By Nancy Powell

Published on July 24, 2015

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Photography by Photography by Dancer Burns

My design partner [and daughter] and her family recently moved from their 950 square foot cottage in the woods.  We devoted all of our time to making her house a well-designed home, with a mediocre budget and tons of inspiration. We DIY’ed, Craigslist-ed, treasure-hunted, sewed, and stenciled our way through the house to pull her vision together.  While it was a sad day when she moved from this cottage leaving our design stamp behind, the young couple who purchased it fell in love with all of our touches and didn’t want to change a thing!  That was a wonderful compliment.

We love to find inspiration in everyday items – like tablecloths!  Bethany and I made a canopy over the queen-size guest bed from a rectangular Serena & Lily tablecloth. We built the custom headboard with plywood and foam mattress covers and upholstered it with a John Robshaw tablecloth.  Mirrored end tables and spray painted lamps made the space decorative instead of cramped.

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Photography by Photography by Dancer Burns

While tiny in size, the floor plan was pretty open.  The great room opened to the kitchen and dining nook.  We found the vintage wagon wheel mirror and antique sconces at antique shops around northern Virginia. We improved out-of-the-box ivory drapes with lining and edged with custom trim tape to up the ante.  Bethany painted canvases over her bar for some zhush and my son Michael did drawings of her bulldogs that flank the window.

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Her home office was designed around one wallpapered accent wall (not in view) and neutral tones. We painted the back of an ikea bookcase with a bright turquoise paint for extra POP and tied it in with a turquoise velvet pillow.  Again, bold lighting draws your attention away from the size of the room and to the dance of light around the ceiling and walls.

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Who says you can’t go dark in a small room?  We painted the ceiling dark smokey brown, a lovely experiment which made the master bedroom feel like a cozy ‘cocoon’.  Mirrored finishes give the illusion of more space. statement lighting focuses the eye on the bold accent instead of the small size of the room.

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Photography by Photography by Dancer Burns

We lovingly refer to this table base as ‘The Lochness Monster’.  We scored it for $25 at a antique salvage yard – it was in pretty rough shape but we saw the potential.  We later invested in having it restored by a cabinet maker and have since paired three different tops on it.

The trick to fantastic small-space design is to incorporate bold lighting, interesting objects, unique art, and finishes to take your eye away from the size of the space.  We love bold ceiling treatments and mirrored furnishings, along with glass surfaces like her waterfall coffee table to bounce the eye around the space and give the illusion of roominess.  We even recommend putting some large furniture in a small space, but edit carefully to not be too ‘busy’ or cluttered.  The art of distraction and illusion is a powerful design trick and more than just ‘smoke and mirrors’!