Small in Size, Big in Spirit

Tiny can be beautiful

There is, I think, a sweet spot when it comes to house size. It’s important that each person have a little space of his own; it allows us to be more civilized being able to keep our moods to ourselves. But the best houses are not so large that each member of the clan can continually isolate. It’s good to have a little commune in your community. In fact, I have come to believe smaller is better; it creates connection. But small does not need to mean “spare.” Even the tiniest home can be rich in layers.

It’s possible that when confronted with a small space, someone might assume that restraint is the answer. It’s true. I lean more toward maximalist than minimalist, though I have the highest respect for people who are fierce editors. (How they do it I’ll never know. “Oh! Look, something shiny!”) But for those with restraint, the evolution of layers in a space can be highly engaging.

I have two good friends with urban apartments. One is the home of an incredibly stylish and delightful man-about-town. His apartment is tiny by almost anyone’s standards, including his own.

I’m horrible with spatial relationships—(“What? Then why is she writing a design column?” Life is funny.)—but it seems his apartment is about the size of my living room, which is not exactly grand.

But rather than eye roll and apologize for the lack of space, he delights in its efficiency and has made the cleverest use of every inch. The rich gray color of the walls and his extensive black-and-white photography collection, which is hung gallery style, opens up the space and makes it interesting rather than making it oppressive. There is simply no better spot to have a visit.

My other friend’s apartment overlooks the Country Club Plaza, and the walls are the most delicious shade of Madeleine Castaing blue, which is not peacock and not turquoise, but absolutely perfect.

Crisp, black picture-frame moldings define the walls, and each room holds the most remarkable collection of art and objet. Her apartment, unlike my downtown friend’s, is not tiny. There’s a generous living room with chairs that are easily pulled about, a spacious dining room and a room that holds the bar that recently graciously accepted the new flat screen.(What could be better, really, than not having to walk to the other room to fix a drink while you’re watching the new episode of Sherlock?)

No, her space is not tiny, but it is not grand, either. What it is, is smart. She has plenty of room to live and love and entertain her friends in a home that delights her and everyone who’s lucky enough to visit. Really, what more do we need than that?

Consistency Counts


When layering in a small space, repeating design elements can create a sense of calm. If you decide to assemble a gallery wall, using frames of the same color or finish will allow the eye to focus on the work rather than the infrastructure. Conversely, a wall of charcoal drawings or serene landscapes encased in all manner of gilt could be quite arresting. There’s a great set on the film Indiscreet with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in which two large grids of drawings are displayed in a variety of colorful mats with thin black frames. The same principle applies. Delight the eye and give it a rest.

Do Take It Personally

I’ve said on these pages dozens of times, it matters very little the monetary value of any collection or pile or stash. What matters is that it matters to you. Everything in your home, down to the color of your dish soap, should delight you. Better if it tells your guests something about you.

Make Way


Regardless of the content of your fascinating medical-instrument collection (or paperweights or snuff boxes or whatever the collection may be) make sure there’s plenty of space to set a drink, to place a plate or to pass in the hallway. The things people choose to keep in their homes fascinate me, but the general rules of civility apply.

Books Are The Exception


All rules are out the window when it comes to books. Film director John Waters is quoted as saying, “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t …” well, let’s just say he discourages us from getting to know that person further. If your home is piled, stacked and jumbled with books, all the better. A hungry and curious mind wins over design on all counts. I’m happy to tightrope walk down the hall if your interest in Churchill has turned to mania. However, I could never set my drink on a book, so please do be sure to have cocktail napkins on hand.