Interior Designer Living on a Little – Part 1

image by Stag Pads

Small spaces + Small budgets = Big Potential

We’ve all lived on a tight budget in one season of life or another. As much as it challenges us, it stretches us to get creative and trust that everything is going to be okay. For Shantelle, one of our designers, this is her real-life “Design Dilemma”: tight budget, cramped quarters, and a limited floor plan. So, what’s a girl to do?

Accept the challenge, of course! Taking a leap of faith, Shantelle decided to find a smaller apartment in order to save money and let’s just say…the struggle was real. Very real. She is going from a 750 square-foot 1-bedroom apartment to a 570 square-foot 1- bedroom apartment. With a cat. Oh my.

Fortunately, her design degree gave her plenty of practice working with challenging parameters. In particular, carpeting throughout (ugh), a single centralized living/dining space, and awkward angles. Not ideal. Let’s look at a few of her creative solutions to not only 1) save money, but 2) create a functional furniture layout. We will show you how this space-planning queen turned a would-be design nightmare into her own multi- functional humble (and cozy) abode.

image from int2architecture

Once Shantelle found the right apartment, the stress faded and she could start dreaming. Her favorite feature of the apartment are the ceilings – they have a cool washed-wood plank treatment and they’re vaulted. Win-win!

These were Shantelle’s design goals for her new space:

1. Fit as much of her existing furniture into the smaller apartment as possible

2. Make the space look and feel new, without having to buy new decor

3. Use the existing furniture in different ways

4. Upgrade the aesthetic to slightly more sophisticated level

We’ll start with her vision for the space, which includes jewel tones, touches of feminine softness, and an overall feeling of no-fuss comfort. The mix of rich jewel tones in her turquoise sofa and deep purple bedding are the perfect complement to natural tones and textures. She found those great floor poufs on Etsy. Here’s a peek at her Inspiration Board…

From here, Shantelle began to sketch out several furniture plans, keeping in mind that FLEXIBILITY was key. Without seeing the exact apartment she’d be moving into, she needed to leave room for unexpected changes.


Challenge #1. For the combined Living/Dining area, Shantelle had no idea where to put her sofa or if she should keep it at all. It’s 7.5 foot length really limited her placement options. The most obvious answer was along the longest wall, but to give the illusion of more space, she opted to set it off the wall and away from the adjacent corner window by just a few inches. This is a great trick for cramped spaces. Now she could create a seating group around the sofa.

Que Challenge #2. Ideally, Shantelle would love to have two matching chairs beside the sofa. But being a recent college grad that wasn’t an option. She decided to make due with the mis-matched chairs she had. If you are on a tight budget don’t let mis-matched furniture discourage you! Most likely, (as in Shantelle’s case) the furniture pieces you collect over the years will align with your design style and blend nicely.

Challenge #3. The final challenge came with the dining area. Sure, the built-in bar-height counter would do, but this friend-loving hostess wanted more space for guests than just two barstools. Shantelle had the idea to use a vintage hope chest she had been using for storage to double as a bench seat. She found an outdoor bench cushion at World Market that would hold up to spills for $16. Score!  She will use her existing 3.5 foot dining table and matching chairs to have seating for seven.

Shantelle suggests to always look for creative ways to use what you have. If you can afford to splurge on something new go for automatic room-enlargers like mirrors, an appropriately sized area rug (to divide your activity zones) or furniture with tall legs (for a “floating” effect). It’s also super important to keep clutter to a minimum in tight spaces. For creative storage solutions think decorative baskets, storage ottomans and open shelving/bookcases. Just remember to stay TRUE to your design style with whatever you bring in the room.  You won’t truly love it unless your home is a reflection of who you are.

Stay tuned as we report on Shantelle’s BIG MOVE in a couple of weeks!

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