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Content with perfect coziness

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Interior designers Chip Vogel and Scott Scherschel understand the untapped beauty of small spaces.

Their vintage 1,300-square-foot bungalow tucked away on a historic South Tampa street once offered little in the way of breathing room.

The closets were teeny, the floor plan boxy and the smallish kitchen hearkened back to the era of gelatin molds and red checkered tablecloths.

Now the house feels spacious, airy and thoroughly modern _ all while hinting at themes that look backward for inspiration: sleek Hollywood men's clubs, streamlined passenger trains and grand New York department stores.

The couple shares the house with two Norwich terriers, Bailey and Baxter, and an eye-popping contemporary art collection. The sense of flow creates a perfect environment for entertaining and listening to jazz, both things they love to do.

Their sophisticated space-planning style has so far attracted the attention of Southern Living and HGTV, which last fall filmed an episode of Gardener's Diary in the couple's small-but-elegant urban garden. (The show is scheduled to air again on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on HGTV.)

Vogel and Scherschel's business, Interior Spaces Inc., is perhaps best known for its interior design work for the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain. One of their residential kitchen designs has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens.

Vogel, 55, a longtime interior designer who bought the house in 1979, slowly transformed the floor plan into an architectural gem. He installed transoms over the doors and added waffle-weave glass window shutters for privacy, avoiding the fuss of draperies. In places where only one door existed, he added one to make the room look larger.

To create more storage, Vogel knocked out walls and rebuilt deeper into rooms. More waffle-weave glass over some cabinet doors further created an illusion of space.

Last year, the couple redecorated, tossing out the previous Tuscan look in favor of what Scherschel calls a more masculine, "clubby" feel. They chose leather armchairs and ottomans, selected chamois-colored upholstery, and painted the walls a shade of brown "that almost looks like wet shale," Vogel said.

The old adage about not mixing dark paint and small rooms doesn't apply here. In fact, the color doesn't make the room smaller, but rather, "cozier and more engulfing," said Scherschel, 46, a former floral shop owner and optician who went into business with Vogel about six years ago.

The home's piece de resistance is the kitchen. It evokes the elegance of the 1930s, with its cabinets that push upward toward the ceiling, a wet bar and Sub Zero freezer concealed in drawers, and an art deco style clock built into a frame by a carpenter.

All the cabinetry work is custom made, and Vogel swears by it.

"There are so many good craftsmen available in the area," he said. "And it's often the same price with the installation negotiated in than buying premade items and paying for installation."

(Vogel even found a craftsman to tile his bathroom floors in the same black-and-white mosaic pattern he had once seen in the entrance to Cappy's Pizza in South Tampa.)

The kitchen floors are the same honey-colored hardwood that runs through the rest of the house. And there's not an appliance in sight _ another one of Vogel's make-it-look-bigger tricks. Instead, he concealed everything behind cabinetry or in drawers. The same goes for television sets and stereos.

Brass cabinet pulls were professionally "chromed," a technique Vogel employs regularly with everything from fireplace andirons to the metal columns supporting antique light fixtures he salvaged from a Connecticut school.

"You would be surprised at how affordable it is," he said. "It's something people think about but never do."

Over the sink and along one wall, he "pushed out" the windows, creating the feeling of small greenhouses. By giving the windows more depth, he created more room for stainless steel display shelves. A huge mirror in an ornate gold frame invites in more light and adds to the movie-star elegance. Over the stove, another mirror reflects the garden view from a window. Outside is an outdoor room with winding paths, brick seating areas and a natural koi pond designed by Pondscapes.

Instead of Formica or granite, white statuary marble covers the counters and center island, making the room feel bigger. Walls and cabinets are swathed in creamy whites, such as Sherwin Williams' Paper Moon.

All the buttery whites and marble called for something to make it pop, so Vogel and Scherschel began collecting dozens of stainless steel coffee urns and percolators, all sleek and good looking, some dating to the late 19th century.

"We collected them relatively quickly and many cost only a few dollars," Vogel said.

Grouping similar objects or "ganging up collections" as Vogel puts it, is a technique the couple recommends for added panache to any room _ big or small. (Scherschel collects vintage marching band hats with plumes and tassels.)

From front to back, the house feels soothing and smart. The perfect place to read a book of Edith Wharton short stories, which Scherschel was doing one recent rainy afternoon. The house feels so big that it's easy to estimate the square footage as larger than life.

"It's 1,400 square feet," Vogel said.

Scherschel corrects him: "No, actually, more like 1,300."

Either way, they say, a small house doesn't have to feel small. With the right planning, good storage space and minimal fuss and clutter, tight quarters can be made to feel like the Taj Mahal.

Said Vogel: "We've simply created the illusion of space."

Scott Scherschel, left, and Chip Vogel share their 1,300-square-foot bungalow in Hyde Park with their Norwich terriers, Baxter and Bailey. The garden, with its English-style layout, boasts an outdoor room and koi pond. HGTV's Gardener's Diary will air an episode featuring the couple's garden on Saturday.