Designers' tips to make the most of small rooms

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Showing people how they can more effectively use the living space they have is the domain of professionals like Elaine Lewis and Terence Goldsack. Both head their own firms. Both call themselves space planners as well as designers. And both have made model apartments in New York City's big new high-rise developments their testing ground for experimentation and innovative thinking about residential-space planning.

Most of the apartments they plan and decorate have small, box-like rooms, low ceilings, and uninspired architecture. In each case, their aim has been to make small spaces seem larger, more expansive, and luxurious, and to help people visualize how they can make the most of what they get, or have.

Their stock-in-trade includes some proven techniques for creating the illusion of space, some of which are given below.

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Elaine Lewis of E. L. Designs Inc., who says space is almost as precious now as energy, suggests the following:

* The quickest path to a sense of enlarged space and long, sleek, unbroken lines is to keep interiors light, bright, modern, and streamlined. Clutter is not allowed. Orderliness is essential. Furnishings and possessions must be pared down and the excess given away or stored.

* Select furniture carefully, choosing armless sofas and chairs. Eliminate as many legs as possible and keep floor space as free as possible by ''floating'' shelves and storage units on the walls. Use a wire high-tech table on wheels for dinette dining and build banquettes against the wall for seating. Choose small, cylinder-shaped chrome or light and airy circular-rattan tables rather than bulky coffee tables or chair-side tables.

* For extra seating, use ottomans, big fat floor pillows, or built-in benches next to sofas; they serve as end tables and can also be cushioned for sitting.

* Treat windows as simply as possible - no heavy draperies. Thin, metal slat blinds are a good solution. The same blinds can be framed and used as radiator enclosures, with the top of the frame acting as a console shelf.

* If space is too limited for a game table and four chairs, cantilever a table with rounded end out from a mirrored wall. Place ottomans or stools around it rather than chairs.

* Hang a high-tech wire, ceiling platform from the kitchen ceiling to make a high, off-the-counter place for plants.

* Utilize ''dead'' corners in bedrooms by converting them into little breakfast nooks or installing a corner counter that is useful as both a night table and desk.

* Use the same wallpaper in the kitchen, bedroom, or even entrance foyer to make the space appear larger than it actually is. And use the same color scheme thoughout an apartment to give maximum continuity.

Terence Goldsack's ideas for dealing with tight space including the following:

* Use mirrors to expand a room. If you have a window with a view, reflect it back via a mirror on the opposite wall. To make the window wall look like one big window, mirror all the wall around the window.

* Blank out those ugly 18-inch by 18-inch corner columns by mirroring them. Mirror a single ceiling beam to get a skylight effect. Open up a tiny kitchen by mirroring the backsplash wall between counter and bottom of cabinets. Mirror ''dead-end'' situations, such as the end of corridors or dark little alcoves.

* Place circles of plain, unframed mirror, five or six feet in diameter, on several walls of a small dining room to bounce off light and movement.

* Use platforms to define space and separate living areas without creating a visual barrier as a wall would do. When possible, light platforms or furniture from underneath.

* Utilize high above-eye-level space by placing long shelves about 14 inches below the ceiling. Such a shelf makes a strong horizontal statement.

* For contrast, make strong vertical statements with built-in bookshelves stretching from floor to ceiling.

* Remember that any reflective surface helps to visually reduce mass and weight. Chrome, brushed steel, gleaming Formica, and shiny lacquer-like plastic laminates all have reflective value.

* Always help the eye travel out and around the room by not placing visual blocks in the way.

* The rule of thumb for backgrounds of small rooms is to use light, solid colors or very subtle patterns. Bold, busy patterns belong elsewhere.

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