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Downtown condo living benefits from 'yacht smarts'

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Downtown condo residents can learn a lot from yacht dwellers, according to a trio of award-winning designers who have extensive experience in making the most of small spaces.

"Living in less than 1,000 square feet can be challenging but the downtown lifestyle is worth it," says interior Beverly Feldman, ASID, co-owner of Space San Diego, a downtown design gallery that offers interior design and multifunctional furniture. "With proper space planning and some ingenious ideas that maximize every inch, downtown condo owners can create homes that are just as livable as homes twice their size," she emphasizes.

"Every space must do double duty," said Harold Pell, ASID, who has designed several high-style condos downtown. "I designed one secondary bedroom that served as a family room, library/reading room, TV room, office and guest room."

This multifunctional room designed in a downtown condo by Harold Pell can be used as a guest room and office. Photo: Jim Brady

Pell relishes breaking cherished credos.

"People say small spaces should be minimalist, light and tidy, but I maintain that you can use dark colors and create an opulent setting by 'over-filling' the space with ample furniture and lovely things to touch and enjoy. The key to a successful design solution is scale -- and making every inch count."

Interior designer Christine Brun, ASID, whose syndicated column "Small Spaces" reaches 6 million readers a month, advises clients to strip down to the bear essentials in their condo and to think of the larger neighborhood as their home. "The most successful city dwellers watch TV at the local pub, read in the coffee shop, entertain in restaurants and relax in the park."

Brun also recommends borrowing the space-saving/multifunction furnishings found on boats. "Yacht designers have become masters at creating furniture that slides away, folds away, telescopes and disappears. The same concepts work beautifully in small condos."

Feldman has become an evangelist for livable small space design throughout her 30-year interior design career and opened her design gallery four years ago with partner Phil Feinberg. SPACE San Diego is a shrine to ingenious multi-function design solutions. Almost miraculously, bookcases transform into secret doors, tables become beds, beds emerge from behind wall units, coffee tables grow into dining tables and dressers morph into beds. It's the merging of Einstein and Martha Stewart.

Feldman has a litany of design ideas that make small spaces livable. She urges clients to go built-in, go vertical, go flexible and mobile, go hidden and go architectural.

She counsels condo shoppers to purchase a unit that has an open floor plan, rather than a lot of walled-in spaces. "The more open the floor plan the better, because then you can divide it up any way you'd like -- maximizing your flexibility," she says.

"The key to creating a livable home is developing a space plan that reflects the lifestyle of the occupants," she says. "The condo dweller needs to be especially clear about their needs. Do they need space for dinner parties? An office? A bed for overnight guests? A bar? A workout space? A football-watching area? Once functional needs are defined, the job of the condo resident or designer is to make it all work," Feldman says. "That's where knowing the tricks of the trade come in handy."

Built-ins can be a lifesaver. "Built-ins always eat up less floor space than free-standing case goods," says Feldman, noting that every inch counts. "Built-ins can accommodate a mix of things, including collections, art, photos, books, media components and DVDs. And, they do wonders with work spaces.

"I remember one couple whose home office had taken up their whole 18-by-18-foot living room. Using built-ins, I was able to move their two work stations into a 12-by-12-foot space, which was more functional and attractive than their original office," she says.

Built-ins also allow you to take advantage of every cubic foot of space -- in other words, to "go vertical." Feldman recommends maximizing the space by extending bookcases, media centers and other cabinetry to the ceiling. Other ways to "go vertical" include nesting tables, stack chairs and free-standing pole systems that feature stacked shelves or bins.

"Go hidden" is another one of Feldman's suggestions. "There are a variety of products that allow you to utilize the space under a bed or inside an ottoman," says Feldman. "One of the most inventive products I know transforms a standard doorway into what appears to be a built-in cabinet or bookcase, but functions like a door. It's the modern version of the secret bookcase/passage found in every old horror movie."

Multi-functional and mobile furniture provide some of the best design solutions for small space living. Feldman says the traditional Murphy bed has been updated to include a variety of creative configurations: table beds, sofa beds and the new Zoom-Room, a motorized bed that can be concealed behind cabinetry with any configuration of TV, bookcases, or closed or open shelving. The bed automatically emerges from behind the cabinetry with the touch of a button.

"Once the location of furnishings has been determined, the proper lighting can always make a space look more spacious and inviting," says Feldman. Cable lighting and rail lighting are particularly efficient in small spaces because light can easily be directed to illuminate a work area, to highlight artwork or to create mood lighting. Perimeter lighting that illuminates the walls makes a room feel bigger because it extends the space.

Used strategically, glass and mirrors are miracle workers in small spaces, according to Feldman. Mirrors can add depth to a room and/or reflect a beautiful city view. Glass incorporated into furniture, doors and room dividers is effective at opening up a space because it essentially disappears in the environment.

"Small condos can be challenging, but with the right attitude, organization and flexibility, you can live large no matter what your square footage," promises Feldman.

Metz is principal of Metz Public Relations.

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