There are lots of clever ways to make the most of small homes and cottages. Think space-saving features like spiral staircases and don't be afraid to create the illusion of space with brightly colored focal points. Get creative with built-in storage (window seats, anyone?) to add charm to your space, too. Here are a few of our smartest space-saving solutions that you'll wish you thought of yourself.
Save Space With a Spiral Staircase
Install a compact spiral staircase to conserve floor space. Creating access to an upper story-say, for an attic conversion or addition-can gobble up valuable square footage. A spiral staircase is a compact alternative to a traditional one. The homeowners opted to install this salvaged stair-found on Brownstoner, a neighborhood blog-when they designated the house's main staircase as tenants' access. It fits neatly into a 5-foot-square area and gives them a way to move between floors without stepping into the hallway.
TOH Tip: Narrow doors make rooms look bigger by leaving more uninterrupted wall space.
Stair restoration: DVS Iron & Aluminum Works, Brooklyn, NY; 646-573-5953
From 9 Small-Space Solutions From the NYC Project House by Keith Pandolfi
Use Color to Create a Focal Point
The smaller the space, the more critical the details-at least that's the approach my husband, Peter, and I took in tackling the upstairs bath we share with our two young daughters. Our New Jersey rowhouse dates to the 1890s, but in 1966 a previous owner turned the bath into a study in dark maroon. After living with the gloomy, cramped space for six years, we decided to remodel it ourselves, with help from a plumber and electrician.
Scouring plumbing-supply shops, we found a smaller toilet, a narrow-rimmed tub, and a sink just wide enough for two kids armed with toothbrushes. Peter did almost everything; together, we experimented endlessly to create a colorful pattern of 1-by-3-inch clear, frosted, and silvery glass tiles, which we ordered mounted on mesh sections for easy installation. A recessed cabinet with sliding doors holds essentials-spillover goes to the linen closet-and radiant heat saves space too. It still gets crowded at bath time, but having every detail right makes being there a pleasure.
Shown: A new pocket door saves space and has a tidy, tailored look while light-reflecting glass tile and downsized fixtures help create a cheery, open feel.
Tile: Susan Jablon Mosaics
Sink: Ceramica Althea Clever 60
Shower and sink faucets: Metris, Hansgrohe
Bathtub: Veritek BT-3060L/R Swanstone
Medicine cabinet: Signature Gliding Door, Alfina
Light fixture: Luna Bath, Tech
From Creating Major Impact in a Small Bath by Theresa Howard
New Cottage Staircase
With a little rejiggering, the team was able to add the staircase and give the downstairs bath and kitchen a little more room. A three-corner built-in with a triangular top makes the most of space by adding storage and points the way up the new full-height front stairs.
From A Cottage Remodel by Ingrid Spencer
Making Room for a Dining Deck
I wanted a garden for people, as much as plants. After years of high-maintenance gardening on a large suburban lot, I found myself planning a tiny new space behind a little cottage that my husband and I had bought.
I started with a strong, if somewhat romantic, concept. I've always admired the warm, walled areas around English country houses used for sitting and dining outdoors. Inside the walls grow herbs, lettuces, fruit, and flowers for the household. I'd emulate the intimate, sheltered garden closely linked to the house. And I'd create it with modern materials, rather than mossy old brick.
Shown: The deck offers space for casual seating; wide steps provide plenty of room for containers that help blend the structure into the garden. The concrete-paver patio makes a subdued background for bright perennials in shades of yellow, orange, plum, and green.
Here, the curved trellis near the back of the yard adds height and a privacy buffer. Planted with sweet peas, it provides valuable growing space in a small garden.
From Big Ideas for a Small Yard by Valerie Easton
Just like Manhattan skyscrapers, this city kitchen must go higher to fit more-the cabinets reach right up to the 8-foot ceiling-so accessing these hard-to-reach storage areas means a folding stepladder. When not needed for added height, the ladder stashes behind a toekick panel.
Built-in SpacesNothing puts your square footage to better use than a built-in. Whether that means a desk framed within a seldom-used closet or a bookcase tucked into a niche beside the fireplace, built-ins maximize every available inch in your floor plan. They handily transform the dead zones under stairs and below windows into functional space and help you get organized by adding new storage options without adding on to your house. You can design them to tie in with other architectural elements in the room, such as crown molding and wainscoting. Fitted with doors, they help maintain the integrity of period interiors by concealing modern amenities like computer workstations or a mini fridge in a wet bar. You don't have to spend a fortune to get those good looks and the improved functionality, either. We'll show you a portfolio of carpenter-crafted and DIY designs, all to help you bring a sense of order and distinction to your rooms.
From Built-In Storage by Joseph D'Agnese
Chicago designer Mick DeGiulio shoehorned this message center into a "blind corner" of a breakfast bar by rotating a cabinet so that the door opens onto the bar instead of into the kitchen prep zone. A false door panel on the side helps the unit blend seamlessly with the other cabinets.
DeGiulio placed the electrical outlets and phone jack inside the cabinet to keep electronics safe from spills. Also hidden inside are shelves to corral cookbooks and baskets to stow odds and ends. Two small drawers in the 36-inch-high base unit contain phone books and notepads, while a large one on the bottom is fitted with a wire frame for hanging files. The back of the cabinet door is lined with cork to post snapshots, as well as a calendar for jotting down appointments while on the phone or e-mail. If the message area is close to where food is prepped, consider easy-to-clean metal magnetic or dry-erase board instead of cork.
From Kitchen Offices
Trees and Lush Plants Grow in Brooklyn
The backyard used to be a wreck. Once I started pulling up the rotting deck that sat in the middle and the crumbling cinder-block retaining walls around it, I unearthed piles of broken concrete and discarded bricks. But my wife, Vivian, and I had big plans for the forlorn patch of dirt when we bought our Brooklyn brownstone three years ago: We'd make it into a little urban oasis, with a patio surrounded by plants and a cherry tree for privacy and shade. It would be a place to entertain and chill out after work. Here's what we did.
From a Green Oasis in a Small Urban Space by David Burton
An under-the-stairs nook off the foyer is the kind of odd space old houses are prized for. Here, a little window seat instantly turns what might have been dead space into a secret hideaway any kid would love. For a similar effect, exploit under-the-eaves space in an attic for a laid-back homework zone. Or build a niche into a windowed wall on a wide stair landing or in an upstairs hallway.
Tip:Got space under a window near the front entry? Build in a flip-top bench and you've got room to stash extra scarves, gloves, and other coat-closet overflow.
From Sitting Pretty With Window Seats by Natalie Rodriguez
"None of the kids has to double up, and there's plenty of room for sleepovers," says Liz of the revised space. "It's kind of wonderful how we managed to make the most of every space. It's not a huge house, but now it feels perfect for us."
Shown: At the foot of the bunk bed, built-in drawers and recessed shelves create fun and clever storage opportunities.
From Cape Remodel: Small Fixes, Lots More Function by Gregory Cerio
See the Small Space Solutions feature package at thisoldhouse.com
*Title changed for clarity, based on your feedback. Thanks for the comments.