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Category Archives: Decorating

Ta ta to teensy weensy

Over the holidays I found myself prone on the couch watching those marathons on HGTV.  I had never really watched those tiny home programs during the season, so it was quite the eye-opener.  I was truly surprised by some people who really, really wanted a tiny home but still had to have full-size appliances, a bath tub, and a king sized bed.  Something tells me these people are not ready to make the sacrifices involved in living in a super-small space.

So it doesn’t surprise me to learn that many tiny house dwellers have given up on the idea of spending the rest of their lives in a space that is typically between 100 and 200 square feet.  In this Globe and Mail article, author Erin Anderssen recounts summers spent in a 320 square foot cottage without hot water, indoor toilet, privacy, nice appliances, and presumably wifi.  It’s a summer house, not built for permanent, year-round occupation.  But it gave this family a taste of tiny-house living, and it’s not for them.

And, it is pointed out, it’s not for a lot of people who thought they wanted it.

Melanie Sorrentino and her husband, Mark,.parked their 150-square-foot tiny house on a wooded four acres in Eureka Springs, Ark. … They lasted one year.

The tiny-house movement is really good philosophically, but it shouldn’t be whitewashed with cutesy little houses,” she says. “My advice for anyone looking at a tiny house – or any lifestyle painted so perfectly – is to try to imagine whether you can grow as a human being in that space.”

For another couple with a child:

Travis Marttinen, who built his own 187-square-foot home in Barrie, Ont., while completing an architectural technology diploma. He sees people jumping on the trend but expecting to live exactly as they did before. “You need to radically simplify. Not only in the number of possessions, but in lifestyle. You cannot have all of the creature comforts that most people are used to. It simply doesn’t work.”

No.  Tiny-house living, even small-house living is not for everyone.  I think it’s best for those who know they are there for a limited time.  A married couple staying in a tiny house before children arrive.  Someone in transition between homes or lifestyles.  Someone coming from “straitened circumstances” like homelessness.  Or those, like this community in Portland, who have their own tiny homes but share amenities.

When DH and I moved to our laneway, we were coming from a good-sized condo (over 1100 square feet).  And we knew that there would be room for us each to have some private space to ourselves.  And we’d lived in lots of other places, mostly houses and large apartments.  We knew what we were giving up.  And what we gained.

It always amazes me when I see people who have never spent so much as a wet weekend in a small motel room with their beloved think they can move out of houses into, basically, less room than the average living room.  Forever.

My advise is to rent before you buy into the tiny-house lifestyle.  It can be done.  But it’s not for the dreamy-eyed.

It’s a small, small, smaller world

About a month ago, you might have seen a line-up of people waiting impatiently for an office to open in a local suburb.  No, not to snatch the Apple watch.  Not to put their names down for the Google self-driving car.  This crowd of near-rabid buyers was after their own piece of Metro area real estate — a condo in the new Evolve development– for less than $100,000.  This post is not going to be about how to get that space, it was gone within minutes of the doors opening to the sales office.

No, we’re going to talk about how a studio apartment can be big enough for one, or even two. Yes!  You can do it. Don’t listen to the people on TV who roll their eyes as they spout nonsense about how NO ONE should have to live in these eensy spaces.  For one thing, they’ve obviously never done it or they’d know it can be done — easily.  And also they are probably making a lot of money because, hey, they are TV stars, so can afford to live any way they want.

For those of us who choose to live in an exciting, busy, space-challenged city a small space is just what we need.  And want.

Now I could get into how you can design and build a super-duper space within the confines of a studio — and I will — but right now let’s look at this super-sweet 400 square foot space from Apartment Therapy to see how one woman manages to get the most out of every square inch without lifting a hammer or wielding a T-square. And, if it’s a rental, she can move out without leaving a mark to show she was there — a little patch and paint and she’s set to go.

Kay Rozynski is already lucky, because although her New York City apartment is only 400 square feet it is open and bright.  The living (i.e. non-bathroom) area is basically a large box with a very sunny balcony. Kay says she didn’t want to erect dividers because she wanted to maintain that airy flow.

StudioMay1

 

And the sun just pours in!  Kay has taken advantage of this brightness by keeping her walls a warm taupe — neutral but not boring.  Plus she has lots of reflective surfaces, mirrors, windows, stainless steel appliances, the white wardrobe, even the TV screen.  Everything bounces that lovely light around.

StudioMay2

And her major furnishings are all the same tone — a mid-range of greys and browns.  Nothing to make the eye stop as you scan the area.  Once again, a neutral backdrop to the accessories.

When Kay introduces colour, she keeps it to a couple of shades — yellow and orange, in the kitchen, blue/green by the bed, with the throw at the end of the bed matching the chair in the dining area and the one pillow on the sofa.  That watery aqua colour is repeated in a cushion and the throw on the sofa.  Your eye goes naturally from the aqua cushion on the sofa to the ones on the bed then up to the Moby Dick poster on the wall — also in ocean blue.  Very natural and soothing.

Kay has used area rugs in the same greys and taupes to separate the “bedroom” part of the suite from the “living room”

 

StudioMay3

 

In the Lilliputian kitchen area, Kay has painted one wall with chalkboard paint.  This gives her something to write on, of course, but it also visibly moves the wall back.  And check out those accessories — once again she keeps to ocean blue and yellow.

 

StudioMay4

To add a little rustic touch Kay has hung a yoke on the bulkhead that separates the kitchen from the rest of the living area, but once again it’s tonally in harmony with the cupboard and the butcher block counter, so it’s not jarring at all.  And it’s a clever contrast to the Eames chairs at her table.

StudioMay5

What are the lessons this little home has taught us?

  1. If you’ve got light, keep your windows as bare as possible so that it can flood in.
  2. Co-ordinate your colours so that the eye travels in a natural way from one part of the space to another.
  3. Unframed, graphically simple artwork can introduce the accessory colours without visual clutter
  4. Simple white lamp shades disappear into the wall — once again, no visual clutter
  5. You can use a lot of white in different textures to keep it light without bringing in the boring.

Check out the original post in Apartment Therapy.  What other features do you see in Kay’s apartment that you could borrow for yours?

Being part of the team — simple rules to success.

Now that you’ve found your designer and builder, and signed your contract (or at least looked it over and started negotiations), I guess you can just disappear like those HGTV families and come back when it’s all done! (Cue the OMGs!)

No.  That’s not how this is going to play out.

It gets worse before it gets better

It gets worse before it gets better

I’ve heard where people handed the keys to their decorator or builder and walked away (or stayed in a completely different city) while they worked their magic, but these people are either 1) very easy to please, or b) insane.

You have some obligations to the builder and to yourself to be around during the build.  And more.

1.) Be easy to reach.  Whether it’s asbestos in the heating, collapsing plumbing, knob and tube wiring, or a host of other surprises that won’t pop up until the walls come down, your builder will need to get hold of you.  Make sure you are accessible by cell phone or email so problems can be solved in a timely manner. What if you really are in another town?  Skype, email or phone.  And be prepared for a sizeable long distance bill.

2.) Make up your mind.  Don’t take weeks to pore over samples until you’ve made every decision.  Pick out the cupboards, plumbing features, flooring, lighting fixtures, moulding, door handles — and all the thousands of little decisions that you’ll have to make — early in the game.  These choices have to be made quite early on to make sure there are no hang-ups during the build.

3.) Be flexible.  It doesn’t matter how well you plot and plan, some things just won’t work out.  In our case it was bedside lamps we had to switch out partway through the build.  But it could be almost anything, countertop material that’s no longer available.  Flooring in exactly the right colour.  Then your builder will need to get hold of you quickly (see 1.) above) and get an alternate. But

4. Don’t change your mind.  Some things can be returned to the store.  But not walls.  Once you’ve signed off on the plans everything flows from that, the schedule, the budget, the workers themselves.  Changing your mind during the build can cause terrible delays; yes, it’s just a day or two of work, but that could mean the sub-trades are already on their next job and can only get back in their spare hours.  Those decisions should be made during the design stage.

4.) Get out of their way.  You may not have to actually leave the building — although for big renos that’s a darn good idea — but you should pack up your stuff and make sure all your shelves are cleared and your pictures and mirrors removed from the walls. Demo and rebuild can be rather seismic, you don’t want stuff crashing to the floor.  Your builder will put up plastic sheets where he/she can, to keep the mess contained, but it’s also a good idea to cover your furniture with dust sheets.

5.) Pay your bills on time.  You knew that.

6.) Leave a contingency fund.  There will be surprises — and not all of them good.  That contingency fund will come in very handy — and if you don’t spend it (although you will) you can take a nice vacation when all the hurly burly is done.

 

Get the most out of your designer — a four-step plan

designer

Step one:  Admit you need a designer.  

You may think you know exactly what kind of room/reno/addition you want.  And hey!  You can get some software for your computer to help you put together some plans.  So what do you need a designer for?  Well, do you know what size windows you can put in the room (housing by-laws have a window-to-wall ratio you must follow).  Or if you need an engineer to sign off on the removal of that load-bearing wall?  A designer knows.  Plus he/she can bring lots of great new ideas to the project that you would never think of.  So enter into your relationship with this person/team knowing that you’re doing the best thing for your future — and paying up front for a good design can save you many bucks later on.

Step two: communicate, communicate, communicate

Show the designers pictures of what you like to let them know your style and what kind of design you want.  Ask questions — don’t be afraid to question everything at any step of the way.  And let them know what you want in the big picture — not just what kind of dining room, but what you want to do with it, how often you entertain, how you envision the entire family gathered in the den.

Step three: money, honey

Let the designer know your budget at the beginning of the process.  Though you may have champagne tastes and a beer budget they may be able to provide you with some Chablis-grade alternatives.  And your designer will let you know if you can complete your entire renovation now or whether you’ll need to finish it over several stages — plus they can make sure that you’re not taking one step forward and two steps back when it comes time to continue to the next stage.

And remember to keep back at least 10% of your budget for contingencies.  I have honestly never heard of anyone who did not need that money before the project was over — no matter how precise their budget and plans were at the outset.

Step four: communicate some more

With each stage of the design process you will be defining exactly what you want and need.  Changes to the plans will cost much less than a change order at the building stage.  Plus!  Love the look of marble in your bathroom?  Knowing that at the design stage means you can look around for exactly what you want, find the best prices, and order it early in the build stage.  Knowing well in advance what kind of plumbing fixtures you want, choosing the right tile for your backsplash, having a firm idea of the flooring you want will all pay dividends during the build.

Another reason to hire a designer — you can relax, knowing that your project will be wonderful!

What to expect when you deal with a contractor

Congratulations!  You’ve found your contractor!  You are on your way to a better home!

Not exactly as shown

Not exactly as shown

What can you expect from your contractor? And what can they expect from you?

Contract.  A contract guarantees both parties know what is expected of them.  You get the assurance that the job will start on a certain date and will be finished by a certain date for an agreed-upon price.  There are several types of contracts, fixed-price, lump sum, time and materials, etc., plus various combinations of them.  Here’s an explanation of the different types and their advantages and disadvantages.  Depending on the size and complexity of your project, the contract can be very complicated or quite simple.  The important thing is that you HAVE a contract.  You should both know exactly what is being built and what is expected.  Read it, go over it line by line with your contractor, so you know exactly what you are getting.

The contract will also show that your builder has insurance, and will lay out the liability limits.

Permit.  If a contractor tells you they can do a job without a permit, think hard about hiring them.  If there will be any changes to the outline of the house (a deck, for instance), if there will be any changes to interior walls, plumbing, lighting,  make sure your contractor is doing drawings and pulling permits.  Yes, it costs you money.  Yes, it can be frustrating when the project is held up waiting for an inspector.  But permits are a guarantee that someone is watching your project.  Benevolently.  From above.

Deposit.  It’s customary to give your contractor 40% of the project fee up front. Then, when you receive the invoices for the work done (the scheduling of the invoices should be laid out in the contract), the invoice will indicate that 40% of the costs have been paid.  So if you get an invoice for $100, you will pay $60 of that, the remainder having been paid by the deposit.

Holdbacks.  These sound simple but are complicated. If your project costs more than $100,000 it’s mandatory for you to have a holdback account, where 10% of each payment you make to the builder is put aside in an account and held there until 55 days after the contract’s end.  This is to protect you — you can hold back that money if the job isn’t done to your specifications (thus “holdback” account).  It also protects the sub-contractors and suppliers because they can apply for some of that holdback money if the General Contractor didn’t pay them. It’s up to you and your contractor to include this in the contract, so talk it over with them.

Schedule.  Your contractor should indicate what job is done when.  The schedule has to have some flexibility built in, because there will be external forces at work to screw it up, whether it’s a storm that holds up deliveries or one of the aforementioned inspectors who’s sick that week.  But you should have a good estimate of who is supposed to show up when, and as the project nears completion you should be given a firm date.

Meetings.  The contract should set a schedule for meeting with the builder/contractor.  You should get together at the project once every two weeks to go over what’s been done and review any problems that have come up.

Good communication.  You should be able to reach your contractor between meetings to ask any questions you may have.  And they should be able to reach you! Problems may arise that have to have a quick answer.

 

 

Strategies for Coping with a Renovation

DD here again. We’ve been away from home for a few nights and the project at the “Big House” is underway.

For some reason, I underestimated just how stressful a renovation of this size is. Perhaps because we were able to stay in our home for the first phase, I’ve been caught off guard. So here are my top 5 coping strategies for surviving a renovation. Handy for me, too, seeing as we’ve got a few weeks to go yet:

1. Do not underestimate how stressful a renovation is!

Did I mention I’m a bit caught off guard by these feelings?

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I opened it.

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I saw it.

Because our reno was initially discussed for a March start, and we found ourselves with a January start, it was a bit of a whirlwind getting ready. Even without the accelerated pace, any family planning a significant reno will likely have to:

  • Find a new place to stay (we’ve squeezed into my in-laws’ condo in the suburbs), even if it’s just another portion of your existing home
  • Pack up the house, but with a fun twist (disclaimer: NOT FUN) … organizing what will be discarded, what will be stored and left unused, and what will come with you
  • Reschedule family events to sync up with the new location/being away – or plan for being without utilities (cloth diapering? yeah, let’s put that on hold)
  • Purchase items or pick out items for reno (fun at first, but it can wear you out)
  • Meet with the contractor and make big decisions about the future of your home quickly

I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly stressful this process would be. Over the holidays. With two small kids (4.5 years old and 4 months old). Thankfully, my mom lives in my backyard! Still, yowza.

2. Explain everything to the kids. Then explain again.

I have a charge ahead, think things through later approach, which means I often forget about the impacts of major life changes on the rest of the family. Don’t worry, they remind me!

My daughter misses home, and is acting out, with meltdowns a couple of times a day. And just today she turned to me and said “I miss our REAL house. Our yellow house. When can we go back to the yellow house?”

Knowing what I do now, I’d advise other parents to do a better job than we did of explaining the whole process to the kids. Try and share plans and show them materials. Show them pictures that depict what the after should look like.

Do not let your children see the house packed up, or the demo. This is something we did right, and thankfully there were no tears upon departure. We’ve also kept our daughter signed up at her daycare part-time, both to preserve the spot for when we get home, and to keep some consistency in her routine (despite the 1 hour commute, I’d say it’s worth it).

3. Dwell on the deficiencies.

Five days out of my house and I’m looking wistfully at pictures my old kitchen. So cute! So charming! So much like home. I’m … well, I’m homesick. I guess my daughter’s not the only one.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to combat this homesickness, and fear of change, is to dwell on what wasn’t working in the house before we left.

To help with this, I made a video of all the house’s shortcomings. You can view it here.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it's a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it’s a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

And brace yourself! If you’re not home to see the demo, and your contractor (or family member) sends you photos, it can be a blow. It’s your home. There are holes smashed in it. Again, all for the best. But these things can really pack a punch.

4. Ignore the helpful comments/questions from family and friends. Instead, put them to work!

I will preface this by saying that my friends and family are AMAZING. Amazing. But even the best of intentions can lead to comments like:

  • Are you sure you want to sink all of that money into your house?
  • Why don’t you just fix the living room while you’re at it?
  • Why aren’t you taking out this wall?
  • Why aren’t you kicking the kitchen back? Just adding two feet would give you so much more space!
  • Huh, a checkerboard floor. I don’t think that’s going to age well. Why not just white?
  • Cool. A checkerboard floor. But why not just brown?

I had to quickly learn not to take these comments to heart and start second-guessing our plans.

On the other hand, my family has been incredibly helpful. My visiting aunt and uncle helped us throw a bunch of items into our attic and shift boxes around. And did I mention my mom lives in my backyard? When time was tight and we had to be packed and out, she watched both kids so we could get it done.

5. Treat yourself.

Whatever it is you need to do to look after yourself, do it. Reno time generally means time to tighten the purse strings. But don’t underestimate the power of a treat, a yoga class, a dinner out. Be kind to yourself – this is a major, major life event. If you’ve relocated somewhat far from home (as is our case), take the time to check out the local community centre, and ask around about great restaurants, bookstores, galleries … whatever might brighten your mood.

Next time I sign in, we’ll be well underway. For now, I’m going to dip into the Christmas chocolate.

Finding the help you need — contractor and designer

Congratulations!  You’ve decided that you will hire the help you need to renovate your living space.  Now you just have to find them.

build

This will probably take a few weeks (or even longer) so in the meantime be sure to browse the internet and save images of what you’ll want and need in your new space. A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when those words are cornice, mansard, and French cleat.

In a small community you will only have the option of two or three companies.  But in a larger city…..

Don’t worry about whittling the list down just yet, just get lots of names.  Ask all your friends who have undergone renovations who their contractors are, and if they would hire them again (this helps you eliminate some of the bad eggs right away).  Go online and Google designers, builders, and design/build companies. Check out their websites — just because it’s not a snazzy site doesn’t mean they are not good contractors, but you can get a feeling about their work from what they have up at the site.

What if they don’t have a website?  Well, they are either very old-school and rely on word-of-mouth, or they are brand new to the business. Do you want to work with either of these types?

Go to the Houzz site (which you are probably visiting for reno ideas).  They can help you find local contractors/designers. 

Go to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association website.  Check out the Trusted Pros website for more names.

When you have a good list, run the candidates’ names through the Better Business Bureau website.  Again, not necessarily a deal-breaker, but membership is another sign the business is on a long-term professional basis.

Now comes the hard part.  Start phoning and emailing.  I recommend phoning over emailing.  If you can’t get an answer or a reply to your message how will you communicate during the build?

What vibes did you get about the company during the call?  Do they seem professional?  Are they short with you, or even rude?  Remember, you will be dealing with these folks for a long time — pleasant is what you are going for.  If they are a builder, can they recommend a designer?  If a designer, vice versa?  How soon can they begin to work on your project (no kidding, some of these people are tied up years in advance)?  Are they licensed?  Insured?  Ask for several references, preferrably some recent and some long-term.

This is where your list will be whittled down.

Make appointments with the two or three you really like.  If these are eliminated you can always go back to your list.  Do they arrive on time for your meeting?  Are they keen to do the work?  Are you comfortable with them?  Do you feel they are really LISTENING to you? Talk to them about the project.

Be sure and check the references.  Did the client like working with the contractor?  How did they handle problems that came up?  Were they easy to reach? Did they keep to the budget and the timeline?  Would they hire them again?

Look, really look at the bid when it arrives.  Does it cover the entire scope of the job?  They should also have some rough plans to show you — and give extra points if they have some ways to save you money, or how to improve the plans with a few of their own ideas.

We needed design services when we built our laneway home — more than what a contractor could provide.  So we went with a design/build company – Novell.  It worked out really well for us, and I think it’s a good idea for most people.

When the designer and the contractor have worked together before they know how each other work. And most importantly, if they have any differences YOU will not be caught in the middle.

And when the bids finally start coming in,  as this story from Apartment Therapy reminds us, remember: fast, cheap, good.  Pick two.  A good contractor can deliver fast and good, but at a premium.  Or affordable and good, but not on a tight schedule.  And no good contractor will promise fast and cheap — because you can’t get a quality job with those constraints.

DIY? Or hire a pro? Ask yourself these questions.

If, like me, you have been watching the season marathons at the DIY&HG stations, you are probably looking around your place and wanting to make a few changes.  (Unless, like me, you moved into a brand new custom-built place a year ago).

Don't try this at home, kids.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

And you may even have good ideas about what you want, and you’re feeling like maybe you can do it yourself.  How do you know if you should tackle the job by yourself and when to hire a contractor?

1. Have you done it before?  Yes, you helped your brother replace his toilet.  Sure, you repainted your summer house.  OK, you are good to go.  You know the scope of the job and you’re prepared for a realistic amount of work and mess.

2. Do you have to buy or rent new tools to perform the task?  If you’re putting in a new backsplash, for instance, scoring and clipping a few tiles to make that corner fit is something most handy homeowners can handle. Hiring a tile saw takes a little fix-it job to another step.  Drilling a hole in concrete to hold a bolt is one thing, hiring a pneumatic drill is another. Got a compound mitre saw?  It’s a pretty tricky thing to operate. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but the more complex the tools, the more complex the job, and maybe it’s something you should leave to someone who has used those tools before.

3.  How much mess can you live with?  And for how long? I have friends who wanted a new ceiling ladder installed so they could have access to storage in their attic.  It wasn’t a big job, so a friend of a friend with considerable home reno experience said he would do it.  But he ran into problems.  And instead of asking my friends if they wanted their contractor to handle the now-larger job, he took it upon himself to do it.  Of course, he was working weekends and evenings, with the occasional afternoon work.  Short story long, six weeks later the ladder is still waiting to be installed and there’s a big ugly hole in their back bedroom ceiling.  When you DIY, you can be living with mess for weeks because the work is usually performed in someone’s spare time.

4. Does it matter if the job isn’t very well done?  Not a crazy question.  If you are having a complete kitchen reno in the next few years, just stick on some tiles on the floor and the walls and smarten the place up for a quick fix.  A cute mural on a wall that will be repainted when the child is a few years older doesn’t need to be Disney-approved.  A DIY slipcover on a sofa that will be tossed when your reno is done next year does not have to look perfect.

5. Does the pro who does the job need a license? Never do your own wiring.  Don’t do more than the simplest plumbing jobs yourself.  You are not only jeopardizing the future value to your home, you could be risking your life.

Now here’s something you may not have thought about

6. How much will the job cost? For larger jobs, you might want to borrow some money.  There’s a payoff to borrowing money for projects that will increase the value of your home (I’m talking about bathrooms and kitchens).  Not many lenders will let you walk away with their cash unless you have a professional doing the job.

7. What will it look like? Even if you are making minor design changes, I recommend hiring a designer.  Even after years of poring over design websites and magazines, I could never have found the creative solutions to our space problems that our designer did.  Unless you are an architect or a designer you just don’t have the knowledge to provide the best results.

Now we know whether or not we want to hire someone, I’ll have a few suggestions on finding the right person to help.

Away in a laneway, no room for a tree

I wrote about our first Christmas in the laneway house just one year ago.  Now I’ve had a whole year to think about decorating our little space and I’ve found lots of ideas on what to do when you JUST DON’T HAVE ROOM for a traditional Christmas trees. I started with the ideas I found last year, and searched the internet (with a little help from Apartment Therapy and Houzz).

Don’t think that you have to give up the idea of having live greens inside.  You can drop by a tree lot late in the day and ask if you can have some of the lower branches they’ve trimmed off the trees.  Have an idea how long the branches should be to fit into your container so you can ask them to take off a couple of inches for a perfect fit.  It doesn’t have to be big to be striking:

treeOr you can use just pretty sticks and put some ornaments on them.

branches

But these ideas need a little corner of a table or  floor to display them.  And if you don’t have that little space to spare I can certainly feel your pain.

Take a look at your walls — you can finesse a Christmas tree by using some of that vertical space. (Maybe take down some of your current artwork for a real change).

Here’s a do-it-yourself tree that can look as zippy and modern or as sweet and old fashioned as you like, depending on what papers you choose.  This one is made of paint chips — but you could use regular coloured paper or even Christmas wrap.

paper

 

Or use tissue paper to make this clever fringe tree:

fringe

 

You can also make this cute and modern string tree with the kids.  Hang ornaments or Christmas cards (or a combination of both). It’s put up with Command transparent hooks so no damage to your wall.

stringIn fact there’s no end to the ideas on how you can put a tree directly on a wall.

Use lights (and Command hooks) to make a tree:

light1

Or just place anything, ornaments or cards or a combination, in a roughly triangular shape:

cards

How about putting some decorations  in your windows.  Use the existing curtain rod, or put a spring loaded rod within the window area.

WindowDecorations

Or just hang a nice grouping with bright ribbon:

window

Still can’t find the room?  Look up!  Here are the instructions to put together this striking mobile — put it over your table for a lovely centrepiece that won’t take up any table space or block the person on the other side.

Mobile

Do you have a balcony or deck?  Or even a little yard?  Put your tree outside.  We do:

XmasNightTree XmasTree2013

It sits just outside our sitting area window so we can enjoy it from the comfort of our couch without it crowding us at all. I’m thinking about painting the lights cord white to hide it better.

We used an artificial tree, you could use a live tree or even a living tree in a pot.  Or a tomato cage:

tomatocage

A couple of these on your balcony would really make a show!

 

Continental charm – in small doses

Whether you say piccolo, pequeño, pieni, klein or  petit,  small is beautiful all over the world.

These little homes in Europe packed a lot of style — and innovative thinking — into small spaces. See how many ideas you can use in your small space.

From Life Edited we learned about a clever Roman who saw this:

italian-micro-loft-before

And envisioned this:

italian-micro-loft-after

A comfortable loft-style home big enough for two (if they can control their shopping urges) built in the space between two existing buildings right in downtown Rome.

The kitchen has an eating area:

italian-micro-loft-dining-stairs

And a fair-sized kitchen.  The table folds away when not needed for eating (or working with a laptop).

italian-micro-loft-ground-floor

The loft lounge is great for watching TV or reading:

italian-micro-loft-lounge

Closing off the staircase gives you more leg room.  And, of course, it makes up into a bed for sleeping:

italian-micro-loft-bedIt looks like they used the exterior walls of the neighbouring buildings as part of their decor!  With the brick, the plaster, and the exposed beams it looks like it’s been there for centuries, yet still clean and modern.

Life Edited also clued us into this Spanish work/home space by PKMN Architects.  The floor plan is flexible:

All-I-Own-House-by-PKMN-floor-plan-2

A communal recreation area can also be used as a living room

All-I-Own-House-by-PKMN-floor-plan

This video shows how it all works:

I myself am not crazy about the chipboard, it looks too unfinished to me and I wonder if it’s tough enough to stand up to all that manhandling over the years.  But the space itself is very nice. And the moveable walls mean you can use the same space is many different ways.

How much would you love to live in the heart of Paris?  Enough to live in a 7th floor walk-up?  In 8 square meters (86 square feet)?

This video shows it can be done

It’s so chic!  And easy to keep clean.  It was planned to be home for an au pair for a family in the building, but it would be perfect for a student or working person, too. I really like the interior window that lets light into the bathroom.  And the stairs/shelves is a great dual use of the same space.

This video shows how they did it

But what about if you want to get away from it all?  Small spaces are fine in the city, but how would a small home fit into the wide open vistas of the Austrian Alps?

Perfectly. Once again, design trumps space, here in this charming and compact vacation home. It’s called the UVogel.  And it’s for rent if you want a taste of perching on the side of a mountain in your own cozy nest.

 

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SONY DSC

Love that view! And the inside is just as breathtaking:

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Building a platform to use as a lounge area is the ideal way to grab that view and hold onto it for hours.

strange-tiny-house5

 

Once again, bench seating gives you extra space in the dining area.

strange-tiny-house12

 

They seem to have installed the TV so it can be mounted on the other side of that half-wall and viewed from the main room, or pulled up atop the wall for bedroom viewing — that is tricky!

strange-tiny-house14

 

And the bathroom is built in a deep, narrow space.  The glass walls allow the sun to come all the way into this tiny cabin.

What about if you’re looking for something a little more old-fashioned?  How about this adorable little cottage in Finland?  Just 516 square feet, and 120 years old. Apartment Therapyalerted us to how much cute you can pack into that little area.

Finland1

The kitchen and sitting area are in one room.  It looks like they have some kind of radiators under the windows, but the kitchen has a nice old-fashioned wood-burning range as well as a modern electric stove. Using every square millimetre of vertical space gives you maximum storage.

Finland2

And the bedroom has a small stove as well.

Finalnd4

I understand it can get quite cold in Finland, so they probably need all the help they can get to keep warm.

Thanks for joining us on our trip around the continent of Europe.  Please return your seats to their upright position and make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened.  And remember — thinking big and living small are the way to fly!

 

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