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Expand your home by making a small room do double duty

To make the most of your home's square footage, sometimes a room must do double duty. We had the opportunity to turn this trick recently, in a cottage we renovated on Vancouver's west side.

The back story

The cottage's original layout had two bedrooms, one bath, an attic and a cellar. Its 900 square feet made it small for a family home. The solution was an aggressive renovation. We pushed out the roof, creating a new upper floor (and 800 square feet of new space).

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The big changes were two new bedrooms and baths, with a large closet and staircase where the master bedroom had stood. We also opened up the main floor – the kitchen, living and dining rooms now shared one large space, a great room of sorts.

The holdover, and our design challenge, was one of the original bedrooms on the main floor. For it, the clients wanted a bed for visitors, but worried that a guestroom would rob them of too much overall living space. By the same token, they didn't want to force visiting friends and loved ones sleep in a home office or TV room. Like Superman, the room had to be able to switch identities in a flash – and be convincing in both roles.

If you've got a similar challenge on your hands (or are trying to make the most of a smaller-than-you'd-like condominium), keep these hints in mind.

The closet is not your storage friend

The common belief is that more closets in a home means more storage. It isn't true. More often, closets are a waste of space. In a small room like ours, its two-by-four walls and chunky door jambs would have gobbled valuable inches.

In this room, we forwent a closet and built two millwork towers modeled on wardrobes – large doors above and drawers below. We designed the upper cabinets so that they could accommodate adjustable shelving (for storage) or adjustable rods (for hanging clothes), and allowed 24 inches of interior depth in the cabinet, big enough for winter coats.

The millwork provides all the storage you could want in a guestroom, but will hamstring no bedroom design scheme.

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Your workspace should work overtime

Whether for homework or household finances, every home needs a designated workspace. Our little room was the home's only nook for an office or lounge. Again the millwork came in handy. We designed a wide desk that fit between the towers. It had ample room for any project that needed spreading out.

Above the desk went shelving for books, DVDs, and other sundries. Vital here were the power outlet and cable jack we put in; a large flat-screen TV was on the way.

The room was taking shape. It had abundant storage that was easy to reconfigure and a large space suitable to both work and entertain. Set up either way, it would be a quiet escape from the hum of activity in the great room.

Furnishings make or break a dual room

With the stage built the next crucial step was the actors. Good furniture selections would make our double-duty room as useful as it could be. Bad selections would seriously handicap it. And the most important piece – as it is in any room where people sleep – was the bed.

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The obvious choice for many is a Murphy bed. But rooms with fold-up beds rarely function as well as they could. People don't like to place bulky furniture in the way of the cabinet and, as a result, the rooms feel odd, provisional and unfinished.

Instead, we went with an old standby, the sofa bed. Those with memories of pinched fingers, creaking hinges, and lumpy sleeplessness can rest assured that sofa beds have improved greatly –many are as now as comfortable and attractive as expensive designer sofas. We upholstered our custom piece in grey flannel, paying extra to have the cushions wrapped in down. (The plushness and luxury were worth every penny of the $1,000 upgrade.)

We bookended the sofa with small side tables and lamps. They stay in place when the bed is out, a natural lighting arrangement for a visiting couple that likes to read in bed.

Rather than drop in a bulky coffee table or ottoman (both are hard to move when the bed needs deploying), we used two small stools we'd found at a thrift shop and reupholstered in cheap linen. You can pop your feet on them with ease – or, if need be, drag them into the living room as seats for unexpected guests.

Considering light and art pays dividends

If a room in your home is doing double duty, you're using it at different times of day. That means you'll want to think about when (or if) you want light pouring in the window. (For a home office, say, you want as much as you can get; for a bedroom, as little.) In this room, we added blackout lining to the floor-to-ceiling drapes. They allow abundant light when open, and none and all when closed.

Another visual consideration is the art work on the walls. My rule of thumb for rooms in which guests will stay is: Avoid family photos. The people are already in your home – give them a break. In our room, we hung a series of antique prints illustrating the spinning of yarn.

It's a worthwhile exercise, attempting to achieve two design outcomes without spoiling either. I think we pulled it off. The cottage room now spends most of its time as an office and TV room, and the clients report that it performs a speedy and attractive costume change when guests arrive.

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About the Author

Kelly Deck has been advocating for West Coast design since 2002, when she 
 opened an interior decor boutique on Vancouver's Main Street. Since then, 
 Kelly has immersed herself in the lifestyle and community that makes West 
 Coast design unique. More

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