Tiny cottage renovation A small Santa Monica cottage gets a new, right-size lease on life See how a teardown became an open, airy gem Her 1930s residence had been billed as a teardown, says architectural designer Julie Hart. "Most people would have started over.”Instead, when she first saw the house (next page), she climbed to the attic to make sure she could raise the ceiling to the rafters and open up the cramped rooms.Get the look: Her new front-door is painted in the Designer Collection II LP6 exterior gloss enamel (finepaintsofeurope.com). Pinterest Off to a good start Purchased in 2000, the charming “Monopoly house” (as its owners describe it) also came with a friendly, walkable neighborhood. Planning ahead After buying the 900-square-foot home with partner Monet LeMon, an executive recruiter for nonprofits, Hart worked out a budget-friendly scheme that scheduled critical renovations during the first six months (while the couple continued to live elsewhere) and chipped away at the rest of their wish list over several years. Maximizing light Now, new oversize windows and skylights invite in the sunshine. Walls are painted a light-bouncing white, while white ceramic subway tiles brighten the kitchen and baths.For contrast, the wooden floors are stained in a custom mix of ebony and dark walnut shades; the high-gloss polyurethane top coat reflects even more light.Get the look: Wall paint is Decorator’s White eggshell with semi-gloss trim throughout (benjaminmoore.com for stores) Kitchen tile is ceramic 3- by 6-inch in white K101 (daltile.com for stores) Before: The living area This cramped, dark room gave way to a light-filled, loftlike space (next page). After: Colorful new gathering area Hart sparks the mostly white interiors with colorful accent pillows, throws, and pottery―all easy-to-change details that she coordinates with a rotating collection of art.Hart’s Moroccan leather poufs can be hidden away when not in use (similar styles from $220 each, filled, at tazidesigns.com; for less-pricey fabric poufs and floor pillows, check out westelm.com, pier1.com, and worldmarket.com). Bumping out Casement windows open the redone master bedroom to backyard views and sea breezes.By extending the room into the backyard, the couple gained 250 square feet, which they used for a walk-in closet and a second bath. Opening up With interior walls and the ceiling removed (and support beams installed), the living, cooking, and dining now take place in one large open area at the front of the house.From there, traffic flows easily out of sliding glass doors to a new entertaining deck at the rear. Next steps As funds allowed, the pair added a home office and a laundry to the garage and put in a garden with a bubbling fountain and a pint-size lawn for their Jack Russell terriers, Pearl and Buck. Custom storage and furnishings followed. 6 small-home secrets 1. Paint all the rooms the same light hue. Match flooring and other shared surfaces for a seamless look.2. Build in storage cupboards with doors and invest in a closet-organizing system―“worth the splurge to keep the house neat,” says Hart.3. Install inexpensive wall pegs to make cleanup a snap and keep frequently used items at the ready.4. Choose easy-stow guest seats for living areas.5. Create several places in the backyard to lounge and entertain―especially if you live in a relatively warm area.6. Reevaluate your belongings every few months. Donate, recycle, or discard what’s not needed.