Live Large in a Small Space

There is just something alluring about a cozy beach cottage. See how three families make the most of their square feet—one has fewer than 380!

Simplicity Rules

Photographer: David Tsay, Writer: David Hanson

Cottage 1: Stinson Beach

Steps from the water in Stinson Beach, California, architect Lewis W. Butler, the principle at San Francisco-based Butler Armsden Architects, designed a home meant to bring his family together and allow them to enjoy the outdoors. Shaped like an H, with the living room serving as the connecting bridge between the two bedroom wings, the house is a model of smart, efficient design. Although the total footprint is less than 2,000 square feet, the house offers plenty of space-and privacy-to meet the needs of the architect's two children, his parents, and his sister's family. "There's just enough space for everyone to spread out to their four corners and still come together in the living room," Lewis says.

Inspired by his grandmother's William Wurster-designed Santa Cruz house, Lewis created a home that is all about the indoor-outdoor experience. Sliding glass doors that open to a deck on one side and a courtyard on the other make the space feel larger.

Sand and Sea

Photographer: David Tsay, Writer: David Hanson

Sand and Sea

Lewis applied the same no-muss, no-fuss approach to decorating the house, starting with sand-and-sea inspired palette. The subdued taupe color of the lightly stained Douglas fir framing offers a warm backdrop for the soft blue rugs, throw pillows, and accessories. As for furnishings, comfort and durability reign. Deep wicker seating—topped with plush cushions upholstered in a weather-proof fabric—makes room for a crowd in the living room.

Double Duty

Photographer: David Tsay, Writer: David Hanson

Double Duty

There is nothing wasted inside the single-walled structure, were exposed rafters and structural supports inside function like built-in storage lockers for books. Several rooms have double functions: The den (pictured at left) is outfitted with daybeds to sleep extra guests, and one end of the living room is reserved for dining at the large farm table.

Uncluttered Design

Photographer: David Tsay, Writer: David Hanson

Uncluttered Design

To simplify the housekeeping, the same white quilts were chosen for each bed, and a few white slipcovers here and there add crisp contrast to all the blue and beige. An antique Persian jajim textile hangs in the master bedroom (left). The uncluttered design and decor allow's Lewis's family to enjoy life's pleasures, such as playing on the beach and cutting flowers from the garden.

Nod to East Coast Style

Photographer: David Tsay, Writer: David Hanson

Nod to East Coast Style

Outside, Lewis made a slight modification to typical Wuster homes cladding the house in cedar-shake shingles instead of vertical board-and-batten wood, which is often seen on California bungalows. The siding choice requires little upkeep to preserve its longevity, keeping the house's maintenance requirements low. Paired with white window trim, the shingles have the feel of an East Coast cottage, a nod to Lewis's wife, who grew up on the Maine coast.

Bright and Airy Redo

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Cottage 2: Bald Head Island

James and Joelle Clark looked past this Bald Head Island home's abundant imperfections (water damage, an outdated kitchen, and an inefficient floor plan) and saw its potential. With the help of an architect and design team, they were able to make the home feel spacious and bright without adding a single square foot.

Outside, the original cedar-shake shingles got a good pressure wash and the porch ceiling and rafter tails got a fresh coat of Benjamin Moore's Barely Teal.

Rethink the Rooms

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Rethink the Rooms

Before, the dining room occupied the center of the house, while the kitchen sat in a dark corner. By moving the kitchen to the former dining area and adding a large, eat-in island, architect Jason Bigelow opened up the space to the two-story living room. In the former kitchen, a full-service butler's pantry offers additional storage.

Bare It All

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Bare It All

Few structural changes were made in the living room, but a lighter, brighter palette—plus forgoing window dressings—made a world of difference. Large windows draw in natural light and make the space feel bigger, while the stripped-and-pickled oak floors and white-painted walls create a crisp, simple look. Even the furnishings—a white cotton slipcovered sofa, wooden tray coffee table, and natural woven rug—amplify the less-is-more vibe.

Open Up Small Spaces

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Open Up Small Spaces

Sliding barn-style doors made of reclaimed pine on rustic tracks allow the butler's pantry and master suite to open up completely—or close off to conceal a mess or afford privacy. Another space-saving idea: Opt for open shelving in lieu of standard cabinetry to keep small rooms from feeling closed in.

Take It Outside

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Take It Outside

By furnishing a wraparound porch like an indoor room, complete with a plush daybed, hanging lanterns, and artwork, the home's living space is extended outside. The Nadja Miller artwork is framed by Larson-Juhl, and the stool is from Viva Terra.

Hang It Up

Photographer: Francesco Lagnese, Writer: Elizabeth Beeler

Hang It Up

An oddly positioned closet made furnishing the children's room a challenge. So designers Lili O'Brien and Leigh Anne Muse installed four hanging bunks (made of teak, suspended from the ceiling with cable, and bolted to the wall for extra security) that fit perfectly into the unusual space while still providing room for play. The kids access the top bunks via a simple painted hardware store ladder.

Nantucket Guest Cottage

Photographer: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Writer: Marisa Spyker

Cottage 3: Nantucket

Nantucket carpenter Michael Haigley's one-room guest cottage may pale in size compared to the impressive estates that dot the island, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in cozy style and smart efficiency. The home—which occupies a mere 308 square feet—was inspired by post-Katrina hurricane cottages, the prefab housing developed on the Gulf Coast as an alternative to FEMA trailers. Here, he reveals how he made the most of his small space.

Nantucket Guest Cottage

Photographer: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Writer: Marisa Spyker

Invest in Subtle Details

A smaller area doesn't mean you should skimp on architectural interest. Things like trims and finishes tend to get noticed more when less is going on. In this cottage, Michael channeled authentic Nantucket architecture with beaded board tongue-in-groove poplar wall panels and custom window treatments and moldings reminiscent of Quaker styling.

Nantucket Guest Cottage

Photographer: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Writer: Marisa Spyker

Think Outside the Box

Michael took advantage of vertical space by topping his simple, cube-like one-story structure with wide-open cathedral ceilings that enhance the airy feeling from inside. He carried the white finish of the walls to the ceiling, and installed clerestory windows for additional brightness.

Nantucket Guest Cottage

Photographer: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Writer: Marisa Spyker

Nix the Bedroom

Rather than waste precious space on four walls and a private bedroom, Michael opted for a wide-open great room that can accomodate more people when entertaining. At night, the sofa turns into a bed and, in the back of the home, a ladder leads up to a cozy loft ideal for sleeping kids.

Nantucket Guest Cottage

Photographer: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Writer: Marisa Spyker

Live "Outdoors" Year-Round

To allow for use of the front porch in nearly all four seasons, Michael installed wraparound windows outfitted with removable glass panels that keep out wind and cold weather. Two 3-foot-wide French doors connect the porch and living area. "We use the porch with the doors open so it feels like and extension of the buidling," Michael says. "It makes the house seem bigger."

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