Monday, February 10, 2014

Guest Post: Living Small in the City

Hey there everyone! My name is Casey and I blog over at about my life in the big ol’ city of Toronto and living in a tiny 396 square foot condo! Jenn and I met in line for the Young House Love book signing at West Elm in Toronto in the fall of 2012 and somehow we have forged an online friendship despite the differences in our lifestyles (Chickens?? Gardening?? What are these mysterious things to a downtown condo dweller like me?!). She asked me if I would be kind enough to guest post today and I jumped at the chance! 

That is me on the right with the houndstooth dress!

I thought today I would share some tips on small-space living. Now, I want to preface this by saying I am not a professional designer and basically jumped into ownership of this tiny condo in Oct 2009 on a whim- and for a long time I had no idea how to store things or how to fit my life into this tiny space. Living in just under 400 sqft (that is only 9.5 wide and has only one closet!) sure has taught me a lot about wants vs. needs and about storage!

So let’s jump in with my TOP 5 SMALL SPACE DESIGN TIPS!

1. Proportion is Key
When you are moving in a small space, you need to measure twice and buy once. The person who lived here before me had a pull out couch for a bed and I thought I would end up in the same sad situation. However, I carefully measured out the space and realized that a double bed AND a small couch could fit in! Every time I bring in anything new I am careful to measure so I know that not only will it fit, but that it also won’t crowd the room. Having some space around furniture gives the impression of a larger room.

I don’t think a tiny space needs tiny furniture (as some people might tell you), but that you should really try and stick to one or two big pieces and downside the rest. My bed is a double, and takes up a lot of visual space, so for my couch I chose to get a small loveseat rather than an “apartment size” couch. The 10 inches of space I saved from that choice make a big difference in the feel of the room! And it allowed more room for a side table and a “dining” table on either side. 

Another tip related to the shape and size of your furniture is to try and buy “leggy” items. Seeing the floor throughout a space helps it seem bigger so I often try to buy things that sit off the ground!

2. Make Furniture Do Double Duty
Not all your pieces in your home need to serve 5 different functions (like the furniture that they make at this company!), but having a few pieces doing double duty can really help you live more comfortably. For instance, my ottoman also serves as storage and extra seating when I entertain! My table (Norden from Ikea) stores my placemats, video games, and camera equipment- plus it folds out to seat six and I have folding chairs from Costco to go with it so I can fold everything up if I need more space (there are two more chairs hanging in my locker). The table on my balcony is also a folding one so I can eat outside with guests when the weather is nice!

I often look for pieces with storage when I am shopping for new furniture (drawers are my best friend), but it also isn’t a hard rule. My couch is simply a couch and my bed has baskets under it rather than buying a frame with drawers, as I found I need access from the side and the foot of the bed, which pre-made frames don’t have.

3. Purge
You can have all the storage furniture that money can buy, but the real key to living small is living with less. I have a rule that nothing comes into the condo unless it has a place to go and I truly love it- this goes for everything from furniture to socks! I am a hoarder at heart, but if I have learned anything in almost 5 years here, it is that a clean, relaxing home is nicer than a home full of clutter. 

You may have noticed that there is no closet in the bedroom area- I only have a small front hall closet! So I store all my clothing in two armoires and therefore I have a limited wardrobe. However, most of the pieces in there are high quality and they all fit me well- it is much easier and faster to dress when you have 15 outfits that look great on you, rather than a walk in closet with hundreds of clothes! I am constantly donating items so that I can buy new things too. :)

And yes, I keep a filing cabinet in my armoire! Papers need organization too!

4. Organize, Organize, Organize
I am not a very “neat” person- there are often loads of laundry on the ottoman, glasses all over the table, dishes in the sink etc., but I do find that at least trying to be organized amongst my clutter makes a world of difference. I even try to go through the drawers and ottoman every few months to keep them all from becoming junk drawers! I must say, I used to constantly lose things, but I rarely seem to do that anymore. A place for everything and everything in its place! I love to craft and sew (though I don’t do it nearly enough), so I try and keep my fabrics bundled for easy access. I also moved all my blu rays and dvds to a folder so that it takes up less space and I can quickly find a movie. Plus I store all my camera lenses in a drawer in my desk. There are a million little pieces of organization like this around here.

Though, I would say the most important place to organize is the kitchen! Mine is very small, so I have used organizers all over to fit everything I need in! I also store a lot of dry goods and alcohol in my fridge since my cupboards aren’t very big, and I keep most of my baking supplies in big jars on the shelves you see below. 

Of course, the best way to store food is to just not buy very much in the first place. :)

5. Put Your Stamp On It
My last tip is a tip for everyone out there, living in shoeboxes or mansions! Don’t be afraid to be yourself and incorporate the colours and styles that you want in your home. You don’t need to be a designer to know whether or not you like a bold colour or a piece of furniture. Give it a shot and you may be surprised how it turns out. Everyone says you shouldn’t paint a small room a dark colour, but I bucked that idea and painted my tiny bathroom bright teal and I have never looked back! I love it!

I also took a chance and painted my hallway a dark navy- in chalkboard paint! Yes, my friends like to come over and write dirty things on it, but I also like spending time drawing something fun on it. It is blank right now, because I recently washed off the Santa that I drew on for Christmas, but I am sure inspiration for a new wall will hit me soon!

So there you are: five tips to help you decorate a small space with ease and style!

1. Buy furniture that is proportionate to your space
2. Look for pieces that can serve more than one need
3. Purge
4. Organize
5. Have fun with it!

I could probably go on and on with more tips and tricks, but I figured I would keep it simple for today! Thank you for listening and I hope some of this came in handy for you today. :)

I hope you enjoyed the second guest post featured on my blog! I was so excited to ask Casey to write about living in a small space, since I have no experience with this at all, and I think she did an incredible job. Isn't her condo tiny but oh so pretty? I love what she has done with the space she has and the colours and decorations are so fabulous. Not to mention she has some great skills with the camera and capturing good lighting. Be sure to head on over to her blog where you can see more pictures of her place and read about living in a tiny condo. 


  1. Great post! And timely. I was just kind of dreading the change from my spacey apartment to something smaller and more affordable in the "English land of expensive rents". This was very motivating!

  2. Kristy - I'm glad that this post helped motivate you to live in smaller spaces! And yes, this English province does have higher rents than your small French town. :P

  3. great post!! My challenge would be my books .... and yarn .... otherwise, not a major issue to downsize at this point in life. It's amazing just how quickly our 'stuff' expands to the size of home we have. kind of like how expenses seem to expand to the size of the pay check so that increases don't seem to make a difference, eh?? ;>)

  4. Bunny - It is so true, our possessions expand to our house size, just like our expenses expand to our incomes. Books are always a problem, I have a lot of them too. And my yarn collection is constantly growing!

  5. @Carolyn I only hold on to books I LOVE and I pass the rest out to friends. I do have a couple of boxes in my locker still, though! As for yarn, I dont have much but there are some skeins in my ottoman :)

  6. LOVE the chalk-board hallway! such a great idea!! I may be convincing hubby to do a wall in the basement =)

  7. Kate - I think it's so cool that Casey was brave enough to paint her whole hallway like that! I only made a tiny chalkboard, that was the extent of my braveness.