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living in 100 square feet


Expert advice

Q&A with interior designer Ruth Mansell

Ruth Mansell, owner and operator of Mansell Interior Designs in Gainesville, Fla., has had more than 20 years of hands on design experience. She received her master's degree in interior decorating from Iowa State University. While in Gainesville, Mansell has decorated large and small spaces. We asked her opinion on how to liven up a small space.

Q: Why do you think people are moving into smaller spaces?

Probably because there's less money to work with. Or, because there isn't housing available that is affordable. For example, in Japan, they talk about the fact that people are living in really small spaces. It could be any number of reasons why they are. But probably the most common way is because of economic situations.

Q: What are tips do you have to make a small space look less claustrophobic?

First of all, don't try to put in too much furniture. Use regular sized furniture, but don't overload it because more open space you have the bigger it looks. When you walk into the room it looks like one room with different pieces, people have a tendency to color one wall one color and other wall another color. One of the ways is to first pick a springboard. A springboard is what I call something with a combination of color in it that you really like. For example, an area rug or a big picture. In a smaller space we usually use neutral colors. We like neutral colors because they usually recede a little more. But that doesn't mean you have to have a boring room because the springboard will have some nice color in it. A rather brightly colored area rug always gives a lot of pizzaz to a room.

Q: What are some essentials for a small room?

You've got to make it function. It depends on what you're going to use the room for. Usually in a small space, for example, get an end table with drawers in them. I even recommend the bedroom-type end tables because they give you extra storage space. Use a coffee table that's more of a bench type, maybe one with storage under the lid. That's something that can enhance your storage area without taking up floor space.

Q: What about decoration? How much decoration can you have until it's too much and it starts to make the room look smaller?

Most people look at decorating as a combination of colors and textures. Accessories are part of decoration: pillows, pictures, things that sit around that are important to you. You don't want too many of those in a small space either because that takes up eye space. You don't want too many pictures either because pictures need space around them. And pictures need to be in relationship to the size of the wall. You don't want to put an 8 by 10 in the middle of a big wall. You want a big picture for a big wall and a little picture for a little wall. Proportion is really key because if you get small furniture in a small room it begins to get a little crazy too. It's better to have normal sized furniture but just fewer pieces.

Q: How important is lighting in a small space?

Extremely. Lighting is one of your key elements to make an ambience really nice. You never just want to have one ceiling light. Ever. You need lighting down where people sit and stand. Usually if you have end tables, you need lamps on them. And if you don't have end tables you need free-standing lamps. The room is garish at night with just a ceiling light. There's all kinds of lighting, but for a small space in a university, an apartment or a house or whatever, regular, inexpensive lamps, free-standing lamps are very adequate. Just get a lot of them.

Q: What's the best way to organize in a small space?

It kind of depends on how much area you have, how much you want to spend. Lots of times an old chest that doesn't look too good that somebody's parents are throwing out you can put in a closet. There's all kinds of under-bed storage or bookshelves that might be one of the pieces of furniture in each of your rooms. It depends on the size of the room and how many pieces you're gonna have and how much junk you've got. The best thing is to keep the things you need to store to just what you need, and not have any collections of anything. You just need to have your basics of what you're going to use over and over. The more junk you have, the less comfortable you'll be. Simplicity is key in a small space.