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The Dwell Guide to Smart Design in Tiny Spaces

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Tight quarters prove especially challenging. If you're at a loss on how to squeeze the most out of your small space, consider the expert advice and furniture picks that will help your bantam-sized rooms feel like design heavyweights—no mirror tricks necessary.
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  "Chose, prioritize, proportion, and twist the ingredients. It may sound like a paradox, but sometimes, to make it all work, you should even lose some space."—Thierry Gaugain, industrial designer of just about everything, including a 11-square-foot bathroom cabin.

    "Chose, prioritize, proportion, and twist the ingredients. It may sound like a paradox, but sometimes, to make it all work, you should even lose some space."—Thierry Gaugain, industrial designer of just about everything, including a 11-square-foot bathroom cabin.

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  “Our desire was to have the spaces appear as though they were carved from a single block of wood, with the movable pieces an integral part of the overall composition,” says designer Jeff Vincent of a 520-square-foot backyard retreat in Portland. “This created a feeling of seamlessness.”  Photo by: Lincoln BarbourCourtesy of: Lincoln Barbour

    “Our desire was to have the spaces appear as though they were carved from a single block of wood, with the movable pieces an integral part of the overall composition,” says designer Jeff Vincent of a 520-square-foot backyard retreat in Portland. “This created a feeling of seamlessness.”

    Photo by: Lincoln Barbour

    Courtesy of: Lincoln Barbour

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  Furniture that folds flat, like the Profile Chair, all but disappears when not in use. Consider pieces like these to accommodate extra guests in a pinch.

    Furniture that folds flat, like the Profile Chair, all but disappears when not in use. Consider pieces like these to accommodate extra guests in a pinch.

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  Architect Philip Ryan placed fluorescent bulbs that mimic daylight in the ceiling alcove of his renovated Brooklyn apartment. The glow reflecting down the walls makes the room feel more expansive. He removed interior walls and crafted a hallway spanning the length of the residence to increase the flow of light and air throughout. “Even when you’re in these relatively tight areas, the eye doesn’t focus on the smaller moments—you’re getting borrowed views from the other rooms, making the space feel more generous,” he says.  Photo by: Gile AshfordCourtesy of: Gile Ashford

    Architect Philip Ryan placed fluorescent bulbs that mimic daylight in the ceiling alcove of his renovated Brooklyn apartment. The glow reflecting down the walls makes the room feel more expansive. He removed interior walls and crafted a hallway spanning the length of the residence to increase the flow of light and air throughout. “Even when you’re in these relatively tight areas, the eye doesn’t focus on the smaller moments—you’re getting borrowed views from the other rooms, making the space feel more generous,” he says.

    Photo by: Gile Ashford

    Courtesy of: Gile Ashford

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  "Pick the things that you want to do well. It's not about trying to have every single function. If it's not  doing anything to improve the experience, then take it away."—Peter Cooke, Design Lead for British Airways

    "Pick the things that you want to do well. It's not about trying to have every single function. If it's not  doing anything to improve the experience, then take it away."—Peter Cooke, Design Lead for British Airways

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  Incorporate thinly outlined furniture pieces into your small space and cut the visual clutter. Wire frame pieces, like TT by Ron Gilad for Adele-C, accomplish this slender look.

    Incorporate thinly outlined furniture pieces into your small space and cut the visual clutter. Wire frame pieces, like TT by Ron Gilad for Adele-C, accomplish this slender look.

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  "Many tiny houses are steep gabled and pitch-roofed, but if you build a little place, I'd go for a curved roof. It feels cozier to me. The dimensions of the space recede and you bring the outside in. And if you live in a decent climate, put your bathroom outside."—Lloyd Kahn, editor of the 1973 DIY classic Shelter.

    "Many tiny houses are steep gabled and pitch-roofed, but if you build a little place, I'd go for a curved roof. It feels cozier to me. The dimensions of the space recede and you bring the outside in. And if you live in a decent climate, put your bathroom outside."—Lloyd Kahn, editor of the 1973 DIY classic Shelter.

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  "Because the space is so small, I can't just bring anything home," says architect Page Goolrick of her 560-square-foot New York City apartment. "This is kind of like a great hotel suite with a kitchenette, and I like that because it keeps me light and free. Editing is a big part of the [design] process." She designed sliding partitions that when closed still allow light to flow through her space, and when opened reveal cocoonlike sleeping quarters.  Photo by: Dean Kaufman

    "Because the space is so small, I can't just bring anything home," says architect Page Goolrick of her 560-square-foot New York City apartment. "This is kind of like a great hotel suite with a kitchenette, and I like that because it keeps me light and free. Editing is a big part of the [design] process." She designed sliding partitions that when closed still allow light to flow through her space, and when opened reveal cocoonlike sleeping quarters.

    Photo by: Dean Kaufman

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  Designed in 1963 to match a similar molded plywood chair, these space-efficient nesting tables by Grete Jalk have been reissued by Lange Production in Denmark.

    Designed in 1963 to match a similar molded plywood chair, these space-efficient nesting tables by Grete Jalk have been reissued by Lange Production in Denmark.

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  "It's all about creating cozy spaces, but deliberately so. Design, especially in a small space, should feel intentional. What's most important is not to over-compartmentalize. Allow for flexibility."—Kate Grogan, a Los Angeles–based designer for Poliform

    "It's all about creating cozy spaces, but deliberately so. Design, especially in a small space, should feel intentional. What's most important is not to over-compartmentalize. Allow for flexibility."—Kate Grogan, a Los Angeles–based designer for Poliform

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