Sunday, 22 February 2015

bedtime reading - Beautifully Small by Sara Emslie

Anyone accustomed to flat hunting in London, or any other major city will know all too well that space is a luxury and that the majority of places within most peoples budgets will be on the small side. Studios are becoming more common in this country and even one-beds aren't guaranteed to have much more square-meterage. Even if you're lucky enough to have a whole house, the UKs major cities are still largely populated by fairly compact terraces, or poky new builds. This book aims to 'embrace the positive aspects of living in compact spaces' which, faced with a small city living space is absolutely the way to go. Instead of seeing small space living as a negative thing, adopt Sara Emslie's view and revel in the challenges and inspiration that small space living brings.

The book starts with tips on assessing and planning your space, elements of design and style and overall helpful tips. I think this is a key element most people overlook in whatever type of home they live, without assessing what you have in terms of space and possessions and having a clear plan about how to marry the two, your rooms are never going to fulfill their potential. Sara's tips on maintaining a 'strict spatial discipline' and ideas for the best types of furniture are invaluable. For example, she argues that while a large sofa in a small space can be cumbersome, conversely a large bed with an over-sized headboard can appear luxurious. Clear acrylic furniture is another great trick, giving the illusion of more space and less clutter.

She also gives tips on using old and antique furniture, much of which was originally designed to be used in small spaces. It also helps to add depth and texture to a room, especially good for us renters who live in beige boxes with not much in the way of interesting features.

The majority of the book looks at case studies and presents several sizes and styles of homes from different countries, each chosen for their clever space saving designs and each offering a wealth of inspiration. Of course, many of them benefit from having had structural alterations which are beyond renters means, but there's still plenty here to inspire. The floor plan sketches that accompany each home are one of my favourite features of the book, so often we see carefully styled and photographed homes in magazines and on blogs, but it's hard so get a sense of how the space is used and what the flow might be. Given the variety of homes featured, from a British terrace house to a teeny tiny Parisian student attic via a Swedish family loft apartment, there is enough variety here to be useful to most readers.

In many of the properties featured, there's very much a sense of 'it's not what you've got, it's what you do with it' although all of them have great bones, they also all have a cohesive look and a colour palette that brings the whole space together. Nothing makes a small space feel smaller and more chaotic than a different colour in every room. Sara advocates a being tidy and as minimal as possible, a sensible rule to follow, after all, there's only so much stuff you can fit in a small space and as she points out, naturally you're going to be in very close proximity to it as well. What's rather refreshing about the case studies featured though, is that they are not all white boxes. While some are indeed very minimal, others are dark, or colourful or full of the owners collections. Minimal living doesn't mean stark in these cases, it means curated.

"Every object should have a natural home, and if it does, it makes the task of keeping a small space tidy straightforward indeed."

My favourite home featured in the book is called 'Shades of Grey' and shows how dark colours in a small space can still work to great effect. What this home lacks is space it more than makes up for in the style stakes. Rugs help to zone the space (a great tip for open plan living) and the dark hues add drama. Even if you can't decorate you could easily get the look with dark furniture and fabrics. The layout of the flat is also something that can be translated to any rented studio, half the battle if making a space feel 'right' is getting your furniture in the right place, it's got to look good and be laid out in such a way as to be easy to use.

Here, slim legged furniture and a cohesive color scheme helps the space feel much bigger than it really is, while the dark hues make the space feel warm and cozy. While the wall treatment isn't an option for renters, some dramatic floor to ceiling dark curtains and an inky sofa throw will help to achieve the look. Note also that there are several light sources around the room and although they are all different, they are all quite slender and unobtrusive and they all sit happily together.

Equally, the bedroom feels like a welcoming cocoon, furniture is minimal (there is clothing storage out of shot) but the luxurious bedding brings the space alive. It's elements like this that makes the book as valuable to renters as to homeowners. In a digital age when, if you're anything like me, we get a huge amount of our inspiration from scrolling through images and blog posts, it's a luxury to curl up with an actual book, pore over the images and enjoy reading something well written and beautifully put together. 

Beautifully Small by Sara Emslie, photography by Rachel Whiting, published by Ryland Peters & Small, rrp £19.99. To purchase a copy click here

With thanks to the publisher for permission to feature the images here.

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  1. I love your books review you have inspired me to buy few! I need to update my book collection. I really want ''home from now'' book. Especially now, i have broken my wrist so plenty of time to read!

    Anna, Yay Interiors + Lifestyle & Beauty

    1. Thank you! It's so lovely that you take the time to comment :) Hope you have a speedy recovery, you must be in a lot of pain?