Designer Files: how to make small spaces work

Yes, size matters. In fact, it’s often the most important factor. When looking for a new abode, space (along with location) is the key discussion point to choosing whether to move in or keep on the home hunt. Some of us prefer bigger in the bedroom, others want lots of room for entertaining and many opt for a chef-worthy kitchen space. Living within the urban setting, most of us learn to juggle the small-space living sacrifices. Our furnishings, however, should not be one of them.

When looking to outfit a smaller space, we need to seek out furniture pieces and creative uses that accommodate our lives yet fit the layout we’re working with. Traditional pieces often don’t work in the scaled-down size of downtown living; we want to enhance the features of our homes, not enhance the lack of space.

Many of my clients come to me with this exact dilemma: How do I create a chic, well-designed pad that doesn’t feel cramped meets my lifestyle needs? Here are my top tips for making a small space work:

1. Source out retailers that specialize in condo-sized furniture. There are many shops in Vancouver that have recognized the need for pieces tailored to condo living; these furnishings rival full-sized pieces in style, yet are a perfect fit for a smaller space. It’s not just about shortening the sofa – it becomes about minimizing many of the design details, such as lessening the width of the arms to visually suit the overall length. You don’t want to end up with a couch that looks like it simply had the middle section removed.

2. Opt out of some larger traditional pieces. When living life in a small space, feel free to get creative with your layout. For many people, having a larger entertaining or family space is key, but it then becomes a struggle to fit in some of the other large items like a dining table. Don’t feel pressured to make it all fit: Even if you like to host, a coffee table can make a super chic spot to dine. Try out a larger round or square coffee table and keep a cool collection of floor pillows that can offer seating when it’s time to eat. The overall effect becomes an effortlessly casual yet intimate experience that allows you to use more of your space for the pieces you really want. Make your pieces work double duty!

3. Don’t shy away from “over decorating.” We all have collections or favourite things we want to incorporate into our decor – the treasured items that we feel defines our signature style. It becomes tricky, however, to find space to display everything when size is limiting. I often work with clients to feel comfortable using whatever surfaces they have available for display. This often means using a coffee or dining table as a library. For a super styled look, colour block your book spines within the piles, or try a monochromatic look by wrapping the covers with a single-coloured or single-patterned paper. If you use trays under your display, it makes the transition a cinch when you need to use the table surface for its intended purpose. If you don’t have the floorspace for additional bookshelves, think about wall-mounted units that allow you to decorate yet maximize your space. Note: rather than opting for just one shelf, consider lining one wall with the same unit to create a cool, streamlined look that gives the illusion of built-ins.

4. Go custom. If you can’t find the piece you want in the size you need, think about having it custom made. Not nearly as expensive as it may seem, working with local artisans to create your pieces ensures that you get that perfect fit, and allows you to get more involved with the actual aesthetic appeal. Some of my favourite pieces to go custom with are tables (dining or coffee), bedframes and/or headboards and shelving. These pieces are the largest that you’ll bring into your home and often the most difficult to get the right fit; getting a custom fit with the bigger purchases will affect the overall feel of your home once you’ve completed all your decorating.


When thinking about bringing pieces home, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. Here are a few of Jennifer Scott’s fave finds that make the cut when size matters.

• Storage Bed + Two Nightstands from West Elm. This ultra-cool bed amps up the style in small-space living. Clean lines and hidden six-drawer storage maximize space, while the built-in side tables eliminate the need for traditional nightstands, which take up more room. Loving it in the fresh white finish. $1044 for queen size.

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• Chiva Functional Coffee Table from BoConcept. The name says it all with this one – functionality is at the max with full storage and multiple surface heights. The chic shape easily transforms with a top that can be lifted to access the storage or raised to create a dining-appropriate height. I love it in the light oak effect with a white glass feature; available in other colours. $1195

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• The Tandem Sleeper Sofa from CB2. This piece is the super chic take on the traditional sofa bed. Sleek lines, high-shine metal tubing for legs and a lush grey menswear-inspired fabric finish make this piece a must-have for any small-space home. $1699

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• Lack Wall Shelf Unit from Ikea. If you’re looking for a streamlined way to get your storage off your floor, these are the best units I’ve seen. Modern lines and a high-gloss white finish can create the illusion of a traditional library when used in multiples along one wall. Try them perfectly aligned for a clean look, or mounted at different heights for a more playful approach. $49.99