Designing Small Spaces on a Small Budget
Baby Prep Phase 1: Office / Guest Room
I adore our cozy, little house. There are some great benefits to living small but, of course, there are also challenges. In our home, we are continuously having to reevaluate how we are utilizing our space in an attempt to make the most of our limited storage. Now that we are soon to become a family of four humans and two dogs dwelling in 1,000 square feet, it is time to make some adjustments again. I have separated my list of projects that I would like to complete before the new baby arrives into what I’m calling the “Baby Prep Phases”. So far, I have completed (or completed well enough) "Phase 1" which has now become our combo office and guest room. For this blog post I am sharing how that project turned out. I am also offering my advice on how to design an efficient, comfortable small space while spending an equally small amount of money.
The main motivation behind “Baby Prep Phase 1: Office / Guest Room” is my desire to achieve “Baby Prep Phase 2: The Kiddo Room”. We have two extra bedrooms and the larger of the two gets the best daylight of any room in our house. This larger room also has the least amount of privacy because it is on the front corner of the house by our entry door. For these reasons, it’s a great space but not the best for a bedroom. My number one goal in preparing for our new bundle of joy is to turn this larger room into an awesome space just for our kids. I especially want our son to have a space of his own where he can play and make a mess when the baby arrives. My hope is that this room will also act as the home for all baby related items so that the rest of our little home does not feel cluttered and chaotic. I will share more on this "Phase 2" project soon but for now back to "Phase 1".
The smaller of our two extra bedrooms has been the room in our house that has, up until this point, received little love. Over the years it has served multiple purposes but most of the time it has just acted as the space where we pile all the random stuff we don’t know what to do with or don’t want to deal with. Essentially a big closet. The door is usually left shut to hide the mess from view and keep the curious toddler out. The state of this room has annoyed me since we moved in over five years ago and this new baby was the motivation I needed to finally do something about it.
The tricky thing was that I needed this tiny room to serve several functions if I was going to make the kid's play room a reality. We have lots of family and friends who do not live in the area so having a comfortable place for visitors to sleep is important to us. Now that I am working from home, I also need a quiet work space where I can store my materials out of reach of dirty little toddler paws. To top it off, the itty bitty closet in this room must serve as the storage space for the random stuff like the vacuum, the holiday décor and my wedding gown.
Here are my 5 steps to achieving a successful, multi-functional small space on a very small budget:
1. Make a Plan
When working within more confined walls, we don’t have the luxury of being able to move furniture around easily and experiment with different layout options. Chances are trying this will lead to damaged walls and furniture if attempted. Frustration and disappointment will most likely cause a loss of enthusiasm for the task and you will end up settling for unsatisfactory results. The key is to come up with a game plan before you do anything else. First, make a list of your priorities for the space in order of importance. Then measure your physical space and play around with drawing scaled floor plan scenarios. You don’t need a degree in drafting to quickly draw some squares on a piece of paper. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling trade secrets...hah! You will quickly discover that you probably need to be more realistic with your priority list. Most likely it will become clear that there is only be one or two layout solutions that are worth pursuing.
For my project, moving the guest bed in to this room was first on the priority list and require the largest chunk of space. Then I would need some sort of work surface and also storage for office materials and a printer. Once these three top priority items were accounted for, there was only one corner of space in the room left to work with. I knew that I really could use additional general storage. Ideally this storage would be concealed from view, so no open shelving. My grandmother has been storing a tall antique dresser that was in my bedroom as a child. Up until this point I never felt like I had the right space for the dresser. To my happy surprise, the dimensions fit perfectly in the remaining corner space. The dresser drawers would also provide me with the additional storage I so desperately needed.
Once a floor plan is finalized, now it will also be clear what items will not fit in the space. This is the time to find new homes for these items. You will also want to start thinking about what your goals are for the feel or style of your space. For this office/guest room, I knew I needed to do what I could to make it feel bigger and brighter. Years prior I had painted the room a moody, nautical dark blue for a masculine study vibe. The color was handsome but it turned the already cramped room in to a cave. I assumed that covering that blue paint was going to be a challenge… and it was. Switching from the dark all the way to bright white walls made a huge difference and was totally worth the effort. After taking inventory of the miscellaneous décor items I already had around the house, I noticed a common pacific northwest beach thread. I decided to run with this theme and focus on incorporating those items.
One of the best ways to avoid spending extra cash on a space upgrade is to avoid running out and buying a bunch of fancy storage and organizing products. Yes, sometimes these clever products are real life-savers but… the reality is, most of the stuff you are attempting to organize and store should probably just go away. I know everyone is tired of hearing this from me, but seriously, purging is an essential step to achieving greater satisfaction with your home. Now is the time to take a good hard look at your “things” and prioritize what you truly need/want to hold on to. Don’t attempt to move forward with your design project until you have cleared out the junk that is getting in your way.
For my project, I focused my purging efforts on reviewing all the baby gear I had been holding on to. Those items that we collected for our first baby but rarely or never used had to go. The excessive collection of swaddles, blankets, stuffed animals, bottles etc. was slimmed down to just a few of my favorites. I went through all the baby clothes again and removed those articles that I didn’t love or were badly stained. I then gifted, donated and recycled accordingly.
As part of this step I also removed all the furniture and decorative items from the house that we no longer wanted or had space for. Most of these items were either sold using the app Offer Up or gifted on our neighborhood Buy Nothing. I was then able to use any money we made from the sales to fund the few items I needed to purchase for the office/guest room.
3. Use What You Already Have
Sure, shopping for and purchasing all new furniture and decor would be easier. That instant gratification that comes from bringing home shiny, new things is fun too. But then the credit card bill arrives and the not so fun buyers regret sets in. There is no denying that seeking out free, shopping thrift or second-hand and making use of what you already own requires more work and more creativity. At the end of the day though, reusing is soooo much more rewarding. Not only can you be proud of the money you saved, you can also feel good about being kinder to our planet.
The acquiring of the items that I ended up using in this space happened over many years. The bed, bedding and side table were all items I’ve owned for a long time. The printer table was a gift from my husband several years ago. He found it discounted at World Market. The cute little mid-century sewing table that is now serving as my computer desk was gifted to me through my neighborhood Buy Nothing. The large ocean oil painting was a birthday gift for my husband that I found at a second-hand furniture store and I bartered for a lower price.
4. Make Smart Purchases
If you do end up deciding to splurge a bit on something, make sure that it is something you really, truly need OR really, truly want in order to achieve your top goals for the space. Most likely this item will be a piece of furniture that is essential to the purpose of the room. Or, it may be artwork that speaks to your heart and brings joy into your home. Be sure to shop around, research your options and take some time to think about the purchase before committing. These are the kinds of investments that you won’t regret.
For our project, there were no special purchases that I deemed necessarily to bring the room to life. Luckily, I had plenty of everything I needed. The only purchases I did make was high-quality VOC-free interior wall paint, a small wall shelf from Ikea and a poster frame. The shelf and frame were funded with the old furniture that we sold. I ended up buying an “as-is” clearance frame that had a tiny bit of damage. I figured I might as well spend the same amount and get the nice, glass frame with a little chip in it for the same price as a new flimsy plastic poster frame. Check out the back corner of your local framing or craft store to find these kinds of treasures. The biggest purchase was the paint. I am a firm believer that it is not worth dealing with the headaches (both figuratively and literally) of cheap, toxic paint. As I mentioned earlier, getting the previous dark blue paint to a bright white was no easy task. I did wait until Sherwin Williams was having a weekend special and was able to buy all the paint 50% off.
5. Schedule Time to Complete the Project
We are all busy these days. Most of us are over-worked and over-scheduled. Projects around the house often have to be put on the back burner due to lack of time and energy. This is unfortunate considering the significant effect our home environments play in our overall mental, emotional and physical well-being. The best chances of getting around to attacking that project that has been nagging you is to schedule it in your calendar and stick to that schedule. If you have children, plan accordingly so that you can work without disruption. If you need help, make arrangements for family members or professionals to be available during your scheduled project work time.
During the winter months, Sundays in our house are for watching football (as far as my husband is concerned). I set a goal that "Phase 1" had to be completed before the week that we were already expecting family to visit. I made a deal with my husband that for several weeks in a row he could watch football all Sunday as long as he covered full toddler duty. I was not to be bothered all day while I worked on the project. This did the trick and I was able to get everything done in three weekends.
Long story, short: have a plan, be ruthless with purging, be resourceful, be patient and follow through with your plan. If all else fails, talk to a designer 😊 I’d love to hear from you if you are needing a little help getting started with your own challenging home project. I’ll be sharing all the details about the “Baby Prep-Phase 2” progress soon. I am also looking forward to sharing my list of favorite products for a minimalist mom and baby.