Small Wonders: Design Tips for Space-Starved Homes

Good things come in small packages. An elegant New York studio, a hotel-chic bungalow in Venice Beach, a library on wheels in Washington, D.C., and a New York City mini-loft open up to reveal some wonderful surprises.

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Who needs a sofa? Four chairs placed in conversational grouping work just as well and take up much less space.

Custom Cottage Chic

Interior designer Vanessa De Vargas created hotel-style living in her 500-square-foot Venice Beach cottage. Without an actual office space, she simultaneously keeps her chic living space uncluttered and work-related items at her fingertips by using a mudroom for storage and a kitchen table for work. A minimalist style, vintage furniture and palette of gray, black and white evoke a tranquil sanctuary.

Because she likes the style and craftsmanship, Vanessa finds and refurbishes 1950s and '60s furniture. Collecting items from a mixture of eras can result in a yard-sale look, but by customizing furnishings with matching finishes and fabrics, disparate pieces look like a matched set. To keep the small space open, Vanessa uses four chairs in her living room (instead of the traditional sofa and two chairs) and added a cabinet with accordion doors for space-saving storage.

Add a sophisticated touch to plain doors with a bit of trim and paint.

Add style to functional, but bland-looking furnishings by customizing them with paint or moldings. Vanessa customizes TV cabinet doors to match her home's aesthetic and to add visual interest. This idea translates well to closet doors, built-in cabinetry and any storage areas you'd like to disguise or distinguish.

A wall of curtains creates a beautiful, soft backdrop in this bedroom.

Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curtains make a space seem bigger. The windows in this room are near a passageway. To cut down on noise and increase privacy, Vanessa made a thick, upholstered headboard that absorbs sounds from the window area.

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