Monday, November 23, 2009

This Small Space

Frugal Remodeler Episode 2

When my partner Jon and I bought our house, we quickly developed grand visions for what we could do with different spaces. (Well, I developed grand visions, and he would express approval or disgust.) Take this wall down here, paint that this color, move the vanity across the room, etc. - some of which has, and some of which hasn't, come to fruition. The one space that stumped us for a little while was a teeny, tiny little room upstairs. It's common in old houses to find spaces like this. Our house, built in 1926, is no exception. Often, the second floor hallway runs lengthwise with the house, but is slightly off-center in order to accomodate a decent sized bedroom on one side. However, what you are left with on the other side of the hallway is a much less significant space. What this space was used for in those days, I can't quite be sure. Sometimes these spaces are big enough for a twin bed, a night table, and a small dresser making it a tight but useable bedroom. However, with our house, this is not the case. To top it off, the ceiling slopes with the pitch of the roof so the room feels even smaller. What to do? An office? Nope, not for us considering we have two computers, a printer, a sewing machine and a slew of craft supplies. Storage? What a waste of real estate! So, it sat as a holding room for our stuff for over eight months.

Then, one night we had guest sleeping in our living room and I thought, "wouldn't it be nice if we had a more private place for them to sleep?" Ding! Lightbulb! Now, I know what you're thinking. "Christi, you just said that it wasn't big enough for a bedroom!" And you're right - this room is not big enough for a traditional bedroom. I would certainly never cram my daughter in their. But for a guest, I thought it just might work as long as their essential needs were met - a comfy place to lay down and sleep, a place to put their water or reading glasses, etc. I measured the room and sure enough - I could just squeak a double size fouton mattress in there. And so the story of teeniest, tiniest little guest room in the world began.

The first thing to do was figure out the bed design. I could fit a fouton mattress in the room, but I could not fit a fouton frame which could be an expensive purchase anyway. And, I couldn't put the fouton mattress right on the floor because all mattresses need some sort of ventilation on the bottom. So, I built my own platform using 2x2 and 1x2 off-the-shelf lumber. (image above) I measured out the thickness of the mattress and the height of the window sill and built the platform shallow enough so that the top of the bed sits just below the sill.

Once I got the bed design worked out, the rest came together very quickly. I painted the walls a warm yellow to play off of a quilt that I spent hours making but never had a chance to properly display. The quilt is African-inspired and made of scrap material that I couldn't bear to landfill. (image above) I made sure to use low-VOC paint,as I always do, but it is especially important in a small, sleeping space such as this. Since I also wanted the room to be a cozy reading nook too, I finished off the bed with two large pillows I had been holding onto, but needed to be recovered. I knit and felted the front of the pillow shams and my gracious mother finished them off for me using a basic cotton for the back.

The room also lacked proper lighting, but thankfully it has an outlet. I knew that I wanted an oversized sculptural pendant fixture, but also knew the price tag on something like that. So I made my own. (image above) I assembled the fixture out of a lighting kit, a lamp shade and a piece of white plexi-glass cut to fit. I hung the fixture and plugged it into a switch that I then plugged into the outlet and - voila - home-made designer light fixture for only fifty bucks.

Finally, I added curtains to the window and the doorway for privacy, a little shelf for the water glass, a few other accessories, and I was done. From top to bottom, this room cost about $400 to complete, and that's including the $200 futon mattress that I totally splurged on. Just try to tell me that's not frugal!

I wanted to post this not to get everybody to turn all their small spaces into guest rooms, but to show how a little creativity can go a long way in improving the space efficiency of anyone's home. This is even the kind of thing you could do in an apartment. We Americans always think that we need more and more space, but maybe - just maybe - we already have it and we don't even know it.


  1. I would agree that in many cases, a small, well-planned home is by far a more welcoming space than the grandiose homes. Similar to Christi, I have an architectural & interior design background and experienced a variety of homes.

    I love your lampshade by the way! That is an item I eventually want to experiment with design!

  2. Beautiful!!! I love the quilt--it's amazing--and what a fun space for guests--way better than the couch!

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