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Efficiency, creativity can help make the most out of limited space

Sarah Frink, Tribune Brand Publishing

Just because you have a home that may not live up to the square footage of some of its contemporary counterparts, that doesn't mean you can't live and entertain comfortably. By choosing the right design elements, you can emphasize the beauty of your home while highlighting the coziness that some large homeowners crave.

Lighten up

Interior designers agree: Use lighter colors and smaller furniture pieces to avoid overwhelming the room and the eye.

"Use soft blues, creams, whites, tans — anything on the soft side of the color palette always works best," says Janet Graham, interior designer for Baer's Furniture's Naples location, one of 15 fine furniture stores throughout Florida known for their innovative design ideas, free design services and impressive collection of pieces.

You should not only keep the color palette light, but you should also keep it consistent, says Don Collier, a professor in the department of design at Texas Tech University. Coordinate your finishes from room to room to create a nice visual flow.

white, small-scale bedroom furniture

"Use only one color of paint for the walls, one color of wood, one color of plastic laminate, one type of window covering — just work with a very small palette of elements and just repeat it and repeat it," Collier says. "Then whatever you put into the space looks special."

To that end, select furniture — especially big furniture — In a neutral color. Avoid oversized, heavy pieces in dark colors such as red, green or brown, and consider using contemporary-style furniture, which usually has cleaner lines, Graham says.

Keeping big furniture neutral also allows you the freedom to redecorate more regularly — it can be as simple as swapping out your pillows or rug for a different color or design.

"The style is in the details, not in the general pieces," Collier says. "And oddly enough, that's what people remember."

Furniture designers have also paid attention to the need for space, incorporating reclining mechanisms into smaller sofas — thus eliminating the need for separate ottomans — and creating space-saver recliners. These types of recliners extend backward only four inches as opposed to the typical 12-14, Graham says, because the reclining mechanism allows for the lower part of the body to slide forward as opposed to the entire chair moving backward.

Also, shoppers should remember that furniture could appear smaller in a store because it isn’t placed within the dimensions of a room in your home. Instead, it’s surrounded by a vast amount of open space.

“The hardest thing in design is learning scale; and that’s probably the biggest mistake customers make,” Graham says. "When you buy something in a furniture store, it always seems smaller because the store is so big."

Keep it simple

We have a tendency to hang lots of small framed photographs on our walls, but this can create visual confusion, especially in an already cramped space.

"When you're trying to make a room look more spacious, you want it balanced — you don't want clutter on the walls," Graham says.

The better tactic is to highlight a couple larger-scale pieces of artwork, which is especially true if you do have a heavier piece of furniture.

"Make the room feel balanced by offsetting heavier furniture pieces on one side with large-scale wall art or accessories on the opposite side," says Teri Allen, owner of the Palm Springs, Calif.-based Online Staging Pro.

You should aim to create a smooth traffic flow through the room. Avoid placing furniture in front of windows, and especially avoid placing a thick piece near the room's entryway.

"When you have to weave in and out to get through a space, it can feel very cramped," Allen says. "Make a room flow smoothly by keeping an open path either in the middle or to the side."

You can also create the illusion of openness by avoiding pieces that are too tall, or by using armless sofas or chairs.

"Pieces that are too tall, or that don't give enough visual openness, block the line of sight," Collier says.

And in general, get rid of the junk: Aim to hide media cords, use a coffee table with storage capacity for magazines and extra throws, and consider eliminating end table lamps, Allen says.

"Use floor lamps instead of end tables with table lamps," Allen says. "The ones that hang, angle or float over the seating area can be especially functional and stylish."

Go up, not out

The best way to create the illusion of space is to draw the eye upward. You can do this by hanging drapery or window treatments on the walls, mounting them as high as possible, Graham says. Crown molding or any decorative wood molding, can do the same.

"We always like to bring the eye visually up in a small area," Graham says.

You can also make use of vertical space for storage purposes.

"In a living or family room, take full advantage of the wall space with cubby storage or mounted shelves," Allen says. "Don't be afraid to go high, within reach."

Homeowners interested in making the most of their furniture in their home should head to their nearest Baer’s, where they’ll find a vast collection of furniture and design associates with strong design ideas.