Designer creates illusion of space Home: Carefully selected furniture and accessories can make a small house seem bigger than it is.

June 09, 1996|By Charlyne Varkonyi | Charlyne Varkonyi,FORT LAUDERDALE SUN-SENTINEL Knight-Ridder News Service

The loft town house looked spacious and well planned with a great view -- a lot of house for the money.

It took a few minutes to block out what the interior designer had done. Then I mentally inserted our furniture into the room, and reality hit. The rooms would never look this good unless we got rid of everything we owned and down-scaled.

The dining room table was glass and only 36 inches in diameter. The couch was undersized -- about a foot shorter than ours. And the bookcase, made with faux stone and glass shelves, seemed to become part of the wall behind it.

Looking at model houses can teach you that carefully selected furniture and accessories can make even a 1,200 square foot town house look like the Taj Mahal. But these tricks don't have to be just the province of interior designers. Whether you live in a small apartment or a large house that seems to be shrinking, you can expand your living space without moving.

"The less clutter, the better," says Elaine Lewis, author of the recently published "Less is More" (Viking Studio Books, $29.95) and designer of more than 3,000 model homes. "No matter what your style, that's the key."

Lewis, an interior designer with offices in New York and South Florida, has 25 years of experience with different styles in all price ranges. Her client list looks like the index to People 'N magazine -- Eartha Kitt, John McEnroe, Sidney Poitier, the Rolling Stones.

True, Lewis relies on some basic tricks -- mirrors on walls and glass on table tops -- but this isn't just another pretty coffee-table book with "you've seen it all before" advice. The 225 pages are crammed full of detailed how-to information, full-color photographs with detailed explanations of techniques as well as a guide to manufacturers, suppliers and retail outlets.

For example, one of the photographs shows how she created an unobtrusive room divider by hanging a buffet structure on two ceiling-to-floor columns. The living room and dining room are separated, but the view outside the window is preserved.

Instead of using draperies -- which she says would have shrunk the window -- she surrounded the window with hand-painted vines.

"The painting draws the eye to the window and opens up the space," Lewis says.

Another one of her favorite devices is using built-ins. Although more expensive than store-bought furniture, they can help you make the best use of the space by going around corners or up a wall.

In another project, Lewis used built-ins to expand a great room. She designed an entertainment unit so the television can be viewed from the kitchen, breakfast nook and family room. Built-in seating hugs the wall and continues into the alcove created by the entertainment unit. Although the seating is bulky, it appears to dissolve into the wall because it is the same off-white color as the walls and the floor. A mirror in the alcove also gives the illusion of additional space.

Solutions aren't always costly

Although built-ins can be pricey, Lewis says not all of her solutions require spending a lot of money.

"Good taste to me is good taste," she says. "It has nothing to do with how much money you spend. If you are doing a 3,000 square foot home on a $15,000 budget or a $100,000 budget, you approach the design exactly the same. Only the elements and the materials are different. The basic space planning is the same."

But learning Lewis' methods for space planning will take time. Reading her detailed book is like taking a course in interior design.

Impatient? Where do you start? Here are her Cliff's Notes summary of her best tips for opening up space in your home:

Mirrors definitely open up the space, and they can take many forms and colors. You don't have to use a wall of ceiling-to-floor mirror. You can use screens with mirrors, a collection of framed mirrors and mirrors on back splashes or between built-ins.

Lighting makes a major impact. Lighting underneath a platform bed or under built-in furniture opens up the room. A plant up-light will highlight an area that otherwise would look like dead space.

Flooring should not be overwhelming. Continue the use of the same light-color carpeting throughout the house. Try laying marble or tile in a random pattern.

Use the closet wisely. We all think we need to hang our clothes, but 90 percent of what we wear can go in drawers inside the closet. If all the clothing is in the closet, not much furniture is needed. The room will be opened up, and you will have enough room for a round table and seating for two or a chaise.

If you are serious about learning the techniques, the hard work comes next. Interview your family and write down each person's living requirements. Then create an actual floor plan with help from the models in the book.

With or without a designer

"This book is 90 percent for people who can't afford to hire an interior designer, but it also helps the 10 percent who can afford to hire one," she says. "It tells you how to ask the right questions. When you finish with your home, there won't be wasted money and wasted space."

Spent almost all your money on your new home? Don't worry, Lewis says.

"My theory is you don't have to change all your furniture because you are moving," Lewis says. "You can invest a little bit in rearranging and mixing and matching. You don't have to discard what you have."

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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