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Big ideas can be best Apartment Therapy

For 15 years, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan lived in a 265-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Last winter, he upgraded to a "really huge" two-bedroom. It's 725 square feet. • But a new small-space challenge is just another day at the office for the founder of Apartment Therapy, one of the first and best-known design blogs ( He started the company in 2001 as a one-man interior design service and went online in 2004 to share resources with clients. Now the site is visited by 1.5-million viewers a month. • Gillingham-Ryan also has written his second book, Apartment Therapy Presents: Real Homes, Real People, Hundreds of Real Design Solutions (Chronicle Books, $27.50), which brings together three years of the site's popular House Tours (virtual visits to readers' homes). We asked Gillingham-Ryan about small-space living.

What are the most important things to consider when living in a small space?

Clutter. Most clutter is generated the moment you walk through the door with your bag, cell phone, mail, shoes, coats, keys. To handle this, create a landing strip: When you come home, everything gets parked as close to the front door as possible. Each of us has a shelf next to the door for our keys and phone. Mail gets sorted immediately, and junk mail gets put in the trash.

Using a landing strip also means when you're rushing out in the morning, you know where everything is.

Spaces feel smaller when they are dark. Lighting is really important, and most people have homes that are underlit.

Color is important. Using a different color in every room allows you to walk through a space and feel transitions, both visually and emotionally.

What are common mistakes people make in small spaces?

The common things I see are people trying to pack too much in and people not realizing how the sense of size can easily be manipulated with a few design tricks.

Paring down and simplifying are essential elements in a move to a smaller space. Don't think of it as punishment; think of it as the creation of new opportunities.

The biggest tricks here are more lighting, indirect or below eye level when standing; light, bright walls and trim; a dark floor or a dark rug on a light floor to ground the space and provide a contrast to the light walls; having 10 percent of empty space in any closet, shelf, cabinet or room.

Do you have any tips for renters decorating temporary spaces?

Don't treat them as temporary! Too many people treat rentals as temporary and say they are waiting for the day they make their home. Start today. But if your landlord doesn't allow you to make many big changes, there's still a lot you can do. . . . Start investing in good furniture that you love and will keep for a long time. These are building blocks. If you can, paint. It's the cheapest way to impact your home. Keep everything clean. Any home or apartment can be totally transformed by a deep cleaning.

What was your biggest design mistake, and how did you deal with it?

The worst one was early on and a great lesson for me. I didn't measure the room I was working on closely enough and ordered a few pieces of furniture that ended up being way too big and looking ridiculous. Luckily, I called the manufacturer immediately and was able to return the pieces.

Big ideas can be best Apartment Therapy 07/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 3:19pm]
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