Cape Town homeowner Marian van Wyk lives in a compact apartment and shares tips on how to style small spaces.
“When your living space is small, you need to think big and have fewer possessions – that’s your primary consideration. ‘Is that all? Your whole living place?’ one of my guests once asked me in disbelief. I just stared at the ceiling’s concrete beams and tried to explain that this single room previously contained three bedrooms, but that some people prefer to stay in a compact, open-plan area.
My husband and I love the simple, uncomplicated lifestyle that comes with our apartment’s location in Sea Point. We can lock up and walk to shops and restaurants. This lifestyle also has its disadvantages – like if you lose your heart on an antique teapot, but you know that you have limited kitchen cabinet space for crockery. Four cabinets, which are all full; that’s it. So, if ‘less is more’ is your mantra, and you repeat it enough times, you’ll enjoy living in a small space. Choose your furniture wisely and keep the decor simple.
CONSIDER THE WALLS
It makes sense to break down inside walls in a small area. Our place feels bigger and lighter, and we can play with furniture placement. But there are disadvantages: suddenly there’s much less wall space to hang artworks. Built-in cupboards and storage space also vanish with the walls. If you break down the wall between the kitchen and living room, build in a cupboard under the counter. Think carefully what will be visible from the living room after the wall has been broken down. We learnt this the hard way, as many new power plugs had to be fitted once we’d bashed down the inside wall. Although we feel we’ve gained more than we lost, we should have thought about the pros and cons of changing the structure.
There are ways to create space in a small kitchen, like mounting a towel rack on a kitchen cabinet or the ceiling. Then your cooking utensils can hang within reach, and your drawers have more space.
Be on the lookout for other useful things that you can mount on the wall, such as a plastic bag holder, a magnetic strip for knives, or a kitchen paper unit.
You don’t need more than one can opener and three sets of crockery. Colour scheme is also important. Our solution was to paint all the inner walls white and to use the same accent colours everywhere: red, a little blue and a touch of yellow in some places. With a neutral palette you can get away with some extravagance, such as red dining chairs.
We upholstered our old office chairs in red fabric and they look great with the small round dining table. Our crockery is mainly in white, with a few green drinking glasses and blue wine glasses for pops of colour in the kitchen.
SET UP YOUR WORKSPACE
My home office is built into a wall cavity where there used to be a wardrobe. It’s very small, but the advantage is that I need to clean up and unpack after each project is completed. The walls here are used to stretch the space – the phone and a magnetic board with stationery are mounted on both sides of the former cupboard and are easy to reach. I kept the cupboard above and inserted shelves into it. A cupboard with doors hiding files and paperwork always looks neat. If your study is small, allow for some space to give it a personality, like a portrait or photos. And with the phone mounted to the wall, you never have to search for it under your paperwork. We bought a set of drawers to go under the desk. It was brown and neglected, and had ugly plastic handles. We added wheels, gave it two layers of paint and installed new steel handles, and voilà! It’s a perfect storage cabinet. As for proper lighting, mount a lamp where it’s out of the way. We installed a tube light, which is hidden under the closet. Use your walls for extra storage space by adding a magnetic or pin board.
ADD SIMPLE TOUCHES
You should think differently about the bedroom if it flows straight into a living area. When you and visitors can see your bed linen from the couch, it’s best to let the colour blend in with the living room. Keep it simple in white shades, and make it interesting with accessories in natural textures and a few soft accent colours.
Simple window decor make a small area look bigger. It can be functional rather than decorative. Sometimes an open-plan layout can be a nuisance: while you need to work on your computer, your partner wants to watch TV. A sliding door, which separates the sleep and living area will keep the peace. When your rhythms are the same again, it can slide open.
In a small bathroom, less is more and the simplest design works best. Try to have nothing on the floor and choose accessories that can be mounted on the wall. A glass sink is ideal as it seems to almost disappear. Also, a large wall mirror will make the space look bigger and is often cheaper to install than tiles. Light that forms part of the mirror can save you a lot of space. Choose soap and toothbrush holders that can be mounted on the wall, which also looks cool.
SOLVING SPACE PROBLEMS
Some practical problems may appear as you adapt to a smaller space, but there are solutions. After walls have been broken down, close the spaces with a brick wall or a built-in bookshelf. Laundry is a real problem – we hang our wet clothes onto hangers in the closet. And lastly, when a kitchen like ours measures just over two square meters, you have to consider everything. Think out of the box and maximise space.
DINING AREA: SAVE SPACE BY MOUNTING KITCHENWARE ON THE WALL, BUT KEEP IT STYLISH WITH BRIGHT SHADES.
THIS PAGE: MIRRORS MAKE THE SMALL LIVING ROOM LOOK LARGER, AS DO THE LIGHT, AIRY COLOURS.
BELOW: SHELVES SAVE ON BEDROOM SPACE, AND THE DESK IS A CONVERTED WARDROBE. TOP TO BOTTOM: THE BEDROOM LINEN IS COOL AND CRISP WHILE THE CLOSET LOOKS NEAT AND TIDY.