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Small space living pt.1-tape measure living

Welcome to my mini-series on small space living. Not only have we lived in a 1,100 square foot home for the last 14 years, I do staging and interior redesign for real estate agents.

Over the next few weeks we’ll talk about loving and living in your small space and making it work for you.

One thing people don’t realized when they say they are “out of room” is they are basing it on what they think can see, not on the tape measure.

small space living button

When you actually start measuring out your furniture and spaces, you start to realize and become familiar with the space you have.

It’s important when you are space cramped to think about what your needs are and what you are currently using your spaces for.

Let’s be honest, if you have a living room you never sit in except maybe a few times  a year, can that space be used better? A craft room? An office? A play room?An extra bed room?

Think unconventionally. There is no reason to keep your homes either like A. How your mother had her’s or B. How the neighbors have it. or C. How the people had it before you.


I remember right after we first were married,when we bought our first home, the home that was going to be our “starter” home, it seemed like we had way more room than we could ever use. The three bedroom. 1,100 square foot split-level had a sub-level we didn’t even need, two extra bedrooms, one for a guest bedroom and one for an office, and an extra bathroom that was rarely used.

We both worked all of the time and I think the only thing we used the oven for was to heat up pizza’s. Maybe some day we would buy that bigger “dream” house.

Flash forward 14 years, three kids, a growing business and lots of  ” stuff” and we are bursting at the seams with no bigger “dream” house in sight. I know a lot of people are in the same boat too. The thing we have had to do was economize our small space and make it work for us, which is no easy take because I struggle with organization as well as a “love of stuff”, as do the other people I live with. ALso, now that my business has outgrown our home, I have some other decisions to make as well, but for now it’s all about using our space the best way we can and making the most of what we have.

Your home should be a fluid, ever-changing thing, to fit the needs of your family. Offices may need to become bedrooms, dining rooms may need to become offices, it’s a matter of making it work.

When we first moved in in 2000, all we needed our dining room space for was to eat in, so we filled it with furniture when Venetian plaster was the hot thing.

dining room

The room was long and it really had space taken up by furniture that wasn’t needed and was jammed up against the walls.

After kids came along with high chairs and bouncy seats, suddenly the space wasn’t enough.

It didn’t dawn on me until sometime later that if there is space that seems excess, how can it be best utilized?

because we really needed it.

That was when we measured and decided to break up the rooms a bit. We realized with all of the kids toys we had lost control of the living room and needed a clutter free sitting area to be able to hang out in.

small space lining learning to divide spaces

What most people don’t realize about space is that in living rooms there is a “conversation arc” of about 8 feet  Anything other than that isn’t cozy and people may have to strain to hear each other. I do staging and interior redesign for a real estate company and I always keep that in mind when I redesign a room. Another rule of thumb is you want about a 24-36 inch walk way between furniture such as a coffee table and sofa so people can easily move, which really means a 9 x9 area can be perfect for a sitting area.That’s why in many home decor magazines you will see a ginormous living room with a few smaller conversation areas (zones), or the seated furniture pushed in towards each other and then sofa tables behind them. Obviously those measurements can change if you are throwing in a jumbo size TV, but if you are talking about an intimate conversation space, that’s a great rule of thumb for a square/rectangle lay out.

Later, our space grew up a little as I went lighter and brighter.

dinign room 2011

and then we realized that our space needed to change again as I needed a studio space and we put in a built in bookcase wall.

creating a work area with a built-in bookshelf

 As my business continued to grow, we realize we needed even more space for not only me, but for the kids. The wall bench seat just wasn’t cutting it any more.

And I took a quick snap of it today. You would never guess by looking at the original picture in the beginning there was that much room there.

dining area 2014

It’s something we only figured out after we pulled out the tape measure and saw we did have space we weren’t using, because our eyes told us something completely different!

Jen signature

If you liked this post, you might also like:

small space living pt two

How interior redesign can help you sell your home!


  1. We went from a five bed, three bath, three garage to 1100 square feet, one garage condo and LOVED it! It was so freeing to get rid of 30+ years of “stuff”. We did have to be very intentional about what we bought, how we decorated, etc, but truly, it was my favorite place in our now 35+ years of marriage. I really like your house and the way you have created such a personal and beautiful space for your family. Sometimes, less is well, less!!!

    1. I do agree Terri. I think getting rid of stuff is huge, though I wouldn’t mind a few more square feet!

  2. THis makes a lot of sense – if your spaces are initially built to make sense 🙂 What I mean by this is – our “master” bedroom closet is so ridiculously small I have my dress clothes in my sons’s closet, my sweaters in a storage closet, my shoes under my bed AND in another closet…etc. etc. etc. THEN they put the laundry in the tiny hall closet just off the master, which is just about 2 feet from the kitchen and main living area! SO FRUSTRATING! So while we have a decent sized house – the initial design is flawed considerably and we’re trying to decide whether to stay and continue feeling cramped or find a bigger house.

    1. We have the same issue here, I have clothes everywhere. I’ve started de-cluttering and binning everything. I feel like there is stuff everywhere sometimes!

  3. Ahhhhh! I love this post (and I know I’m going to love this series) SO much! We are in the middle of (hopefully) purchasing a home in Minneapolis that is a lot smaller than what we’re used to. We didn’t set out to buy a smaller home intentionally, it just ended up the way it did based on what we could afford and wanting to be in the middle of the city. I am so excited to read more on this series…keep the small space inspiration coming!! 🙂

  4. I can’t even comprehend this is the same room. The dimensions ,decor ..everything looks SO different! I love how it is now, gorgeous!!


  5. Very interesting. You put into words and pictures what we all should know but you are right it isn’t what we see. I’m going to make a=n effort to “re-see” my rooms. Thank you.

  6. I will enjoy reading all you have to say about small space living. This is the year we “up-size” from a condominium into a house. We had been considering some very large houses, and have settled on a smaller (for us) home. We are so happy with our decision! I look forward to making that space work for us, not living up to expectations of others!

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