’re all living a little better each day.

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