I’ve long been a fan of the century-old classic city row house. In its original form, the small rooms of a row house can feel tight and cramped. After undergoing the transformative process of a contemporary reno, however, these small spaces can become light and airy, with high ceilings and flexible space. Despite having solid side walls without any windows, there is usually a glass-panelled entry door and windows on both the front and back of the room, so they can be amazingly bright (with views to both the street and back garden from a single room).
While I’m a fan of the efficiency and opportunities presented by the row house vernacular, I’m also well-versed in the challenges of trying to squeeze all the needs of a family into one room. The key to decorating success here lies in having a master plan where all the elements complement one another and work seamlessly together. Any home designed for family living needs to be infused with a healthy dose of practicality, and all decisions need to be made with lifestyle and daily usage in mind. That said, there’s absolutely no reason to sacrifice style just because you have little ones underfoot.
Start with the classics
The best budget-buster advice I have is to buy collectible classic furnishings. You need not pay high prices to secure stylish solutions with a mid-century mood. While teak furniture was previously viewed as strictly the domain of families with the last name Brady, or homes featuring an extensive installation of shag carpeting, teak is not just a time-warp design option any more. I gravitate to the refined proportions, the simple lines, and the restrained forms of vintage teak pieces. Diminutive in scale and executed with an eye on details and materials, teak is proving itself to be a contemporary classic well-suited to life in the 21st century. Often available at bargain prices in vintage and consignment stores, I suggest you take a second look at teak. I picked up a marble-topped coffee table for about $300, a pair of lamps for under $200, and occasional chairs for under $350. With no need for refinishing, these finds kick-started my decorating project with fiscal frugality in mind.
Pick a cool neutral
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “grey is the new beige.” The way I see it, you can never go too wrong if you work your décor around a tried and true natural hue. Instead of simply grey, I’ve always gravitated to the oyster-toned shades of grey. With a slight hint of green and a touch of sand, the right grey for me is a changeable choice that alters with the light and the time of day. It will never feel too cold, yet it will prove itself to be an adaptable and flexible choice that naturally complements a wide range of accent colours, which can be used to add vibrancy and energy to you living quarters. As an added bonus, if you’ve embraced the warm-hued tones of teak, you’ll find the cooler side of grey is a more flattering complement than old-school beige.
Seam it up
The key to flexibility with one long room is the choice of area rug. You can go custom and have a piece of broadloom cut and bound to your specific dimensions, but if you want to dress your floor with dynamic pattern, you’ll need to find a new solution. Area rugs aren’t generally offered in proportions that can be likened to a runway, so if the standard eight- by 10-foot or nine- by 12-foot options aren’t making the cut, why not make the size you need from what’s available? I found a funky eight- by 10-foot pale grey zebra-patterned pure wool rug and opted to have two of them sewn together along the 10-foot side to create a single 10- by 16-foot carpet that defined the living room. Including the cost to have the rugs sewn together, my total price was still far less than what you’d pay for any “palace-sized” carpet in existence.
Let there be Lucite