Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

Living large in small spaces

By Kaui Philpotts
Advertiser Staff Writer

Alison Bailes installed "peel-and-stick" hardwood floors and curved arches in her small Makiki apartment.

Photos by Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Designing for small spaces is a particular art: To include everything needed for daily life without clutter; to make use of clean, uninterrupted lines and give the illusion of space. Here's a look at two Honolulu home-owners — one a working woman on a budget, one a dot-com refugee — and their techniques.

Design tricks

Alison Bailes arrived in Honolulu from the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago, a refugee from the hectic dot-com world.

It was in that period just before housing costs and high-tech jobs there began to come apart. Sellers would place their homes on the market and the bidding would begin. She was astounded when her small, 850-square foot home sold for more than $800,000, leaving her with a nice little nest egg for the future.

Bailes took a week off to visit friends in Honolulu. Suddenly she was warm all the time. She could lie on the beach at Lanikai and watch the clouds roll by. Within two weeks, she was the proud owner of a condominium in Nu'uanu.

Even though it was a little larger than her San Francisco place, she knew she would have to employ the same design tricks she had used there to make it appear open, airy and interesting.

Interesting it was not. Although she liked the "bones" of the place, there were really no distinguishing architectural features, and it had not been renovated since the early 1970s.

"The walls were all white and the carpet was gray," she recalls. "I didn't want to be in a modern building. What I wanted was lots of light and fresh air."

The former owner had enclosed the lanai, as many here do, to make more indoor space, and there were floor-to-ceiling windows letting in lots of light. The building was also nicely situated, allowing cool breezes to drift through all the time.

One of the first things she did was to consult with her friend, interior designer Jonathan Staub, who spends his time working both in San Francisco and Honolulu. His reputation is built on color, daring and an ability to come up with a new take on the conventional.

The carpeting was pulled up and hardwood floors installed throughout, giving it a clean, cool, unified look. There are no rugs on the floor to break the flow of the rooms. All the window coverings, except in the bedroom, were eliminated to let even more light in. The ceiling, which was coated with "lumpy stuff with sparkles in it," was scraped and smoothed.

Then Bailes did the unthinkable. She took down the lanai enclosure to let in even more fresh air and connect her to the outside (albeit high in the sky). "The contractor thought I was crazy," she says.

"He kept asking if I was sure I wanted to do this, and telling me that I was going to lose living space. But I think I got just the opposite."

There was no overhead lighting in the apartment, and the concrete construction meant that recessed canned lights were not a possibility. Instead, she installed monorail lighting everywhere to highlight walls and art.

The apartment had three small bedrooms. Bailes knocked out one wall between them to make a larger study and added a pull-out sofa bed for guests. Shoji doors were installed on closets to give some added detail and style.

Bailes has turned her bedroom into the cozy sanctuary she always wanted.
But what she and Staub did next was the most unconventional move of all, especially when working with small spaces. They added color. Not wishy-washy, subtle color. But in-your-face, I-dare-you color. There are deep orange accent walls in the living room and dining room, and another bright yellow wall in the living room.

Other walls remained neutral.

"My painter wasn't sure. He thought it would be too much. But

I love it. It's so cheerful."

To this dramatic backdrop, Staub added classic pieces of furniture from the 1940s. There is a large square glass coffee table in front of a long 8-foot sofa with sleek, 20th-century lines. The hardwood floors are strewn with large floor cushions. The result is stylish, youthful and extremely bold.

The lack of storage space has forced Bailes to be organized and restrain herself from being a pack rat. Drawers were custom-built into the closets and additional shelving added to make use of every inch of space.

Under her bed she stores a portable camping table and folding chairs. When she entertains, she can serve up to 10 people. A huge 5-by-5-foot mirror brought from San Francisco is hung in the dining room to reflect the ocean and mountains. "It brings the outdoors inside," she says.

Bailes actually removed overhead cabinets from her small galley kitchen to open up the space to the living room and give the illusion of airiness. A stackable washer and dryer was installed in a nearby closet.

Bailes now has the apartment she wanted — one that reflects the outside environment she loves, even though she ?s living in high-rise Honolulu.

Knowing what you want

Lisa Reimann has never forgotten the six years she spent in Spain. She fell in love with the lifestyle and the look, and her small, 470-square-foot apartment reflects it.

Without the resources to hire someone to renovate for her, Reimann lived in her condominium in an older Makiki building for a year with only a bed for furniture.

"Actually, it gave me a chance to get a feel for the place," she said. She knew when she got around to upgrading it that she would have to do much of the work herself.

A waitress at a nearby Zippy's restaurant, she relishes the simplicity and freedom of her life.

Instead of rushing out to fill the void of the empty apartment, she carefully thought about the things she really wanted. She wanted her bedroom to be a cozy sanctuary, she loves to cook and she likes to relax on a comfortable sofa watching TV. She also loved the look and feel of black leather.

Armed with more patience than money, she carefully selected her furnishings and waited until they went on sale, paying for them as she went along.

One of the first things she did was rip out the former owner's wall-to-wall carpeting and install "peel-and-stick" hardwood floors, by herself, having learned how from experts at Home Depot. Next came the mudding and painting of the walls to give them the stucco-like, Mediterranean look she prefers. She added curved arches to the tops of passageways for romance, and then painted the entire apartment the same soft white to unify it.

With a clean, neutral space to work with, she made the decision to treat the "walls" of wooden-louvered windows on either end of the apartment as just that: walls.

By doing this, she could place her furniture in unconventional places and make the rooms appear larger.

Her minuscule bedroom is almost completely taken up by a large, four-poster bed stacked with pillows. An oversized wooden armoire hides her television and provides storage for games and other items.

An old chest of drawers is tucked into a small closet, and Reimann intends to build more shelves to fill the empty space above where her clothing hangs. On one end of the bedroom, a system of cubbyholes is hidden by a door. She created even more storage by building shelving over doorways.

Reimann broke the rule of having furniture scaled to a small space in her bathroom by adding a large, vertical cabinet she found at Costco. By having everything in the bathroom the same color and adding a large mirror to one wall, she gained storage without making the room appear too cramped.

Since the wood-louvered wall in the living room looks onto a common walkway, and she wanted to see "green" outdoors, she chose not to use window coverings but to place large potted palms outside. This screens her apartment from passersby but creates a garden feel.

Reimann has kept her living room a dramatic black and white, without a hint of color. The room is dominated by a large black leather sofa and love seat on two sides, and a store-bought wall unit housing a gigantic, flat-black television and sound system.

She has done exactly what she set out to do: Create a comfortable home for herself in a small space, staying within budget and paying as she went.

Correction: Alison Bailes' condominium bedroom is pictured on this story. Because of an editor's error, a previous version of this story's caption contained incorrect information.