Room to Breathe Making the Most of Small Spaces

"I was living on 93rd and 3rd in a railroad apartment, and I described it to my father as 'straight through with a bathtub in the kitchen,' and he thought I was joking. He said, 'Where's the toilet?' And I said, 'Out in the hall. I can take a bath and talk with Luce at the same time she's cooking.' And then he began to realize I was really telling the truth." -Spalding Gray

The classic "New York apartment" with the bathtub in the kitchen and a Murphy bed folding out from one wall may not be as common these days as it was a few decades ago, but the fact is that unless they're among the fabulously wealthy, space is at a premium for nearly all New Yorkers-especially Manhattanites. Whether it's a lack of storage, no room for guests, or a microscopic bathroom, practically everybody has at least one space-related complaint. Frustrating as it can be to try to jam one more Rubbermaid storage tub under the bed or find a place to put the ski equipment, there are ways to make the most of small living quarters-it's a combination of illusion and organization.

Turn on the Light

One of the first elements to consider when trying to maximize a minimum of space is light. Along with color, lighting can have profound effects on how spacious (or claustrophobic) a room appears to be. According to Phillip Finkelstein, vice president of Illuminations, a specialty lighting company in Rockville Center, New York, light can be trained onto the ceiling to diffuse it throughout the room, giving a lofty aspect to the space. The higher the ceiling, the higher the wattage should be. Wattage plays a part in this because it is what gives the light its tone-the higher the wattage, the brighter the light, and vice-versa. "The wattage is dependent on the size of the room and how much light output is needed to carry out the room's functions," says Finkelstein. To create a crisp, airy atmosphere that will show off bright colors to best effect, consider using bright-white light bulbs, or some of the new fluorescents or halogens. (According to Finkelstein, fluorescent lighting for the home is worlds away from the buzzing, flickering old-school bulbs used in offices and other institutional places.) For a warmer, cozier look that works well with darker wood and rich textures, go with light-pink bulbs, or even amber-colored accent lights in sconces.

The kitchen-which, next to the bathroom, should be the best-lit room in the apartment-can be made to appear larger by placing fluorescent lights on top of the cabinets, pointing upwards toward the ceiling. Light will bounce off the ceiling and diffuse downward, explains David Brooks of Superior Light & Fan in Manhattan. Torch and socket lights can be used to create the same effect in the living and dining rooms. In the bathroom, lighting is more purely functional, so the tricks that can be played to maximize space have to conform to that purpose.

Taupe and Mirrors


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