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Those small, quirky spaces call for unique treatments

One of the things I love about old houses is that they often have quirky little rooms just waiting to be interpreted as more than just leftover space. Maybe this feeling goes back to when I was a kid and dreamed of having a house with a turret. (What little princess didn't?)

Unusual interior spaces -- enclosed porches, sunrooms, dormers . . . and turrets -- not only add to the curb appeal of a home but are the perfect places for innovative self-expression in design. Instead of deeming your little gem of a space an "everything" room -- one part office, one part craft room, one part storage for the unclaimed treasures from other rooms, and all parts junky -- try to define a focused usage. The end result of the remake will likely be far more successful.

Take a teensy-weensy room I had to deal with an as example. It was too small to be a useful bedroom, but I figured it would make the perfect little kids' homework/lounge area. I outfitted the space -- which includes panelling halfway up the walls, a desk and shelves -- according to the following guidelines:

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Build it, don't buy it. If space is at a premium, I prefer everything to be built-in. Think of it as being like a ship: If you designate space for everything you want to store, it will be easier to keep it tidy.

Buy the best materials. Start by investing in the best materials available at your building supply store. Instead of cheap Masonite bead board, opt for wide, solid-pine, tongue-in-groove panelling; it looks far better when installed. Plan the height of your panelling so that you make the best use of available board lengths and produce little or no waste. If you're putting in shelves, be sure to use cabinet-grade plywood, and install a facing that is at least an inch thick across the front to keep the shelves from sagging under the weight of your books.

Think double duty. Building a little reading nook/daybed in front of the bookshelf provides a great spot to curl up with a book or laptop, and even doubles as an extra bed when guests are visiting. Choose a cushion made from foam that's at least four inches thick; your guests will actually find it comfortable. Make sure all the fabrics you select are durable and washable. Choose 100 per cent cotton, and prewash and preshrink your fabrics before you get them sewn. This way you'll be able to toss them in the washer and dryer when they get dirty.

Keep it cool. Instead of overdoing it with busy patterns and bold colours, I prefer to create work areas that are calm and restful. Smoky greys and blues in a variety of stripes play off the nautical mood without making it feel themed.

Choose the quiet of carpet. I'm a fan of hardwood floors, but not in small spaces. If you want the room to be cozy and quiet, opt for wall-to-wall broadloom in a short, dense pile. If you go for wood, you'll inevitably want to add a rug for warmth in the chilly months. It will likely be awkward in size, look like a postage stamp on the floor, and catch the legs of your desk chair every time you pull in or push back.

Oil over water. When tackling a DIY project, it's always tempting to take shortcuts, but rarely a good idea. For instance, latex paints are indeed easier to clean up, faster to work with and less offensive to your olfactory senses, but I think it's a big mistake to paint trim in anything but oil. Latex paint on panelling isn't as durable, it dries too fast and shows brush marks. Oil-based trim paint in an eggshell or semi-gloss sheen is the optimal finish for your panelled retreat.

Be inspired by a room with a view. I believe the best location for a desk relates to the view. Writers block is far less likely to set in, and mundane tasks are made more enjoyable if daydreaming and inspiration are encouraged by placing the desk in front of a window. I'm sure the feng shui experts have a thing to say about not having your back to the door, but I'd rather look out on a sunny day than worry about bad spirits sneaking in over my shoulder.

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Building a desk into a bay window is remarkably easy. Using cardboard, make a template of the bay's profile, then cut the desktop out of cabinet-grade, three-quarter-inch plywood. Trim the front with shingle moulding, add some decorative iron brackets to reinforce the sides, and drill a hole in the top to keep cords organized. Voila -- the closet-sized room becomes the ideal office nook.

Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Sarah's House and design inc. on HGTV ( ) and principal of Sarah Richardson Design (www.sarahrichard-


Tongue-in-groove panelling (six inches wide), cabinet-grade plywood, table lamp on bookshelf -- Home Depot,

Trim and baseboard -- Royal Woodshop, (905) 727-1387 or

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Windows -- Loewen, . Installed by Fieldstone Windows, 1-866-202-0286 or

Decorative brackets supporting desk -- Lee Valley Tools,

Fabrics on daybed and desk chair -- Designer Fabrics, (416) 531-2810 or

Magnetic tack boards -- Ikea,

Pendant light -- Alico Industries, 905-305-6606 or

Desk chair -- Sarah Richardson Design,

Wall clock -- Winners,

Mailbox, tray and desk accessories -- Urban Barn,

Desk clock and phone -- Pottery Barn,

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