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dear reader | to the one with the tiny room

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dear reader

You hear me talking about rearranging furniture and you look around your “cozy” room and laugh.  Everything is wedged perfectly in the space and any rearranging would be impractical at best and a fire hazard at worst.

You want to change things around, to experience the joy of getting a new look without spending any money.  But you feel stuck.

You’re not alone.

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Several people have walked into my house, after having seen it only on the blog, and most of them say, “Oh, it’s smaller than I thought it was!”  Aside from the kitchen and family room, which are generous in size, the rest of the rooms are average or on the small side.  Or at least small compared to newer homes.

(That rug in the living room is 8 x 10, so the actual room is about 10′ x 12′.)

And there are several rooms in my home that can really only support one furniture arrangement, unless I start covering up the windows or totally ignore traffic paths.

The dining room, home office and guest room fit in that category.

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And even though the family room is large, there is only one place for the sofa, so it’s been in that same spot for nine years.

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But, just because your room is small or your furniture arranging options are limited, it doesn’t mean that you can’t play musical furniture with the rest of us!

Here are some tips and suggestions for arranging and rearranging a small space.

1.) If the furniture arrangement really needs to stay as is, try swapping out one piece for another like piece.  A chair for a chair or a small side table for another one, similar in size and scale.  You can get a different look without spending money or changing the furniture arrangement, just by doing a little swapping.

(I can’t tell you how many times I swapped the chairs from the living to the family room and back again.)

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2.) Assess the small space…if it’s feeling a little “too cozy”, maybe you have too much in the space.  Small rooms benefit from editing and making sure that every piece in the room is one you love and/or need/use.

This is tough.  I know it’s hard to let go of pieces that are sentimental or valuable or you just really love, even if you know that they aren’t working in your space.  Let me tell you that there is real freedom in letting go of some things, so the rest of your things can shine.

3.) Maybe the furniture that’s in the room is the only furniture in your house that’ll fit there.  If that’s the case, I would suggest focusing on the accessories and soft furnishings, like pillows, curtains and rugs.

Set a day aside and see if a friend (or family member) can help you with what I call a “room reset.”  Remove everything except the large pieces of furniture that are staying put.  Everything.  Take it all off the walls, clear the tables and shelves and remove all of the pillows, blankets and small pieces of furniture.

Even the curtains.  You’d be surprised what a different look you can achieve just by removing curtains!

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See how the furniture feels in the room with it empty.  Are there any pieces you should take away?  Sometimes a piece is in a room, simply because it’s been there for years.  Not because you really love or use it.  Remove anything that doesn’t fit in those categories.  Start adding in small furniture and wall art, followed by accessories, pillows, throws, etc.  

Remember to shop your house.  You don’t have to put everything back in the room that was in there.  In fact, that would defeat the purpose of resetting the room!  This is why it helps to have a friend help you.  The kind of friend who will tell you if something is dated or clashes or doesn’t make sense.  Or it’s just ugly.

I will warn you, though.  Resetting a room can sometimes snowball as you shuffle things from one room to the other, so don’t do this the day before company is coming or you’re hosting Bunko night.

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4.) Scale is very important in a small room.  Try to use pieces that have a small “footprint.”  For example, I had a huge antique upright piano (above) in my small living room and it took up a lot of visual and physical space without serving much of a purpose.  Plunking out Jesu, Joy of  Man’s Desiring a couple of times a year isn’t what I would call productive.

I swapped it out for a hutch that, even though it’s taller, has a smaller footprint and provides functional storage.

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If you have a similar situation, perhaps it’s an overstuffed sofa or bulky chairs, consider selling the piece that isn’t working and take those funds to purchase a piece that will work better in the space.

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There is definitely this prevalent idea that bigger is better when it comes to homes.  With neighborhoods filled with mini-mansions that boast media rooms, “bonus” rooms, a guest wing and master suites that are larger than the military apartment my family of four lived in, it can feel like a 10′ x 12′ living room is dinky and difficult to work with.  So why bother.

And I used to think that way.

I hated how small our first townhouse was – 1100 square feet.  The problem wasn’t the size of the house, though.  The problem was that I was working against it, trying to stuff too many things into the small space.  I wasn’t appreciating the satisfaction that comes from whittling your possessions down, editing and making strategic choices… until that small space is quality from corner to corner.

And it doesn’t feel small anymore.

It feels perfect.

Until next time,

Marian

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PS – Jo, this one was for you.

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Comments

  1. Sharon Rexroad says:

    I love cozy rooms! But you’re right, it’s easy to get stuck in one furniture arrangement. I’ve got a big leather chair and ottoman that take up too much space but I love the butter yellow color. I’m starting to wonder if I could “skin” the chair and have enough to upholster a smaller piece (butter yellow leather is SO hard to find).

  2. I don’t know what is happening but I’m trying to read your blog on my iPad and all I can see is a background that says dancing upon barren land. I can see photos but no words. Help!

  3. Lots of great ideas and info but I am the poor soul that lives in a small house with a crazy small living room and it is the only place to entertain and watch television. I have dragged out all the furniture that I could and it still feels “tight”. I keep moving the sofa back further into the dining room to make more room! So…if you are ever in Womelsdorf, PA let me know ’cause I would love your opinion on what needs to go!

  4. Marian – I loved your response!!! As a matter of fact, I bought for $10 a little chest of drawers from a friend, painted it with your paint, and then used embossing plaster on the two little drawers. Right now I’m waiting to buy knobs. I removed one of those round tables in front of the window between two chairs, and put the chest there. I can’t stop looking at it!!!! It looks great. Once I get the knobs I’ll send you a photo. My living room is 13×15 but there’s a corner fireplace and french doors on one wall and another set of french doors and the rest of the fireplace on a second wall so there’s really no space in the room at all. I think you are right in that with this room, my decorating must be done with new, fresh accessories because I can’t flip the furniture at all. So thanks for this post. It’s very helpful.

  5. beverlee says:

    I live in a really small townhome. 800 sq ft. From 2500. I tried to fit in too much also. Letting go, simplifying and lots of white later, I like it. it isn’t cramped, isn’t going to be, I love empty drawers and space to breath. Donate, donate, donate. Build shelves in your closet. Get some negative space in your world. it lets you breathe.

  6. You may think you wrote this for Jo but I’m pretty sure it was actually for me. This is the exact issue I’ve been dealing with lately. My living room is small and oddly shaped and after much trial and error we’ve determined the furniture can really only go one way and so I’m stuck (or I felt stuck) with a room that I can’t change much. Thanks for changing my perspective. jonni

  7. How do you manage without curtains for privacy? My neighbors would be able to peer directly into my house, if I had none. That makes me VERY nervous.

    • marian says:

      We don’t have curtains in the front of the house, but we are rarely there at night, so it’s not an issue. We live in a really tiny town and it almost has more of a country feel, so I can get away with it. I wouldn’t have uncovered windows in a subdivision.

  8. Marlene Stephenson says:

    Thank you so much Marian, i truly needed to hear this.

  9. vikki says:

    Thanks for a well written post. My problem is that I do have too much furniture, this I know, but I have a husband who would kill me if I got rid of any or most of it. Also I have a great room that I try to make into separate living spaces, but it isn’t working too well for me. I know I have to bite the bullet and do what you said and take out everything to see how I like it. I think that is a project coming up soon. Thanks again for caring about us readers, we love your blog.

  10. Carla says:

    Great post Marian. Thanks so much.

  11. Monique says:

    thanks for your wise words of advice. My husband and I are seriously addicted to furniture and you can bet that if we walk into a store that sells any kind that we will come walking out with something! The greatest advice that I ever heard was to buy only pieces that you LOVE. That way you will re-use it in many different ways in many different rooms and you will get years and years of use out of it.
    Also want to share that we have a family room that is a decent size but is open on one side to the kitchen, has a HUGE sliding door on the right side, a fireplace flanked by two windows straight ahead, and a window plus french doors on the left….who in their right mind designed THAT layout?! Ha!

  12. Mary Stewart says:

    I want to purchase a rug just like the one you have but I’m having trouble locating the name/source of the rug that is currently in your dining room area. Can you please re-post that information. Thank you do much!

    • Mary Stewart says:

      Please disregard the rug info request…I found the information just after I sent this request for help!

  13. Elizabeth 'Lyzz' Pickle says:

    Hi Marian – a really nice post and reminder. Thank you.
    Can you source the brass reading sconces over the headboard in your guest room? They look like the solution to my MBR dimness.
    ? you and your endeavors!

  14. Carolyn says:

    Can you provide information on where to purchase the 8x 10 neutral rug in your den.

    thank you

  15. Here. Here. Well put. I have small 1940 ish rooms with pieces of furniture that I can’t move around because the footprint is gargantuan! No matter how many times I move a room around, it’s not going to work because a few pieces actually belong in a man cave. Note to self. Self if possible and edit down to bare bones. I like it!

  16. I used to feel sad about my smallish, older ranch home until I was in a Bible study with a family with 3 kids living in a trailer. It was the kick in the pants I needed to remember that I had everything I needed and some of what I wanted. My home will never be featured in a magazine but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a nice house. Marian, I love posts like what you did today (and your series on changes to rooms in your home through the years). You have practical, helpful advice and it’s good to know that you have similar struggles to so many of us living in smaller, older homes. We CAN make them lovely, like you have!

  17. Naomi S. says:

    I, too, live in a small 1100 sq.ft. ranch and I have a lot of large, oldish furniture. It was good for me to read this post so I would focus again on eliminating some pieces or at least moving them to other rooms or selling them, etc. The problem for me is that they are family pieces and I really love having them. The biggest piece is an old upright piano–larger than yours, Marian, from what I can tell from your photo. I just can’t make myself get rid of it. My sister and I both learned to play on it and before that my grandmother played it. I’ve tho’t about putting it in another room, but there really isn’t another room that it will fit in or that we could negotiate the corners in order to get it into! It weighs a ton.

    Then there’s the dog’s chair… Well, I guess he’d adjust if I pitched it. But, I’d feel guilty when he looked at me with that “where’s my chair?” hang-dog look! I guess I just have to somehow work around it or move, right? I know I have to remove at least one of the four chairs in that room. So I”ll start there and maybe the rest will fall into place. Anyway, thanks for the reminder to address this issue again. A timely subject!

  18. MaryLisa Noyes says:

    I am wrestling with just this very issue. I am sitting in my living room stuffed with pieces I had in my kitchen. My contractor needed everything moved out of the kitchen to start the demo. I realize I will have way too many pieces for the redone space. When we decided to make our weekend cottage our full time home we knew it would take some letting go of previous furniture. I’m really finding things I used to love to be around not the same so I shop my house, rearrange but I need to follow your advice on getting a friend to give me an extra set of eyes….thank you

  19. Teresa says:

    This is a subject so many of us wrestle with in our homes especially when a room is sized oddly or is small in nature. Selecting the right scale furniture and pieces for a room is key. The biggest mistake so many of us make is using over sized furniture for smaller rooms or going against the advice of “Less is more”.

    Your advice on changing out pillows, rugs and accessories is also a great tip on getting a great impact from a room. I would also like to suggest something you didn’t mention. PAINT! The right paint color can make any room feel larger. For those who do use curtains, hanging them higher can make the room feel taller and larger as well.

  20. When I moved into my Husband’s house, then ‘boyfriend’, he had had his sofas in the same position for 9 years. It was the only was he could see the living room working. I immediately moved the tv opening up a different configuration for the sofa (why do we need two?)

    Love your advice of getting a fresh pair of eyes, and emptying the room before this.

    Thanks again
    http://www.homemadebyhail.blogspot.com

  21. Marian, this is a great post and the subject matter is probably why I have always gravitated back toward your site. Most of us live in real homes, or move from rented houses to even rented apartments due to life changes (as I have.) And I don’t want to look at mcmansions all day: I love looking at what real people have done with real, cute, imperfect homes and especially homes done over the years on a budget. Please keep doing what you do: it’s what I love about how you have come to be successful.

  22. I agree this is one of your best posts. Because of your home evolution series, we can see how you have used these tips for small spaces. A picture is worth a thousand words: so I always study your photos and learn a lot. I also like that you share info about whatever is in photo. Some decorating magazine stories will write a paragraph or more on a special feature then not include it in their photos! You do a great job of show and tell! Keep it up : )

  23. I love how you ended this talking about the satisfaction of whittling down and editing until the space doesn’t feel small anymore and is quality throughout. I’ve been in a rut with our 1960’s ranch 1200 square feet in which our family of five live. Thanks for helping me see my home’s potential again.

  24. Sandy Hiatt says:

    I love your style and blog Marion! I just painted my 10×12 sunroom/breakfast room white with semi/gloss trim in the same white. I have blue and white toile chairs and accents in blue and white. The creamy background of the chairs against the white wall bugs me! How do you balance whites and creamy white? Does it bother you, or is it just me? Thanks for taking the time to read this and answer.

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