Friday, March 16, 2012

Small Space Embrace: My Own Small Space Homes

Since I've lived with my hubby Steve in 14 small space residences during our 30+ years of marriage, I wrote the Small Space Organizing book on it that's helping small space dwellers "dwell well" all over the world.   Small space living is my passion and I like to share what I know about it with others!  My book is an international bestseller* in several countries and has been featured by Family Circle magazine, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and many more media outlets. 

I thought you might like to see some photos from our own small homes over the years--from a Midwestern small town newlywed cottage we rented when we were ages 21 and 23, to city apartments, to a California beach condo we bought and remodeled, to a raised ranch house we bought, to an urban high-rise apartment, to our current "petite penthouse treehouse" of just 710 square feet in sunny San Diego, California--we've lived there, and we've enjoyed them all!  Many of the photos below were taken "before digital" so they aren't professional quality pix, but you'll get space picture!

Here's the principle from my book that I think is most important about small space living:

"A true home is really about the size of your heart,
 not about the size of your space." 
--Kathryn Bechen--


Our humble newlywed nest in 1980 was a small town 20'x20' cottage that was small in space but big in LOVE.   Even as tiny as it was, I had a little bridal shower for my friend here, and we invited an elderly lady from our church to dinner one time who told everyone how much fun she had with us.  We were 21 and 23 years old and she was in her 80's! 

No matter how small my table, I like to not just eat, but dine.  :) So I set a pretty table as often as possible.  You don't have to have fancy china and silver to do that; you just need a little imagination, some nice discount-store "finds," and some flowers from your grocery store!  Round tables foster a sense of intimacy, and setting a pretty table turns an ordinary meal into a celebration, in my opinion!

Here I framed lovely glossy photo greeting cards and hung them in my kitchen for some "dollarwise art." 

As long as I have books, fresh flowers, and pictures of fun times with my hubby, I'm a happy girl!  What things make YOU happy at home?

I think a cozy master bedroom is a necessity because it's where we retreat from the world to nurture ourselves. This was one of our apartment bedrooms.  The "faux window" behind the bed was featured in Country Almanac magazine, with instructions on how we did it.  

I decorated this little condo bathroom in a beach cottage style which is a decorating style that works great for small space living.

We created a home library in this apartment by placing bookshelves along one entire wall in our apartment living room.  The salmon-colored walls were a big hit with visitors who often commented on them because they livened up a plain white box of an apartment.

Lacking a formal foyer/entryway in this 1400 SF city apartment, I put a small stand with drawers in the entry to hold our keys and outgoing mail.

I created my little "cottage office" here in a corner of our second bedroom which was only 10 x10 square feet total.   I shared it with my hubby who used the other side for doing our bills and taxes.

I like to use ALL of my small space well, including the outdoors.  Here is one urban terrace we had where I created a celebratory anniversary dinner for my hubby Steve. 

We bought our 922 square foot San Diego county beach cottage because it (was close to the beach!), and because it had a nice-sized outdoor patio right off the living room.  We turned it into our little seaside garden paradise.  Steve laid a brick floor and lined the inside of the fence with white lattice for privacy. 

Here's how it turned out!  He installed the fountain too, handy guy that he is.  I found my white mermaid statue at a thrift store; she was the "Queen of the Patio."  We love working on our homes together; it's a labor of love to create a comforting nest together.

We created a container garden from planters I found at various places like Home Depot, Target, thrift stores, antique stores, you name it! Even if I had millions of dollars, I'd still shop like that because I love the treasure hunt and I enjoy re-purposing old things and keeping them out of our landfills.

And behind our little patio's garden gate...

We hung garden tools to work on our container garden...

And we had fun patio parties for our church foyer dinner group.   Here I used a new king-size sheet for a tablecloth and covered the chair backs with fabric.  Enough room for eight people!  You don't need a big house to entertain; you just need to tap your creativity and have a spirit of friendly hospitality.

Another time we had a less less formal dinner out on our patio, so I used sea-themed towels over a white sheet to set the beach mood for a casual evening party.  It's the details that add charm to small spaces.

For example, the front of our little beach condo was very plain until we planted flowers, and added planter urns, a planter on the fence, and topiaries by the front door.  Color!

In our small high-rise kitchen, I love the original colorful paintings over my sink that I had a friend paint for me, and I keep my utensils in urns and other pretty containers I've collected over the years.  I think of a small kitchen like an airplane cockpit--everything's conveniently at hand so I can cook easily.

In this little apartment kitchen I hung my mugs vertically on gold hooks, and...

In our little beach condo kitchen I hung them horizontally.   Same mugs.   Forget decorating rules; go with the space you currently have.  Move things around and mix and match.

Buffets work great in a small living or dining area.  I used this one to separate two living areas and  to store my scrapbook supplies and make a nice book display on top for both ambiance, and book storage.

I like small open-backed antique furniture for making a small space look larger.  My hubby painted our entire floor in an old brick pattern for cottage-style ambiance.   That was quite a project as he used an ordinary household sponge for every single brick!  Instructions on how he did it.

This was the biggest home we ever bought--1650 square feet, top to bottom.   We painted the outside taupe with a nice green front door.  At that stage of our lives, we really enjoyed our big backyard and often had friends over for dinner or summer parties.

Even if you don't have a backyard, I think it's important to have a little outdoor space that's enjoyable.  Here we took our tiny urban apartment balcony (about 6' x 9' or so)  and turned it into our mini "outdoor living room."  It overlooked a beautiful green park.   My hubby installed lattice inside of the balcony railing for privacy.

Again, I don't let small space living inhibit me from having friends over!  One Christmas Day, my hubby and I invited several friends whose family lived far away and could not be with them to join us for a Christmas buffet in our  1400 SF apartment.   One woman who was there, nearly 20 years later, still sends us a Christmas card every year even though we have both moved many times since then and live on opposite coasts.

Here's the outside of our (now former as of  3/13) "urban cottage" home.  :)  It's a high-rise apartment in beautiful San Diego County, CA.


Come on in!  I always hang a wreath on my front door to say "Welcome."  It's the fastest way to begin to spruce up your home.

Now that our kitties have passed away and we don't have pet mess, we've been transitioning our 1200 SF urban apartment into a our white/neutral haven.  After years of a colorful cottage look, we were both ready for something more serene, and we're really enjoying it.  

We still have a "cottage style/garden/Old World" look, but it's more streamlined.  I had some of our darker furnishings that I love and don't want to part with, repainted white.


We also love our tiny little terrace with its lovely view of the palm trees. I try to keep fresh flowers on my table out there so I can enjoy them through the window from inside.    Sometimes we eat out here and it feels like a little SoCal bistro.

I have a whole room-by-room tour of my highrise home here, including the neighborhood scenery, if you'd like to take a look.

We've moved!  Our latest home update as of 5/8/13: 

My husband Steve and I recently moved into this 710 square foot "petite penthouse treehouse."  :)  Come on in and take a room-by-room tour!  I even show you my closets!

I hope you've enjoyed my home tour of a few of my own small space homes over the years.  I enjoyed sharing them with you!  

For oodles of tips, ideas, products, and website URLs for your own small home, check out my bestselling book, Small Space Organizing, as featured by Family Circle magazine, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and many more.  Many of the ideas and tips are also applicable to any size home!

Kathryn :)

*Amazon bestseller rankings change hourly.


Hoghart said...

How kind of you to share your various homes with us.
You have a real talent for decoration and a worderful taste.

What a beautiful place you live in, in San Diego. I love your patio and the white everywhere.
All is very elegant.
When I look around me, all look miserable compared to your beautiful current home.

Have a beautiful weekend under the sun of California.
Blessings ! Helene

Kathryn Bechen said...

Thanks Helene; nice to have a reader from France. You do beautiful art! Kathryn :)