For apartment and condo dwellers, the most common design challenge to be faced is working with, not against, a space. Just because quarters may be tighter, that doesn't mean style has to suffer. From downtown chic to pastoral suburban, Richmond's apartments come in all shapes and sizes. After making the selection that fits your lifestyle, you may want to rethink a few elements of your décor to make sure you're getting the most out of your floorplan. Here, BluMarc Designs' Marcie Blough, Erin Campbell of Parker House Interiors and Kate Reynolds of Graham Reynolds Design offer tips and tricks they employ to make sure that what could easily be busy, crowded spaces are instead relaxing, stylish abodes.
1) Be seated
Traditional dining-room chairs can be real space hazards. Consider alternate options when creating your dining area. For one client, Blough used a bench instead of chairs to seat more people. "They don't have to worry about where to store additional chairs for bigger dinner parties," she says. Look for a bench that fits your design scheme and colors, and possibly one that has storage. You could store your cookbooks, extra table linens or board games nearby.
2) Store with style
While a bench offers hidden storage, you might want to look for pieces that add both function and storage in attractive ways. For instance, Blough used a roll-away cart to extend a small kitchen's counter space as well as store items for easy access. "Only use items that have significance in your life or are multifunctional," she recommends. When editing your collection of furniture, especially when downsizing, it's smart to make a list of the pieces you can't live without, as well as the ones that will serve dual purposes, with storage being a priority. Ask yourself, "How does this help me keep my space organized?"
3) Paint pale
Simply choosing lighter tones can help a room feel larger. Reynolds recommends using light ecru tones and pale colors. "If you really want a stronger color, choose one wall for it, instead of the whole room," she says, "[and] always add a drop of blue to ceiling white [paint]. It makes it look a little higher." She also recommends sticking with a white for molding. "The less contrast you create, the more cohesive and flowing the space will feel."
4) Hang around
Using drapery panels from floor to ceiling (as high as you can) helps create the illusion that the space is taller and larger. Campbell loves this approach. "We did a condo at the Vistas downtown, and the room did not have any windows, so we created a wall of drapery panels. It added a focal point for the room." She says some people are afraid of committing to drapes but urges them to reconsider. "You can take them with you when you upgrade spaces, and they work in every room."
5) Soften up
In addition to bringing in the colors of your design scheme, upholstered cubes and coffee tables add an element of softness, and, Blough and Campbell both point out, they can serve as additional seating. This way, when you don't have guests, you won't feel like there are a ton of extra chairs in the way, but when you do, you don't have to pull anything out of storage to give them a soft surface to perch on. "If you have a console table that is open underneath, using cube ottomans is a great way to add extra seating to a room," says Campbell.
6) Go deep
The last thing you want in a small space is furniture so tiny you feel like you can't relax. Blough encourages selecting items that are proportionate to the space. "Too small can look empty, too big can be overwhelming," she says. If you're acquiring a new sofa, especially if you're living in an efficiency or a loft without a guest bedroom, find one that is deep and comfortable enough for an overnight guest.
7) Let there be (less invasive) light
Reynolds likes to use simple lighting to create ambiance in small spaces. She recommends opting for recessed lighting and streamlined floor lamps instead of oversized chandeliers or dramatic lamps. "Adding lamps with three settings can make a difference in how big the room feels," she says. "When you need brightness for tasks, the room might seem smaller, but dimming them to relax will make the space feel larger."
Before You Sign A Lease
- Does the rent include utilities? Some apartment rents cover everything you'll need, from heat and water to electricity and — in some cases — even phone and cable TV costs. Others include nothing.
- What is the deposit required? Sometimes this can be a month's rent, other times it can be as low as $50. You must pay upfront, usually in addition to your first month's rent.
- Are there fees or deposits that are nonrefundable? This money is lost to you if you do not ask the question upfront and can add a significant amount to your rate.
- Pets? You have to find out if the landlord permits the type and size of pet you prefer and if he will charge extra deposits or rent.
- Can you sublease? You might need to move before your lease expires. Ask about subleasing or being released from your commitment before it ends.
- How long is the lease? Some landlords offer month-to-month leases, while others require up to a year commitment. When it comes time to move out, most landlords require a 30- to 90-day notice.
- Read your lease. Leases are legally binding. The time to settle any questions or, if mutually agreeable, to make alterations is before you have committed to it.
- During the apartment hunt, remember, some rentals are never advertised. These are often the apartments located in people's homes or properties with so much appeal that they are passed from one renter to a friend or associate.
- Call weeks before moving to get utilities, telephones and cable TV switched to a new residence.
- Most of all, take the time to search things out. Signing a lease is committing a year of your life. Consider commuting time, budgetary concerns and the neighborhood.