Comfy and cozy

Dean Elliot Photography

Elegant furnishings fit comfortably into this small living room.

By Debbie Travis

King Features Syndicate

Today’s new condominiums and townhomes are designed on a smaller footprint, which has changed the way our homes are furnished. At first the options for decorating were decidedly modern. Small spaces were thought to be best suited to the sleek, clean lines of pale woods and steel-based sofas, transparent or translucent glass and plastic tables, white walls and bleached floors. The minimal approach to design and decoration allowed the space to breathe, but it was often cold, and for traditionalists, this simply wasn’t home.


I have designed a series of homes this past year that combine the best of both worlds, and these exciting spaces work brilliantly. High ceilings, crown moldings and deep baseboards share all the traditions of older homes captured in today’s modern vision. The living room in this elegant townhouse combines lofty design with the finest materials to ensure you feel cosseted and comfortable. To achieve the right balance, every square foot is considered, every corner utilized. When you are looking for solutions to your small-space furnishing challenge, here are some guidelines that I followed with great success:

• Begin with built-ins. Take a look at the wall space and any nooks and crannies that are produced by a chimney flue, heating ducts or supporting beams. They may leave an awkward corner or dead space that you can fill nicely with built-in cabinetry. Here, the fireplace is flanked by custom cabinets that fit the existing wall space and provide a stylish area for storage and display. The window seat is a natural extension and is a practical use for the recessed space.

• Select furniture that fits. This isn’t always easy to find, but more and more designers are cognizant of the need for compact styles. And you can find what you are looking for in modern and traditional designs. Look for sofas and chairs that have no skirts or added frills. Open space below and around furniture always makes a room feel more airy. The upholstery will set the mood, and here you can swing from classic white cottons and brocades to supple claret leather and suede or funky fuzzy fuchsia. Some chairs and ottomans are also designed with built-in storage, which is a great solution for stashing away magazines, toys and extra cushions.

• Mirrors are a decorator’s best friend. Properly placed, a mirror reflects light and pushes out the walls. In this living room, the mirror above the sofa sits opposite the high window and widens the room. Its wood frame matches the detail on the sofa. Glass accessories and fixtures help keep the ambiance bright. The wooden tables have glass inserts, which break up the solid tops and lighten their appearance.

•Choose colors that suit the mood you want to achieve. If possible, select your most expensive items first, the sofa and chairs, and the floor and carpet, and then your wall color. Paint is the easiest to change, and the least expensive part of your decorating budget. I love the look of dark hardwood floors; they suit contemporary as well as traditional styles, and there is a rich, timeless quality that appeals to me. The dark floor grounds the room along with the wood furniture trim and tables. Pastel hues of the area carpet, creamy upholstery, white lampshades and silky blue cushions provide large blocks of light, so I chose a muted gray-blue for the walls. The neutral shade picks up color from the room's furnishings and is kept fresh by the white trim.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please e-mail your questions to

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