Thursday, July 31, 2014

Double up: Using two small coffee tables instead of one

Back when I lived in Los Angeles, I got to tour the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. The rooms of this fantastic mansion had all been converted to small theaters where magicians dazzled us with their acts. The tour guide told us a (probably apocryphal) story about how the owner first toured his new mansion, drink in hand. Every time there was a pause on the tour, he'd go to set his cocktail down, then point to the area and say, "We're going to put a bar there." And yep, there were tons of bars scattered throughout the house. I think some of the dazzle from the shows was more because of the bartenders than the magicians, now that I think of it.

In your tiny home, you might not have room to put a full bar anyplace you'd like to set down your drink. But you've gotta have someplace to put it, right? Whether it's a martini or a mug of coffee, the space in the middle of your living room, that place where couch, chair, and TV converge, needs to have a surface that can hold a drink or two. But the key is that it doesn't have to be big, and it doesn't have to be a single piece, either.

Having two (or more!) small tables in lieu of one large coffee table is a great solution for a small space. Even with two separate pieces, they often take up less space, and they're more easily moved and reconfigured should you need to change things up.

Matched Sets

Having two identical tables is the cleanest, most formal way to try this trend. Surprisingly, it's also one of the easiest. Many side tables come in pairs, so it's pretty foolproof. (Finding complementing tables can be more of a challenge, as we'll see below.) Just be careful of buying any ol' side table, though; they're often higher than a coffee table, which can make it feel awkward. You have to be able to comfortably put your feet up, after all!

Different Sizes

The second-easiest method is to pick two of the same table, but in different sizes. You can nest these tables, pulling out the inner table if you need more surface space, or you can place them next to each other, creating a more dynamic look with their different heights.


If your apartment is already a mish-mosh of Craigslist finds, go with it! Embrace an eclectic, bohemian vibe with mismatched tables clustered together to form your informal coffee table. Finding two tables that work together while retaining their own personalities can be a challenge; try contrasting shapes, heights, materials, and colors – but not all of those at once. A coat of the same paint on wildly different pieces could be just the right amount of cohesion needed to make your room look thoughtful, not messy.

Even More

Of course, why should you limit yourself to just two coffee tables? If you've got the space, fill it with however many you like! This also allows you to use smaller pieces, like garden stools, crates, or even large suitcases.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Little libraries: 23 small-space book storage solutions

One of the biggest tasks in unpacking and organizing my new place was getting the book situation under control. Both my roommate and I are big readers (I gravitate toward sci-fi and horror, my roomie likes her romance), and paring down our collections would just be too painful. I managed to cram most of my books and some of hers onto my one, giant industrial shelf – the pic above is one my roommate snapped while I was dividing my books by genre, author, and chronological publishing date. (I ALMOST made myself organize them by the Dewey Decimal System, but that was too OCD even for me.)

With the shelf full, our remaining books sit in bankers boxes in the laundry room. While trying to figure out how to store and organize the remainder of our library, I came across some great suggestions for keeping books in a small apartment.

If You Can Drill Into Your Wall...

Bookcases eat up space while at the same time remaining limited in the amount of storage they provide. In a small space, it's better to just ditch the standalone bookcase and opt instead for wall-mounted shelving – if that's kosher with your landlord. Wall-mounted shelves are highly customizable without the heavy footprint. Install shelves that run the entire length of the wall and all the way up to the ceiling to maximize available storage.

If you don't want (or can't) dedicate a whole wall for shelving, a shelf running around the perimeter of the room close to the ceiling provides out-of-the-way storage.

Get into those corners! This cool, industrial pipe shelving is a great DIY that makes use of usually-wasted space.

If you want to get some vertical storage but don't have a lot of horizontal space, using spice racks to store books facing outward keeps things close to the wall, not jutting out into the room.

Finally, if you've got some cool hardbacks and want to turn them into works of art, Umbra's "invisible shelf" makes your books appear to be floating midair!

Fake Built-Ins

Built-ins are so classy. They're also a great compromise between a standalone bookcase and a wall of shelving. You'll still have to drill into the wall a little bit for stability, but not as much as with wall-mounted shelves. They're also just that much fancier; you can add crown molding or paint the backs, like the beautiful blue below.

Non-Bookcase Storage Furniture

There are tons of furniture options for bookworms out there; name a piece of furniture and someone's made a version that will store your tomes! Some you can DIY, some you can purchase, and some (like the bookcase headboard above) can be a mix of both (with a little creative arranging thrown in).

Got a stack of books by your bed for when you're winding down at the end of the day? Brookstone has you covered. But available storage space like this leaves you in danger of tsundoku – the Japanese word for buying books but not reading them, and letting them pile up unread on shelves and nightstands!

Prove your small-space mastery by combing an already space-saving loft bed with storage in the stairs.

More for magazines than books, this fun DIY stool gives those old copies of Domino a second, useful life.

If you wish you could just live in a library, you'll be that much closer to your fantasy with an authentic library cart. Purchasing them new is kind of spendy, so check Craigslist or surplus stores for better deals.

With some creative repurposing, a giant wooden cable spool is turned into a wheel-o'-books.


These repurposed wooden crates are much, much cooler than cardboard banker boxes. You can always just dump your books into an appropriately vintage-looking crate, or you can get more creative by turning them into a coffee or side table. Either way, you'll get an inexpensive new piece with lots of storage.

Unexpected Locations

Don't limit yourself to the living room! Books can be stored anywhere, from the hallway to the bedroom to the kitchen to just any ol' place you can squeeze 'em in!

Stacks and Stacks

They're stacked like this on purpose, see? Magazines always show coffee tables or etageres stacked with elegant, arty books, so pick out your best-looking editions and pile them up! And don't be afraid of stacking them high or using the floor, either. If you say you did it on purpose, it's not messy – it's artistic.

Maximize the Shelves You Have

This is going to be one of my own next projects. My steel bookshelf has very, very deep shelves and I have books in rows two-deep. By elevating the back row, I'll still be able to easily see my complete collection. IKEA's EXPEDIT has quite deep cubes, so if you have one of those, the hack above would be perfect.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Links roundup: Floating shelves, House Beautiful's small space tips, and a beautiful jewel box in Los Angeles

8 Beautiful Ideas for Floating Shelves

Floating shelves are perfect for a tiny apartment; they add storage without a lot of bulk. Houzz demonstrates eight different ways to use them that are slightly outside the norm. I particularly love the offset shelves above for a bit of visual interest, and the around-the-corner shelves really pack a lot of storage into a limited space.

11 Things You Need To Know About Organizing In A Small Space

House Beautiful has a solid list of helpful tips for maximizing your space. There's stuff we already know, like seeking out multiple-use furniture and creating "zones" within a studio, but I learned something new: paint your furniture the same color as your walls to help them blend in and disappear. Not a bad idea! (Just make sure you don't camouflage them TOO well -- you don't want to miss it and break a toe on your invisible dining table!)

Small But Mighty

Erin at Elements of Style loves Peter Dunham‘s Los Angeles apartment in the new House Beautiful, and it's easy to see why! Peter went from a 3,500 square foot house to this 550 square foot apartment, but every inch is packed with purpose and style. For example, books are spread throughout the living room on tables, the ottoman, and a high shelf instead of a space-gobbling bookcase, and his tiny bedroom is absolutely vibrant with blue fabric-covered walls.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The renter's bathroom: 6 tips for de-uglying your apartment bathroom

Most of the rooms in an apartment are hard to fuck up. The landlord decides on the paint color and the flooring, and that's about it. But the bathroom (and the kitchen too) is where their bad taste can take over. They get to make too many decisions: sink and vanity, towel bars, lighting, tile, fixtures. Every time I've gone apartment hunting and walked into a potential home's bathroom, my eyes search for the things I can change without losing my deposit. Fortunately, there are plenty of not-terribly-expensive, temporary changes a renter can make to unfuck their bathroom.

Double up on mirrors

Your average apartment bathroom already has a mirror above the sink, but consider hanging a few more to increase the reflected light and feeling of space in your bathroom – it can also help you make sure your sassy updo looks good from the back! (The side mirror in the pic above is mounted on hinges so it can even swing to get all the angles! Amazing!)

Speaking of mirrors…

Most apartment mirrors are either in ugly medicine cabinets, or just held to the wall with plastic clips. By using either a pretty picture frame or pieces of moulding, you can create a frame that will make your reflection look like a classic portrait. Use 3M Command Strips so you can remove it when you move out.

Vertical, open shelves

If you're a product addict like me, you have three hair products for days you wear your hair curly, another three for straight-hair days, plus countless masks, dyes, sprays... Get all that clutter off of the counter by installing shelves, and maximize that storage space by installing shelves all the way up to the ceiling. Less-frequently used products can go on the higher shelves near the ceiling; keep everyday products within easy reach. Open shelves keep things light and airy, but if you're worried that your collection of bottles looks messy, corral them with baskets or trays.

 Swap out your shower head

"What's something I can buy for under $100 that will drastically improve my quality of life?" is a question often posed to the readers of the "Ask Reddit" page on Reddit. Along with things like "good shoes" and "a nice chef's knife," a new shower head is almost always mentioned. It's such an easy fix, and it can take your shower from "high school locker room" to "spa" in a few minutes. Be sure to save the old shower head so that you can replace it and take the new one with you when you move out. Bonus tip: For a super-spa experience, tie some eucalyptus branches to your shower head. The steam from your shower will help release a great, fresh fragrance. Extra bonus tip: Don't leave it in there so long that it gets moldy. Trust me on this.

Set the stage

Double the glamour of your bathroom and use two shower curtains instead of one to frame your bath. You'll get a feeling of symmetry plus an extra dose of whatever color and pattern your curtain brings to the room.

Throw away those boxes and bottles

Keeping products like soap, lotion, cotton balls, and Q-Tips in matching containers cuts the visual clutter of cheap, clashing packaging. As much as I love Target, I don't want to live in one of its aisles! Dump your products in glass canisters, wooden boxes, repurposed tins – and if your containers don't match, a coat of paint will help them feel like a set, even if they're different shapes and sizes.
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