Photographs provided by Libby Langdon
With soaring real estate prices and a growing population, many design lovers have had to scale back and make the most of their small spaces. The modern homes and businesses of today often contain a host of rooms that serve multiple purposes, and the interior design must be approached with a unique eye that combines style and functionality. This may seem like a conundrum for the spatially challenged, but in truth, the possibilities are endlessly exciting.
Libby Langdon, founder of Libby Interiors and interior design expert addresses these very issues on HGTV’s celebrated show Small Space, Big Style where all of the featured spaces measure in at less than 1,000 square feet. Her seasoned knowledge and techniques have also been featured on Fox TV’s Design Invasion, in a plethora of New York City’s finest restaurants and boutiques, Domino Magazine, WCBS radio, numerous commercial and residential interiors on an international basis, as well as the pages of an array of highly esteemed publications. She is also the author of Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions that was published by Globe Pequot Press in February 2009.
Above: New York City Restaurant
Libby Langdon speaks with Ava Living:
You live and work in New York City where space tends to be at a minimum. Do you feel that this particular experience has helped to hone your expertise with small space design?
Yes, absolutely! I’ve learned how to be creative and innovative with how I set up my space and make it functional, but also beautiful. All of my friends seemed to be going through similar challenges with their interiors, and that was when I started to see that I could work on creating solutions for small space living dilemmas that could potentially help a lot of people.
I’ve also learned that small spaces are not just contained to urban life and city dwellers; they are all over the country. A beach bungalow in Venice, California is a small space, a hunting cabin in Texas can be a small space, an over-the-garage apartment in Florida can be a small space, and with so many people downsizing in this economy, small spaces are more relevant now than ever before.
Above: Austin, TX Dining Room
What are some of the major considerations that come up time after time when working with small space design?
In a small space, use full height doors for closets and rooms; anytime you can have an element go all the way up to the ceiling, such as bookcase, drapes, and doors, it draws your focus up and helps to visually create the illusion of a larger room. This is also wonderful with closet doors, as you’ll gain all that extra storage space that otherwise would be wasted.
Don’t “Biggie Size” it; try to steer clear of oversized furniture as it crowds a small space and makes it seem even tinier. Look for smaller proportioned items that can create multiple conversation areas, and use chairs and ottomans to provide extra seating.
Don’t be afraid of bold paint colors. If you have a small space, sometimes a darker color on a wall can make it recede; don’t think of it as a "dark" color think of it as a "rich" color!
Lights under cabinets (in the kitchen or otherwise) help to illuminate a workspace, but also add another layer of light and that will help to make the room appear larger.
Layer your bed linens to make your bedroom seem more spacious. Choose a bedspread/duvet, shams, and throw pillows in a mixture of patterns and colors, as this adds depth and looks airier than a solid, overstuffed comforter.
Above: Navy Guest Room
Eliminate knick-knacks and clutter; it’s hard to do but absolutely necessary (be ruthless)!
Use mirrors! Reflective surfaces will extend a space and make a room feel more open. For example, you can magnify a mirror’s impact by putting it in a position where it will reflect a window or a doorway; the space will then feel larger and you’ll be adding natural light.
Stripes on a wall make a tall statement in a small space as they draw your eye upwards, giving the illusion of height, and this is a valuable thing, especially when the ceilings are low.
Stay away from big bold patterns on sofas and chairs, as it can be distracting and take up visual space.
Replace solid exterior doors with multi-pane glass doors to bring light into dark entries — in a matter of hours you’ll completely transform the feeling that you get when you walk into your home.
If you are mixing patterns in a small room, be sure to work with limited color tones, and keep them in the same family for a cohesive, more open look.
Chairs and sofas without arms have slim lines; they can ease traffic flow in a small room and create a more spacious, open feel.
Above: New York City Living Room
Furniture that has legs rather than a skirted bottom can make a space seem more open, it lets light through and feels less bulky.
Use glass tops on coffee tables, end tables and dining tables. Being able to see through the glass on these pieces creates an open, more airy feel, and it doesn’t chop the room up visually, like a solid surface could.
In a small space with adjoining rooms, select harmonious tones and hues for paint colors; this will create a feeling of flow and continuity rather than looking chopped up and disjointed.
Be sure to use lots of light in a small space, but don’t use overhead light unless it’s recessed and on dimmers. 4 or 5 lamps aren’t too much in a space, and make sure that you are reaching the all of the corners in your room. Since you have less space, you want to avoid the chance of any of it getting lost in darkness; you want it to feel open, warm and inviting, and lots of light is the best way to achieve that.
Above: New York City Bedroom
Are there common misconceptions that many people have when working with a smaller interior?
The top 10 biggest mistakes people make in small spaces are:
Leaving your walls white: White walls won’t technically make your space larger and they lack personality. Spice up your space, have a little fun, and paint some color on your walls!
Using large-scale furniture: Oversized pieces can hog square footage, and using better-proportioned furniture will help you to create a more functional and comfortable living space .
Lack of light: Not lighting your space effectively makes it look smaller, and if you can’t see an area in your room, it’s as if it’s not there! Capitalizing on natural light, while also bringing in artificial light is imperative.
Using short shelving and cabinetry: Using full-scale shelves and cabinets that go all of the way up to the ceiling will visually draw the eye upward, making the ceiling seem higher, and your space feel larger.
Keeping clutter: Holding onto too much stuff and not throwing away clutter can make even a large space feel small, so when in doubt, throw it out.
Using small-scale accessories: Large lamps, artwork, candles, vases, and accessories will create the appearance of a larger space with more height. No wimpy lamps.
Not using mirrors: Mirrors reflect light, whether it’s daylight or lamplight, and they visually make your space appear and feel larger by adding depth and dimension to your interior.
Not capitalizing on your wall space: Think vertically and get your walls working for you! Mount shelving or storage systems up on your walls to display collections, and store additional items so that you don’t waste precious table space. This will also help to focus your items in one spot, so that your space feels more organized.
Using all wood furniture: It makes a room feel clunky and bottom heavy; by mixing in glass-topped tables with wood pieces, you give your room a lighter, airier, and more open feel.
Using small area rugs: A small area rug can look like a postage stamp and make your room feel cramped; using a large rug creates an extended visual line and gives the illusion of more square footage.
Above: Dallas, TX Living Room
What is one of the best investments that an individual can make when looking to maximize their space, but also maintain a sense of style and elegance?
I think that comfortable, quality, well-proportioned upholstered pieces are a great investment. These are items that you really use, and sit on, so I encourage people to spend a little more money on here and maybe a little less on small-case pieces like side tables and coffee tables.
Your book ‘Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions’ is 192 pages of practical advice on how to organize, simplify, and create a beautiful interior with even the smallest space. Does the book address varying budgets as well as square footage?
I basically wrote the book with the idea that most people are in small spaces because they can’t spend the money to live in a large space, and they also most likely don’t have the budget to hire an interior designer.
Everyone can create and live in a beautiful space, no matter their budget, and you can definitely create that high-end décor look without spending a fortune. I always encourage people that are on a budget to begin with paint; pick a bold color and begin there, as it’s definitely the fastest, and least expensive way to transform a room. If you’re not sure where to begin with color, pick up some home magazines that showcase the style that you're after, flip through until you find a wall color hat you like, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll list the exact paint color. The other wonderful thing about paint is that it makes the items that you already have look completely different, as it brings out the detail in your woodwork, artwork, as well as all of your furnishings. Paint helps you to rethink what you already have, and that’s a great place to begin when you’re watching what you spend.
The other thing I would say gives you the biggest bang for your buck is nice lighting. You don’t have to live with overhead lighting; it’s depressing, and it will color the mood of a space. Even if you have a small area, 4 or 5 lamps are not too much too add to a space. You want to illuminate all of the space that you have so that you can enjoy every inch of it.This changes the whole feeling of your home, and will make it feel warm and inviting.
A great idea to fluff up a bedroom on the cheap is to hang floor to ceiling drapes behind the head of your bed, even if you have a headboard. Pick a fabric that you love, a crisp toile, a chocolate brown silk, a rich red velvet, or an airy creamy sheer, whatever works, and you will see that it adds a quick change in the overall look of your room, and it makes the room look bigger because when the drapes go all the way up to the ceiling they visually draw your eye up, creating the illusion of higher ceilings and thus a larger space!
Above: Libby Langdon's Small Space Solutions Book Cover
In addition to addressing small space design issues, you are also concerned with eco-friendly design and worked with Better Homes and Gardens on their Living Green exhibit. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Some people hear the words "green design" or "eco-friendly building" and they immediately think of a mud hut with a thatched roof. Well, I’m happy to tell you that green design can be just as stylish and beautiful as its non-green counterparts!
Last year, "green" was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and this year green design proved that it’s no longer a trend, but a lifestyle movement. What seems new and cutting-edge to us now will be one day simply be the normal building standard for future generations.
As an interior designer, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with green building materials, but when I was given the opportunity to design the interior for the Better Homes and Gardens/Green Works Living Green Home, I jumped at it! This 2,500 square foot exhibit traveled to home shows in 15 cities for 9 months, and it's basically a little house with four separate spaces there were all joined by a central resource center, which is in the middle of the exhibit. There’s a utility room, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room, and the challenge was to showcase as many innovative and stylish green products as possible, while still giving the exhibit a cohesive and focused design scheme.
For the countertops, I chose EnviroGlas, which is such a fascinating material, as it’s made from bits of everything from recycled beer and wine bottles, to chips of old toilets and porcelain bathtubs. These chips are often colorful, and are mixed with a resin which comes in tons of colors, so it's easy to create a sturdy, yet stylish slab for your countertops. In the kitchen, I used the brown, clear, and green glass, while in the bathroom, I used a recycled cobalt blue glass. In the utility room, I used the a material that is made from tinted car windshield glass, which gave the counters a chic, gray look. For the tiles in the bathroom, and the kitchen backsplash, I used 100% recycled tiles from Susan Jablon Mosaics. They come in tons of colors, and the mosaics in her Organiks collection are 100% recycled from car windshields!
I chose cork flooring from Natural Cork, with a different shade, and a different style in each space (in order to show versatility), and I also used their dark handscraped bamboo flooring in the living room.
In the kitchen, I used Bertch Cabinetry that made from PlyBoo, which is a bamboo plywood. Bamboo is actually a grass, not a wood, and it grows so quickly that it’s fully renewable in about 5 years, so it makes for a sleek contemporary look, that is planet-friendly.
Repurposing or refurbishing existing furniture is an easy and inexpensive way to go green. I used an old dresser as the bathroom vanity, using the the wood top to make the vanity mirror.
Above: Hamptons Dining Room
The cost of the products that I used are no more expensive than any other products on the market, and if you’re remodeling or building they are absolutely worth a look. Why not pack a style punch, while also being conscientious of the planet?
Your design work has been featured on the covers of Better Homes and Gardens, Hampton Style, Decorating With Style, Decorating Spaces, and Budget Decorating Ideas, to name a few, and you’ve also hosted and contributed to HGTV’s celebrated show Small Space, Big Style and Fox TV’s "Design Invasion". Are these sections typically work that you’ve done on private contracts or are they specific to the publication or television feature?
It’s a combination of both. For the television work, the content is all provided by the production company or network, but all of the magazine features are homes or commercial projects that I’ve personally designed.
Above: New York Clothing Store
Furniture retailers and manufacturers can also reap the benefits of your expertise as you regularly give seminars about design in small spaces and attracting the small space consumer. Where can we find a listing of your upcoming seminars?
People can go on my website for updates about upcoming seminars and book signing events at: http://www.libbylangdon.com.
Above: Rhode Island Living Room
You have designed spaces for PGA golfer Brad Faxon and La Masseria restaurant in New York City. Are there any current projects that we can look forward to seeing on the newsstands or television in the near future?
I’ve just finished a home in Italy, I’m currently working on another restaurant in Rhode Island, and my home will be featured on the cover of the August issue of Hamptons Cottages and Gardens for an entertaining story!
To contact Libby Langdon:
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Phone: (212) 501-0785
Fax: (212) 501-0318
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Written by Ehren Seeland