Great homes come in small packages Design: Books help you draw out the best parts of a modest-sized house.

September 08, 1996|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

When it comes right down to it, the trouble with small homes is one of perception, not proportion. What they lack -- in a word, bigness -- is obvious. Less so is what they offer: cozy comfort, convenience, efficiency and economy.

Simply put, compared to a large home, a small one is far less expensive to buy, maintain, heat, cool, furnish and decorate.

For more and more people, a small home isn't a big sacrifice. It's an intelligent and deliberate choice, a smart move, a savvy investment. And, in this decade of downsizing, a new appreciation for modest-sized homes seems to be emerging.

Dealing with small spaces, however, requires not just a shift in attitude (a concession that bigger is not necessarily better), but some new approaches to space planning, furnishing and decorating. Fortunately, help is as close as the nearest bookstore. Three recent volumes in particular provide sound advice for making small rooms and small homes live large.

The best of the lot is "Designing for Small Homes" by Dylan Landis (PBC International, $34.95). Where Landis excels is in ferreting out stellar examples of real-life small homes, small wonders, really, that prove you can have the look of abundance in limited space.

Spread over 176 pages, more than 300 color photographs provide helpful visual lessons. This isn't a book about fool-the-eye strategies for making little space look big. It's about making little spaces live big. Space -- or the lack of it -- almost becomes secondary when the emphasis is on elaborate architecture, full-scale furnishings, dramatic lighting and attention-getting details.

"A compact home, once you stop fighting the boundaries, is really aboutcomfort, intimacy and living with the essentials," writes Landis. "Even the smallest home can be visually expansive, supremely functional and worthy of celebration."

Provided, that is, it gets enough attention. Proportionately, a small home may require more manipulation than a big one to make it visually appealing and physically accommodating. What Landis' book offers are big ideas for small spaces: cathedral ceilings to boost volume, widened and realigned doorways to help spaces merge, a change in floor level to distinguish one room from another, abundant and overscaled windows to lighten and enlarge, dramatic furniture that makes you overlook the compact context, substantial woodwork and serious architecture that add big-house personality.

That may well mean the services of an architect, interior designer or a remodeling contractor will be required. But if you're buying a small home, maybe you can afford to hire a pro.

Landis is also good at extracting salient and succinct advice from architects and interior designers whose works are featured in her book. Some examples are:

* "Overscaled things keep the room from looking miniature."

* "It's not the size of the space that makes it exciting, but the feeling of wanting to be drawn through the rooms."

* "Most small spaces are too simple. Complexity, especially architectural complexity, is quite a luxury."

* "Long curtains are an important gesture. They make a narrow room feel grander."

* "A small space can look mean-spirited without that touch of opulence."

Planning your space

Another worthy book, particularly for apartment dwellers, is Elaine Lewis' "Less Is More" (Viking Studio Books, $29.95). Lewis bTC is a New York City interior designer, and the homes featured in her book -- almost all of them contemporary high-rise apartments -- are ones she designed. Many are model apartments that, though well-designed and instructive, lack the personality and individuality found in the Landis book.

Still, Lewis' textbook approach to space planning, room design and decorating is nothing if not thorough. Illustrated with 225 photographs, as well as floor plans and line drawings, this is a book that will give you a good idea of how a professional designer works with space, materials, color, texture and light.

The first half of the book deals with every room in the house -- living room, dining room, bedrooms, home offices, baths, kitchens, even spare rooms. The second half deals with precise information on lighting, flooring, walls, windows and built-ins.

Subtitled "A practical guide to maximizing the space in your home," "Less is More" is less a guide to living well in small spaces than a generalized decorating textbook, a kind of all-purpose reference book that can be valuable regardless of the size of the home you live in.

That makes it possible to forgive some of Lewis' less-than-helpful fool-the-eye tips -- such as, "With their long slender legs, horse sculptures create an especially airy feeling." Or, "Rid your bedroom of any objects that you truly dislike."

Stating the obvious

That sort of dubious wisdom permeates "Making the Most of Small Spaces" by Anoop Parikh (Rizzoli, $18.95), a volume first published in England and featuring English and European interiors.

L Parikh belongs to the See-Spot-run school of design writers.

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