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Small Spaces: Advice From a Pro

Christine Brun on

Wondering how you can live large in a small place? It turns out there are a few secrets that can be shared by professional designers and product designers. Some of this has to do with being able to budget enough to purchase key pieces that are multi- or dual-functional. Some of it has to do with specific tricks of the trade. Let's take a peek inside the mind of a pro!

Christopher Grubb, who recently spoke at The International Surfaces Event in Las Vegas, knows a thing or two about living in small spaces after remodeling his own tiny home in Los Angeles. Two huge contingencies, baby boomers and millennials, are his targets when designing furniture pieces these days. Millennials are smart, cost conscious and concerned about leaving a small footprint on the Earth. They also tend to be in a greater state of flux and seem to prefer not to spend massive amounts of cash on exotic electronic systems or high-end furnishings because of their job insecurities. At any time, their employment could change and their living situation could shift to another city. A good number are able to buy that first home after getting help from parents or grandparents. Often they have to rent out a room or two in order to make the mortgage payment.

Baby boomers, by contrast, have a slightly different problem. When they look to downsize, it is because they desire freedom from a property that consumed time and treasure. Over a period of 15 to 20 years, many things break, fade or wear out. There are two options available to homeowners: Let a house fall apart, or slowly and faithfully maintain it. The latter option takes money and discipline. Boomers are looking to be free of this burden. The unique challenge of downsizing after a life in a family-size home is how to rid oneself of things. It can be emotional and painful.

Grubb says that this little bungalow from the 1940s is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house of around 1,300 square feet. He designed with furniture that can easily be moved around. "I like to do dual layers, such as this coffee table with a glass top and a lower shelf," he says. "I prefer to use pieces with legs because it creates a lightness. In this situation, the front door opens right into the living room, and so I used a bookcase that is both functional and that acts as a barrier."

Another trick this pro uses often is including a sleeper sofa for guests wherever he provides a sofa. In this way, any living room can serve dual purpose. "I'm also a huge fan of slide-out shelves," Grubb adds. "They expand function in a bedroom, living room or even in a bathroom." For example, Broyhill Furniture has a Vibe 3-Drawer Nightstand with roomy drawers, a USB charger and a touch on/off power strip.

Finally, after several decades of talking about shrinking residential spaces, American furniture manufacturers are beginning to take downsizing seriously. "Even the big-box stores have dropped sizes down about 30 percent in recognition of shrinking spaces," offers Christopher Grubb. "The American market is starting to pay attention."

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Another piece of wisdom is to not be afraid to use bold patterns like the one in this area rug. When applied to the right element in a room, a bold color or pattern can actually serve as a unifying element. Instead of tiny prints or geometric patterns, the larger motif can actually prove to be expansive and help create a sense of more space.

Photo Credit: Greg Weiner


Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at




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