Bringing Serenity and Flow to a Small Home
Tips from a pro on making compact rooms feel calming and comfortable
Maybe it was knowing that the house was built in the 1700s—for a parson. Or maybe it was wanting an escape from big-city sensory overload. When interior designer Stephanie King took possession of a spare saltbox in Bedford, New York, three years ago, she adopted a palette of weathered grays, warm blacks, and pristine whites.
"The house is incredibly charming, and the minute I walked in I just knew I could make it spectacular," she recalls. "But because the rooms were small and the ceilings were low, I knew it had to be almost monochromatic to create a sense of flow." Working with a preservation-minded contractor, she restored mantels, moldings, and built-in cabinets, and rebuilt worn pine floors downstairs.
Shown: To give a vintage Colonial a quiet edge, ebonized floors were paired with updated-traditional furnishings.
Each room also got a judicious dose of color and texture. Linen, cashmere, and leather signal luxury in rooms remarkable for their simplicity. "Friends always say how serene it feels," says Stephanie. Her other design trick is to "use large pieces to make small rooms look grand." A vintage clock stands tall in the living room; an oversize portrait dominates the breakfast table. "I also keep the clutter down," she says. "It makes the rooms seem bigger."
For other tips on how to turn a small house into a calm retreat, read on.
Shown: Interior designer Stephanie King relaxes on a tailored sofa in her 1700s saltbox. She redid every room, but with a light touch.
A custom sofa, scaled to fit the room, has soft gray upholstery with crisp white piping. Accent pillows in rich hues warm up the neutral palette. A tall case clock and curtain rods raised high add a sense of volume to a low-ceilinged room.
Faceted glass adds an extra dimension to the Square Crystal Ball fixture. $140;
The Classic Alabaster lamp is made of the real stone, with a graceful shape and a deep-gray shade. $529;
Dark wood legs and pumice-colored fabric give the 40-inch-square Holden its contemporary look. $700;
A friezelike pattern turns the Greek Key rug into a centerpiece. Starting at $650;
Capiz shells enliven the Solid Silk Handloomed pillow cover. $34;
The simple lines of the Upholstered Slipper Chair let it adapt to most rooms. $300;
A Visions of Violet bouquet comes in its own matching vase. $40;
An all-white scheme—on the counters, cabinets, walls, and backsplash—is grounded by a slate floor, sculptural black-painted chairs, and a dramatic photograph. Charcoal-gray slate flows naturally from the other rooms' glossy black pine.
The Faux Crystal Balls fixture will add a touch of glamour over the breakfast table. $200;
The Portofino dining chair has a curved back and white vinyl seat. $149;
The Avalon extension table seats four to six diners. $499;
Oversize glass Apothecary Jars make decorative use of your fruit. From $35 each;
The Regent Porcelain Handle Gooseneck Bridge Faucet delivers a dramatic arc. $1,060;
Vintage touches, like a marble top and wide-spread, porcelain-capped faucet handles, give a simple white vanity a character boost. White subway tile looks luxurious when it climbs all the way to the ceiling.
The Classic Turned-Leg Single Wide Sink Console is pretty and practical.$2,199;
Mouthwash doubles as a color accent when served from the Claro wine decanter. $29;
The chrome Belle Foret Widespread Faucet with Pop-Up Drain has the authentic details of a period fixture. $214;
Let gifts from the sea add interest to an expanse of white bath tile with the Triton Sea Shell Mosaic mirror. $398;
The Metropolitan wall sconce in brushed nickel has a space-saving slim shape. $180;
Kohler's Bancroft Single Function Showerhead has one spray setting, just like its Victorian ancestors. $37;
Feminine flourishes, such as a graceful bench, flowing bed canopy, and soft gray coverlet, are balanced by snappy red accents and crisply framed artwork.
The Charleston wall sconce has a classic swing-arm design. $74;
Henley Ruby pillows provide a pop of color and texture. $25 each;
The curvy Parisian Bench could hold your breakfast tray. $129;
Bold black accents and controlled pops of color keep pale furnishings from looking washed out. Homeowner Stephanie King updated the original fireplace with a slate surround and glass doors. Accessories with curved profiles soften the mantel's sharp lines.
The antique-look Abacus dining chair has a distressed black finish and traditional ticking. $895;
Curvy turquoise vessels warm up their neutral surroundings. From $28 each;
The 34-inch Saratoga mirror's resin frame has a leaf pattern and bronze accents. $265;
A craggy White Coral Centerpiece—made of resin—adds texture to a creamy mantel. $22;