6 Tricks That Will Maximize a Small Space, Guaranteed
Optimize square footage without sacrificing style.
Join guest editor Camille Styles as she and her family transform a 1950s Malibu beach bungalow into their dream retreat—and in the process, discover a slower, more intentional way of living, rooted in the beauty of the West. It’s all part of our journey to the Sunset 2023 Idea House, a home that displays the latest innovations in Western home design.
Tucked into the side of our property is a 600-square-foot space that resides above the garage. Technically, it’s a “guest house,” but before you start picturing some well-appointed quarters, let’s be clear that the current space is nothing of the sort. To access it, you climb a windowless staircase that is thankfully dark enough to hide the stains on the old carpeting. At the top is an open room with a funky sloped roofline, laminate flooring that’s popping up on the edges, and a Murphy bed that released a cloud of dust the first time we pulled it down. Suffice to say—the space is far from being ready to host any guests.
However, 600 square feet is still much-needed space in this project, and working with the existing footprint will not only save us tons of money, but it also simplifies the permitting process, which equals a faster timeline. This is a place where we envision years of memory-making with out-of-town friends and extended family, so having a dedicated guest house where people can comfortably decamp is a major luxury we aren’t willing to give up. And so, we rolled up our sleeves and began the process of reimagining this space into a boutique hotel-level guest house. Here’s the plan:
1. Make a Good First Impression
Never underestimate the power of an entryway—not only does it create a first impression, but also, an inviting entrance is an opportunity to warmly welcome guests. We knew that the shady carpeted interior staircase wasn’t going to cut it, so one of the first changes made by our architect, Doug Burdge, was to eliminate the interior staircase entrance altogether, instead creating an exterior staircase and entrance.
In the new design, guests will be greeted by a beautiful staircase with modern cable railing covered in native vines. And just as important, all that square footage that is currently being taken up by an interior staircase will be freed up as livable space. It’s a smart solution that will make a major difference in maximizing this small space.
2. Let There Be Light
While the space is small in size, it does have high ceilings thanks to the (funky) slanted roof. This opens up the space and makes it feel bigger, and by adding floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize the views of Zuma beach, the guest house will receive tons of natural light.
Natural light becomes even more crucial when designing a small space, since nothing makes a space feel larger than flooding it with good light. And no one’s going to mind making lunch in a tiny kitchen when they’re basking in sunshine and gorgeous views.
3. Double Up
Since space is at a premium, every single item in our design is both hardworking and beautiful. In the kitchen, a petit butcher block island will serve multiple duties as both prep space and dining area. A fold-out sofa in the living area will be the main seating for hanging out and movie nights, but when the house is occupied by a family with kids (as it will be, with our siblings, nieces, and nephews!), we’ll have the option of folding it out to a secondary bed so that the house can sleep four.
4. Embrace a High-Low Mix
We want the space to be beautiful, and we’re determined to design it on a fairly tight budget. Since the majority of our budget is being allocated to the main house, we have to be smart about choosing furniture and fixtures that won’t break the bank but still achieve the aesthetic we’re trying to create. My strategy? I’ll choose just a few spots to splurge on special materials and vintage pieces, and fill in the rest with budget-friendly finds with clean lines and neutral shades.
For instance, we’re considering affordable IKEA cabinetry, which will appear much more elevated when placed next to gorgeous handmade Zellige tile from Zia Tile. Seagrass rugs and woven light fixtures are wallet-friendly ways to bring in texture and the beachy vibes we’re after.
5. Be Smart with Storage
Cabinet and countertop space is minimal, since most of the kitchen is taken up by our appliances. So, a floating shelf that runs the width of the room above the countertop will provide much-needed storage space for my favorite handmade stoneware plates and cutting board collection. Plus, it’s a great spot to mix up the styling of the room by changing out what goes on the shelves.
6. Create Separation
One challenge of an open floor plan is finding ways to differentiate between areas that serve different purposes. Even though the entire house is only 600 square feet, we’re walling off the bedroom to give it the true privacy you’d find in a hotel room. In the main area, the kitchen island will serve as visual separation between the kitchen and living area.
The beauty of a small space is that you can be extra thoughtful with each and every detail—which means that just a handful of beautiful design choices will make a major impact! I can’t wait to see how it all comes together, and I have a feeling that when friends and family come to stay, they’ll be fighting over who gets the guest house.