Douglas Woods on small spaces | Home Front

Mar 27, 2014

Douglas Woods, author of "Dreaming Small: Intimate Interiors" will discuss how to create attractive, livable homes and the trend of reviving small, old homes that have distinctive architectural styles. A Los Angeles native, Woods has spent the last twenty years as a book dealer, consultant, and private librarian specializing in architecture and the arts. He has written numerous books on interior design and architecture.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Today we have Douglas Woods joining us. Douglas is the author of Dreaming Small: Intimate Interiors just published by Rizzoli. The book is full of stylish intimate portraits of Arts and Cafts bungalows and Spanish style homes as well as mid-century moden classics - all in California and mostly under 2,000 square feet. Douglas is an architecture and style expert and we are happy to have him here to talk about living stylishly in small houses.

Thank you for having me this morning. I'm excited to share thoughts about the great small houses we found for this book.

Hi Douglas, Can you please provide some suggestions on how to my combined Living/Dining room less gloomy? The Living room furniture shows a dark wood coffe table, dark brown sofa and light brown slipper chairs and Dining Room close by show dark wood table and chairs. The wall is painted blue/grey. The carpet in the Dining is a cream / light blue color. What can I do to make this room more inviting?

Think shiny objects, mercury glass, polished silver, chrome or copper. These help throw light around. 

Another thought. Recently we had a dinner party too large for our dining room so we switch the room! Having the dining set in the living room freed up a lot of space and the dining room has become a cozy library / den.

We are buying a home that was owned by smokers. The smell during our various walk-throughs and inspections hasn't been so bad, and they've kept the house in immaculate shape, but we have a young child so I'm a little nervous about thirdhand smoke. We plan to eventually paint all the walls and ceilings, and will probably pull up most of the carpet. Is there a service we can bring in to help mitigate the smoke issue? Any other tips? Thanks!

If you are very concerned I would check with the American Pediatrician Association, but, we have found fresh paint, new carpet and a good airing tends to solve the problem.

What is the best strategy for painting walls - should they all be the same color or in the same colorway? Or can you do each room in its own distinct color?

I like different colors in each room because it is fun to break up the various spaces in a home, we like dark colors and white trim. Check with the various paint companies, they have great Apps for trying out different strategies. You can also try actual paint samples in different places to see how the colors work at different times of the day.

What made you interested in the topic of small homes in California?

It is interesting to me to see how creative people make the most of the space they have, especially when making room for a family or profession.

Lots of small houses from the 1920s have dark paneling. Do you think the wood should be painted white or cream to make the house seem larger?

NO! There are other ways to lighten a room. Light colored window treatments, upholstery, pillows, throws and shiny objects often do the trick if you don't have a lot of light coming through the windows.

I was the one who posted about removing one bag of clutter from your house per day. I got rid of six bags of children's clothing and have five bags of my clothing ready to go. I've started on my home office, and can see the floor again. We've reclaimed the kitchen counter and the dining room table. There are still lots of problem spots, but things are much improved.

We have two children and my wife lovingly packs everything from clothes to Legos to hand down to someone almost every day. 

I love the Arts and Crafts period, but my house is just a generic two-story, vaguely Colonial style. I can't really do anything about the exterior, but how can I make the interior more Arts and Crafts-ish?

Craftsman style light fixtures and hardware are a good start. You might also mix in some mission pieces, reproduction Stickley furniture is still in production. Vintage blankets and rugs. Take a look at Robert Winter's IN THE ARTS & CRAFTS STYLE.

Some designers say that using large scale furniture in small homes actually make them look bigger. I really don't want huge pieces in my tiny house. What do you think?

It doesn't sound practical to me. Follow your gut.

Check out the MagicPlan App

What is the best way to store books, upright as we see in libraries or laying flat?

That varies. You wouldn't want to put large folios on end because the weight of the paper will pull at the binding. I end up with stacks all over the house but not by design. Generally you want them on end, on shelves. This way you can access a title at whim. If it is at the bottom of a pile you may never actually get to it. 

We need to replace our old beige carpet on the stairs and in the bedrooms. We found a medium-dark bamboo wood floor option, or a pale grey carpet that we like. We can't decide between the two. We are leaning towards the bamboo. Does one or the other work better? The first floor is a medium orange tone wood looking laminate. Now my husband thinks perhaps we should go with a very light wood to make the space look bigger and brighter. We live in a side by side duplex that does not get much light. Would any of these options work better for making a small space seem bigger and brighter?

This often depends on how much light you have in each room. A bright sunny room with a highly polished dark floor is awesome but if you don't have a lot of light go lighter. We have used bamboo and it's durable, cost effective and good for the environment-and we like the look. A medium toned finish hides the most wear and is easiest to blend with different colors in your room. As for making a small space seem bigger this doesn't really have any bearing per say.

What are good sources online for Mission furniture and accessory reproductions? (this one is more a marketplace but there are some deals to be had here.)

I have been kiving in my house for 16 years and I have finally decided to pick some colors for rooms. I have little wall space because I have lots of large window (31). What would you suggest that I use as a color choice. Everything is now drywall grey or kilz white.

Sounds like you get plenty of light, which is great. We have been using light pinks and rich yellows in rooms like these. They catch the light in different ways throughout the day and tend to look great with many combinations of color in the decor. 

For pink we like Dogwood and for yellow Lemon Chiffon Pie, both Dunn Edwards.


Hi Douglas, I'm at the very beginning stages of figuring out a new space plan for the living room and dining room/office area of my condo. One of my challenges is that the rooms are fairly narrow - about 8 feet. Any insight on how to select and arrange furniture so the rooms feel larger?

We love CB2 and West Elm. They have lines dedicated to space saving and their designs are smart and modern. We love acrylic pieces. Combine the Starck Ghost Chair (DWR) with Westelm's economical acrylic end pieces and coffee table. Accessorize sparingly but with unique pieces. Try One Kings Lane or First Dibs.

I just downsized, and of course my existing furniture seems bulking. What should I do? I don't really want to get rid of some of my items. My couch and other things are really nice. Do I just have to part with them?

We have downsized more than once and have learned to embrace letting go of things. We inherited a showroom's worth of furnishings over the years. We may love ten different chairs but you can only sit in one at a time. Pick you favorite pieces and move on.

Do you have any storage solutions for small apartment kitchens? Currently we have a small pantry-type piece in our living room so we can actually store food. We also lack counter space, so we had to store our rice cooker, blender, etc. at our parents several hours away, but would love to bring them back if possible.

Beieve it or not we have found IKEA to be the best source for compact kitchen designs. 

What are the best tips for small space living you encountered with all your research into this area?

Edit, edit, edit. 

A friend often said decorate your space like you really live 360 days a year, improvise the other five when you have to entertain. 

We appreciate your getting up early to do the chat with us today. Thanks for all the great ideas. Next week, we'll be talking kitchens with Silver Spring designer Iantha Carley. Thanks everyone. Enjoy the warmer weather they swear is coming tomorrow...

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Douglas Woods
A Los Angeles native, Woods has spent the last twenty years as a book dealer, consultant, and private librarian specializing in architecture and the arts. He has written numerous books on interior design, including his most recent, "Dreaming Small: Intimate Interiors."
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