Decorating small spaces with big style

Baltimore's rowhomes fit perfectly with emerging minimalist trend

  • A view of the open layout from the living room, to the dining room and kitchen, at the Baltimore home of Jill Andrews. The width of the home is just 12 feet.
A view of the open layout from the living room, to the dining room… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
May 31, 2012|By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

When Jill Andrews redesigned her Hampden rowhouse last year, it finally sank in how narrow it really was —12 feet wide.

Traditional, bulky furniture just wouldn't do.

She purchased custom pieces, such as her living room table and her son's bunk bed, from a local craftsman. A king-size bed was never a consideration for her bedroom. Instead she had to squeeze a queen-size mattress through a frameless window.

"It's always been horrendous making 12 feet work," said Andrews, who designs dresses. "You have to use spaces for the way it was intended, as opposed to having a museum."

Among homeowners, apartment dwellers, interior designers and builders, there is a growing small-space movement.

The Baltimore area has a slew of stores and craftspeople specializing in furniture that fits in the slender rowhouses that line the city's streets. There is even a new Baltimore-based publication dedicated to the small- space lifestyle.

Experts say the movement stems from a combination of factors, including the economy, an overall effort to simplify and the migration of people to urban centers.

"Obviously, the economy is the natural answer for why people are downsizing and living within their means," said Stephanie Bradshaw, owner of Bradshaw Styling. "They are focusing on the experiences they have, as opposed to things. I am a fan of small, well-appointed spaces that function for the way that people really live and work."

Bradshaw said she has had a number of clients ask her to organize and redesign their smaller living spaces in the past year. She too has adopted a small-space mentality, recently moving into a smaller apartment from a bigger home. Bradshaw also designed her Timonium studio using a minimalist approach.

"You don't have to have more things to live a stylish life," Bradshaw said. "Some of the best style is found in small spaces. I like to create little nooks so that you can feel chic and cozy."

Daryl Landy, creative director of Rohous, a digital publication he launched last month that focuses on living well in spaces of less than 1,200 square feet, attributes the small-space movement to people moving back into cities.

"In downtown areas, the houses will be small," Landy said. "In a lot of these old East Coast cities — especially Baltimore — a lot of the homes were built for working-class people and were built under 1,200 square feet."

By living in smaller spaces, many people are also saving money, according to Landy.

"It's easier to maintain," he said. "There are less rooms to furnish. It's less expensive to heat and to cool Those will be the biggest draws. Rohous is teaching people how to make their life better, not bigger."

Landy, an architect and industrial designer, practices what he preaches. The former designer and manager for trade show companies spent a year as executive director of Pigtown Main Street and dreamed up his own 1,160-square-foot rowhouse in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood.

He uses every bit of space in his home. He converted the area underneath his stairs into an office and storage. He also added a garage door to his living room, creating an additional outdoor room that he uses to entertain. The renovation project took one year and two contractors, and Landy said it ended up just as he had envisioned it.

"I've always lived in small spaces," the native New Yorker said. "You can live a good life in a small space."

Home on the Harbor, a Federal Hill furniture store, specializes in pieces for narrow homes. It features items such as "condo sofas," which range from 66 to 72 inches in length, and swivel chairs that allow for easy maneuvering between rooms. The furniture made to fit unusually narrow dimensions attracts a range of customers, from empty-nesters looking to downsize to young families living in starter rowhomes.

"They are very proud of their homes," said Karen Graveline, the store's owner. "They like the simplicity. It seems like less of a burden to them."

Graveline's business grew from her move to a Baltimore rowhouse from a Colonial house in Silver Spring and her need to downsize.

"I got hooked on auctions and couldn't stop collecting," she recalled. "I opened a storefront soon after that."

For Andrews, who redesigned her Hampden rowhouse a year ago, it was the need to maximize the personal space for each member of her family — especially her two children.

As a result of the redesign, she scrapped larger furniture, such as an Empire sofa that "never worked."

"I had to get rid of it," she said. "Pieces have to be useful. That sofa wasn't practical. To live in a house like this, you don't have to be a minimalist, but everything has to have a purpose."

With a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, Andrews had the added consideration of keeping the narrow rowhouse kid-friendly.

"Everything has to be multifunctional and indestructible," Andrews said with a laugh.

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