Size Doesn’t Matter

Size Doesn’t Matter

Small spaces are challenging but can indeed be made into roomy, functional homes

Hong Kong is one of the few places on the planet where people discuss their flat size much the same way they discuss their salaries — assuming one broaches that touchy subject. The conversation usually begins with “How big is your place?” and after eliciting an answer, the follow-up is often, “Gross or net?”

When a new flat is purchased, most of us like to do some renovations to maximise its space and function and make sure it suits our personal lifestyle. Those of us who entertain at home want large kitchens and usable dining rooms. If we’re selfemployed a second bedroom needs to be transformed into a working office. Kids are another matter again. But many of us rent our homes and don’t, or can’t, knock out walls. So how do we make 400 square feet — gross — work?

Is it possible to create a sense of space without calling in the wrecking ball? Yes, according to designer Monique McLintock of Monique McLintock Interiors Ltd. There is little that will replace an actual 200 square feet, but decorating one’s home is all about making what you’ve got comfortable to live in. If that involves tricking the brain into somehow believing your 400 is 550, so be it. “Yes it is possible to open up a room without knocking down walls. A mirror can open up a space and provide a stunning effect, especially if it is floor to ceiling. A sole colour scheme also serves to broaden the space visually. You can add some colour accents in order to add some personality into the place but do not overdue it with the colours.”

Those are simple enough solutions but none should be applied willy-nilly. One of the first things McLintock suggests keeping in mind is the idea that less is more. Among the biggest mistakes people make when self-decorating is, “Trying to put too many furniture pieces into the space and making furniture smaller in order to make it fit,” she begins. “It’s better to get a few stunning pieces and leave some space around the pieces so that they can breathe and be admired. Do be careful not to get the pieces so big that they drown the space.” That drowning can happen with accessories too. McLintock points out that too many knick-knacks and needless accoutrements “suffocate” the space and should be kept to a minimum. “Keep it simple and clutter free.”

Another option for making a small space big is in the choice of lighting. “Lighting can completely change the feel of an apartment,” declares McLintock. Few among us would dispute the value of “good” light in the home. Dim, soft lights are great for dinner parties but bright, natural light is ideal for every other room. If you’re lucky enough not to have a massive structure beside you the task is simple. For the rest of us, it takes work, particularly when building management normally will not allow installation of larger windows. “You want to make the apartment as light as possible … so the next best option is to put up extra lighting. If you do not want to pay the extra expense of putting extra lights in the ceilings then add some stylish lamps. Use different types of lighting to create dramatic differences in the ambience or atmosphere of the space,” McLintock explains.

In addition to not enough light, other fatal errors include false ceilings that decrease the height of the walls and shrink the space (admittedly more of a construction and/or renovation issue) and using too many dark colours on furniture as well as with items like bed linens or paint choices. “Lighter colours are better than darker ones because they visually expand the space.”

And there it is. Colour. Each of us probably knows a friend or ten that is terrified of the results of any colour other than white or cream on the walls. And while it is an issue, McLintock doesn’t think you need to eliminate the idea of your favourite indigo or cranberry completely. “While dark colours can make a room appear smaller it is okay to use lighter shades of your favourite colour. If you really love a certain dark colour and want to put it in your house then just use splashes of it in pillows and so on, instead of painting the walls in that colour.”

So that’s colour, furnishings and light covered. But what about that mirror? Surely that great tribute to the ’70s has no place in the contemporary world? Is the mirrored surface actually a good way to “make” space or is it just tacky? McLintock is a fan of the mirror — within reason. “It depends on the type of mirror and where you put it. If you want to hang a mirror over you bed then this is tacky,” she cautions of the Studio 54 vibe that can so easily erupt when dealing with reflective surfaces. “In some of my apartments I have covered an entire wall in light grey mirror panels in order to make the space appear bigger. Light grey mirrors are nice change from the traditional plain mirrors,” McLintock finishes. In other words? Don’t use something that will compel visitors to bust out some “Disco Inferno”.