Adam Ewing photo
"Tell us what's important to you," designer Leigh Anne Muse of O'Brien and Muse instructs her clients right off the bat, "because we don't have any idea what it is."
Incorporating pieces that are near and dear to the heart is central to Muse's design philosophy. An enclosed porch in her near-West End Cape Cod was reimagined as a fly-tying study for Jim Muse, her husband and an avid fisherman. The house itself once belonged to his grandparents.
"One of my mantras . . . is ‘live what you love,' " she says. Family pieces are scattered throughout the house, and in the small study, the focal point is an old family desk, used daily by her husband. Above it, mounted animal skulls, antlers and an enormous fish punctuate the surrounding walls.
"I try [to] use everything I get from my family," she says. "We use our silver every single day. Things like that make a difference to us. It reminds us of where [it] came from but [we're] enjoying it at the same time."
As newlyweds eight years ago, Muse and her husband started out in the house very simply, with a neutral palette and just a few things.
"We didn't have much of a budget — in fact, we ended up doing much of the work ourselves."
They added to the home over the years, with artwork and other antiques picked up along the way. One thing Muse recommends when outfitting a small space is "measuring six times before ordering."
Most of today's furniture is overscaled, she says, and it's worth "taking the time to lay out a square of paper and walk around it. See how you maneuver around the room."
For Muse, that process resulted in converting a seldom-used dining room into another living space so that thehouse would be more comfortable for frequent entertaining. She also changes accessories and moves pictures around constantly, "because in a small house I'd get bored with it if everything stayed the same all the time."
"We use this house hard," she says, "and that's the way it should be. You need to live in it."
Leigh Anne Muse's Small-Space Tips
- Fewer, larger pieces make a space appear much bigger.
- Choose a focal point and balance objects and furnishings to enhance rather than compete with that focal point.
- Stick with a monochromatic color scheme as a springboard; use color and pattern sparingly to create interest.
- Avoid over-accessorizing: Each item should have meaning within the space.
- Consider built-in bookshelves and storage solutions. Look for furniture that has more than one use.