These days, more and more people are staying put in their current homes, even when a new, larger space would be preferable. I’m hearing this in particular from my New York clients who are often dealing with space-challenged apartments which just seem too small (leading them to some strange layout choices, as you will see below!) Unable to afford a new home, many of my clients are opting instead to make modest renovations of their existing space in an attempt to make their home work more effectively for all members of the family. This is where Feng Shui Interior Design can do wonders! I will share with you a funny, true story about just such a project…
A little while ago a young couple contacted me for a consultation (I will call them Jim and Tina to preserve their anonymity). They lived in a relatively small New York City apartment, and with the birth of their son, Mark two years earlier, an already cramped situation became intolerable. Not surprisingly, this led to some unfortunate repercussions in their relationship. For starters, all romance seemed to have left Jim and Tina’s marriage. What remained was an existence entirely dominated by their little boy, plus a sense of frustration and even suffocation in their tight quarters. They desperately wanted to move to a larger space, but simply could not afford to do so at the time. Instead they opted to call me in for a Feng Shui renovation.
And boy did they need it!
Upon entering the apartment, the very first sight that met my eyes was a huge jungle gym that stretched from one end of the living room to the other. Scattered around the jungle gym were enough colorful children’s toys and learning tools to fill a nursery school. Essentially, my client’s living room – the biggest, most dominant space in the apartment – had been transformed into the set of Romper Room!
Meanwhile, the master bedroom was playing a whole assortment of roles to pick up the slack – living room, home office, library, walk-in closet. About the only thing you couldn’t do in there was cook dinner! Needless to say, the room’s primary function as a master bedroom was largely forgotten in the mix.
Now, before I poke too much fun here, let me explain a few things about these clients. That jungle gym in their living room - and many of the other toys - were actually specially crafted learning tools designed to stimulate physical and intellectual development in the child. Jim and Tina were fiercely committed to giving Mark the best growth environment possible. And it was clearly working! (As time went on, it became apparent how advanced Mark had become in relation to other children his age.) Still, it was also obvious to me as I entered the apartment that day just how poorly prioritized the space had become. After all, if the marriage that brought the special little boy into the world became strained, all the intellectual stimulation in the
world wasn’t going to replace the nurturing environment of a harmonious household.
Sometimes as a Feng Shui Designer, I have to take a bold step to address a glaring problem. In the name of re-prioritizing the space, I decided to flip things around and place their boy in the master bedroom. Now, before you think I have compounded the problem by doing this, hear me out. While this switch placed Jim and Tina in a slightly smaller space, it accomplished a world of good in other respects. First and foremost, the jungle gym could now fit in their son’s bedroom, as opposed to the living room. In fact, with a little creative cabinet work, we were able to place all of their son’s toys and learning tools into that space - which meant that the couple had a living room again! Not only that, but the home office was able to tuck very nicely into one of the corners of the living room. Along with the bookshelves that had formerly been crammed into the master bedroom. In short, there was now a nice place for the adults to sit and chat, and read and work. And there was also a master bedroom which was actually a master bedroom. Even if their new bedroom was a tad smaller, we created an elegant, romantic space that honored their relationship.
Meanwhile Mark loved his new room! After all, it was clearly his room, not a mere common space with a lot of his stuff in it. There were boundaries now, and this in itself was a great learning tool.
While this story may be a rather extreme case, most people living in tight quarters tend to make a series of sacrifices that can be harmful to proper balance and a sense of well-being. Without fully realizing it, space-challenged homeowners may slip into the habit of heavily multi-tasking their various rooms, and in so doing, eliminate the boundaries necessary to maintain family harmony. Even a single person will not want to cross too many lines; for instance, turning their bedroom into an office, lounge and storage locker.
So, if you are one of those people making do with less space than you would like, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I multi-tasking any of the rooms in my house? (A little of this is sometimes unavoidable, but wildly disparate uses for a space are often jarring to the psyche). Avoid placing desks in bedrooms, which is a real buzz-kill for romance. In fact, be very careful about where you place a home office. The very sight of bills and paperwork can make most people recoil. If a desk must be in a public space, make sure it is tucked into a corner, or can be screened off when not being used.
- Does each member of the family have at least one place in the home that is distinctly their own? Even when two children need to share a room, it is possible for each one to have their own private zone. This is crucial in order to achieve a feeling of security and self-expression.
- Are the various rooms decorated in such a way that they clearly communicate what they are? A nook that is supposed to be a “den”, will not read that way if there is nothing cozy about it. A bedroom dominated by a treadmill reads more like a gym than a resting space.
- Have I created my own “Jungle Gym”? While Jim and Tina’s situation was extreme, I find many of my new clients using valuable, visible space in their apartments for stair masters, mountain bikes, strollers…etc. In fact, add to this list all manner of large, unwieldy items such as musical instruments, family keepsakes that don’t fit the space, oversized artwork being saved for a larger home…you name it. While many of these items are important and must be kept, the chances are that they can be kept better.
If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, here is a fun exercise to try: Get a piece of graph paper, and draw a properly scaled floor plan of your space. Take a second sheet of paper, draw each piece of your furniture to scale, and cut them out. Now start playing with different configurations, moving the furniture around the plan – even to other rooms. Since you are just doing this on paper, really go for it! Some of the ideas may seem ludicrous, but there is no harm in trying them out. They frequently jog the mind out of a conceptual rut, and open the door to a moment of true design inspiration.
And of course, I am always happy to help with this process. Feel free to contact me
if you would like some extra help with your re-design.
The important thing to realize is that you can almost always do more with small spaces than you think. With some simple layout changes, clever design flourishes, and good Feng Shui, a huge amount can be accomplished on a moderate budget.
Sometimes re-working your current home can be the smartest and most cost effective plan of all.
Have a wonderful Spring,