Big ideas for small spaces at Vancouver's Interior Design Show West

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      Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the master of minimalist design, once famously opined, “Less is more.”

      If you live in Vancouver, less isn’t more. It’s what you can afford.

      Earlier this year, the Demographia think tank rated Vancouver the second-least-affordable real-estate market in the world after Hong Kong. We’ve got the “less”. The trick is knowing how to squeeze “more” from our ever-shrinking spaces.

      That, in a nutshell, is the subject of Living Big in Small Spaces, a panel presentation at Interior Design Show West (IDSwest) this Saturday (September 27). Organizers have brought together four top West Coast design professionals, each of whom has turned small-space design into big business. The Straight spoke to two of them.

      “In the development world, when you have 450 to 500 square feet, you have to use every single square foot you’ve got,” says Jennifer Eden of Vancouver’s Occupy Design over the phone. With a decade’s experience in the Vancouver market, Eden has carved out a niche in the industry as a sought-after designer of display homes for high-profile developments like Chinatown’s Keefer Block, Fifty-Five 55 Dunbar in Southlands, and Grandview’s Bohème.

      In order to maximize space, Eden’s guiding principle is scale. It’s a philosophy she’s honed since beginning in the industry and in her personal life. “My husband is a real-estate agent, and we’ve lived in seven homes in the last eight years,” she says. “At one point, I was living in 450 square feet with a six-foot husband and a 70-pound dog. Under those conditions, you learn very quickly how to make it work for you.

      “There are ways to make a space seem larger that can seem so inconsequential until you try them,” she says. In a small room, the requisite sofa has a sizable footprint. It’s inevitable. A trick used by those who stage small units, according to Eden, is to choose furniture that’s raised off the floor and has a smaller silhouette. “You may not notice it, but once you do, you’ll recognize it,” she says. “Look at the armrests in display suites: they are thinner, furniture is more streamlined, and everything is lighter.”

      Eden also points to a retro trend embraced by developers: the integrated kitchen. A return to a mid-1970s aesthetic, integrated kitchens hide appliances behind panels that match the cupboards. The reign of the all-too-visible stainless steel “chef’s kitchen” is over. Instead, developers have embraced a seamless, built-in look. Eden says the same panelling can be repeated in the living and dining areas for a sense of unity, which gives the feeling of a larger space.

      Jennifer Eden suggests streamlined sofas for tight condos.

      “But I don’t want to be a hypocrite,” Eden says. “If you are thinking about $80,000 worth of custom millwork [to match your kitchen] in the rest of your home, you might want to put that money into getting a larger place!”

      Jasmine Vaughan agrees that custom millwork can make a big difference in a small space. A Portland, Oregon–based designer and blogger for interior-design site Made & State, Vaughan points to several projects she’s worked on where built-ins not only hid the day-to-day clutter of her clients, but also allowed her to expand the visual lines of a home.

      “Unifying a space has a huge impact,” she says by phone from her 800-square-foot condo in Portland’s Restaurant Row neighbourhood. “Another opportunity you find in small spaces is to go dark. Dark colours don’t make small spaces smaller. Don’t be afraid.

      “And if you’re renting, you might want to look into removable wallpaper like that of American retailer Hygge & West,” Vaughan says. “Create a wall of visual interest, but pack it up with you when you go.” Vaughan assures that this isn’t the ubiquitous IKEA decals of birds and dandelions of the past few years. “This new product looks like real wallpaper that you apply in tiles, and the pattern repeats just like the real thing.”

      Both agree from professional and personal experience that living in a small space doesn’t have to mean living a constrained life. It’s not about size, it’s what you do with it.

      Living Big in Small Spaces takes place Saturday (September 27) at noon on the Gray Conversation Stage. IDSwest runs Thursday to Sunday (September 25 to 28) at the Vancouver Convention Centre West.