Cynthia and Ivy Almario explain how small spaces can have big ideas

Small spaces, big ideas
By Walter Ang
September 2009 issue
Metro Home Magazine

When you live in a small space, either by choice or circumstance, there is no reason why it should not be designed to create a comfortable, stylish environment. Interior designers and sisters Cynthia and Ivy Almario of Atelier Almario gives tips and tricks on how to deliver the most impact in intimate spaces.

Illusion is the name of the game when dealing with small spaces. "You can use design elements to create the illusion of a bigger space," says Ivy. "Mirrors automatically double the size of the area and add a sexy element to the look of the place."

Aside from using it as an entire wall, in the case of the living room in the single lady's nest, notice how the designers incorporate mirrors in unlikely areas such as the backsplash of the kitchen counter or the back portions of the shelving in one of the bedrooms.

"We usually advise our clients to have one wall of the bathroom lined with a mirror since it's usually one of the smallest rooms," says Cynthia. "Either that or use frosted glass for the door of your bathroom."

Glass partitions can also take the place of solid walls. The transparency of the material adds a lighter feel to the atmosphere and also serves to allow as much light to penetrate the space as possible. "Knocking down solid walls and replacing portions of it with glass can do wonders for a room," says Ivy.

"Light is incredibly useful in creating a sense of largeness," notes Cynthia. "Indirect lighting such as cove lighting maximizes the effects that light can have on a room. If you have mirrors, you'll definitely need light to bring out the reflections."

Color is also a design element that can be used to one's advantage. Painting a room in a single color creates the illusion of expanse. The bachelor's pad uses a faux wood treatment throughout most of its walls and doors to unify the space. "Paint the door and its jambs and knobs all in the same color as the wall to create a seamless look," advises Ivy. "You don't want to have a different color for the door so that you don't break the line that the color creates."

This is not to say that all four walls of a room should always be in the same color. "You can choose one wall as the accent wall by painting it a different or contrasting color," says Ivy. This will also serve to create a focal point where the eyes are drawn to (so it will be distracted and won't spend so much time assessing how small the space actually is.)

Notice also how the faux wood treatment in the bachelor's pad is used for only half the space, instantly creating a sense of "invisible division" between the kitchen and the living area.

Another way to "trick" the eye into experiencing a wall's scale is to cover it in design. The sisters used a forest silhouette graphic design done in black against a frosted background on the glass walls of the lady's unit to accentuate the height of the wall as well as to create a sense of depth. It also serves to provide privacy for the two bedrooms behind the wall but still allowing the eyes to see further through the partitions.

Clean lines
If there are windows, one technique to increase the sense of height and drama is to cover it with floor-to-ceiling treatments. "When you see a small window in the middle of a wall, it can feel constricted, but if you cover it up with a big curtain, it provides a line that creates the sense that there is a much bigger opening behind the curtain," says Cynthia.

The same principle applies to cabinetry and shelving. "It's much better to have your shelves and cabinets covered up so that it creates a clean area for the eyes. Open shelving or glass cabinet doors will show all your clutter and it will also require a lot of work because you'll have to constantly keep things neatly organized. If your knickknacks are hidden from view, you can just dump them all in," Ivy laughs.

Now that the architectural elements of the space have been covered, furnishings and décor come into play. "The furniture's colors should complement the wall colors. Neutrals work best," says Cynthia. From a practical point of view, dark upholstery hides stains, food or otherwise, more effectively.

Notice how the pillows on the sofa in the bachelor's pad are large and in the same color scheme as the upholstery of the sofa. The colors maintain the masculine tone of the room but the textures and shapes provide softening elements.

"If you really want to have color for your furniture, it's best to use throw pillows. Go crazy with the colors of your pillows if you like because you can always hide them, change them, get new slipcovers, or throw them away when you tire of the colors," suggests Cynthia. Besides, it's easy to change throw pillow color covers with the seasons for a quick sense of decoration.

Scale and proportion also play an important part. Most people make the mistake of filling up a small room with small furniture. "It just goes to show how small the room actually is!" says Ivy. "Also, many small pieces will create a cluttered look." The sisters advise getting a large central piece to anchor each room. A large sofa in a small living room that can accommodate guests is a better route than having fold-out chairs that are cumbersome and have to be rearranged constantly.

"It's best to choose furniture with clean lines to maintain a clean look for the space," says Cynthia. "Avoid ornate pieces with intricate or overly embellished elements. It will just make the room look busy."

Dual purpose
Double duty is also necessary when it comes to furnishing a small space. "Always think of how one piece of furniture can be used in more than one way," says Ivy. In the bachelor's pad, the sofa provides seating for the dining table parallel to it. The closet opens both from the bathroom and the bedroom, providing convenience and a central storage area for both rooms. "Think of how the spaces underneath beds, tables and sofas can provide storage spaces," she adds.

In the lady's nest, there are pull-out side tables flanking the bed in the main bedroom for additional storage space while the second bedroom's bed is designed to serve as a seating area where guests can lounge about or hang out. "It's not centrally positioned like the other bedroom so that a table could be added to the room. There are two mattresses and the top one can be laid out on the floor to accommodate extra guests," notes Cynthia.

"Be creative and imaginative when choosing décor," says Ivy. Utilitarian items such as wall clocks can also serve as artistic touches. A metal sunburst wall clock in the bachelor's pad is sandwiched between two paintings with bold graphic designs to add character to the bedroom.

"It's really all about clever uses of a small space," both sisters point out. Take a good look at your space and plan out how you intend to use it before selecting the best design and functional elements that suit your personality and, more importantly, suit your space.

Call Atelier Almario at 817-4016 or visit