Get tips on how to downsize in style when moving from the burbs to the city

Pat Tanumihardja,  – October 1, 2007

As the condo craze sweeps through Seattle, baby boomers are fleeing their roomy suburban homes for the lofty albeit compact lifestyle that a downtown condominium affords. Many rookie urbanites, used to spreading their stuff over multiple floors, are tapping into interior designer Susan Marinello’s talent for designing elegant yet understated small interiors.

“Eight years ago, 75 percent of our residential work was single-family homes,” says the designer behind the Private Residences at the Four Seasons Seattle, in development downtown. “Now, it’s 50-50.”

Twelve years of living and traveling in New York and Europe have helped the Seattle native develop her signature style: a blend of worldly sophistication mixed with the laid-back ways of the Northwest.

Her previous life as a fashion model posing for cameras has also come in handy. “I approach my interior design much like a photographer,” Marinello explains, always considering composition and balance when sizing up a space. Most important, Marinello says, Northwest interiors should reflect the region. She prefers palettes of greens, grays, and muted blues ― colors some might consider cold. “I’m not afraid,” she says, smiling.


Small spaces pose inevitable design challenges, but none that can’t be overcome with a little ingenuity and some expert tips. Susan Marinello offers a few pointers on how to make the most of your compact space.

Edit, edit, edit
Transitioning from a larger to a smaller space poses one of the biggest challenges, says Marinello. “So often, people want to move their entire homes into their condos.” Instead, consider it a fresh new space, and be willing to make sacrifices and part with pieces.Organize and optimize

The smaller the space, the more organized it has to be. An excellent way to control clutter is to have furniture custom-made for a given space. “They’ll fit your space much better than ready-made pieces, and the cost difference isn’t as much as you would think,” counsels Marinello. She suggests building floor-to-ceiling shelves 1-foot-deep along the entire length of one wall for books, CDs, and knickknacks. “There’s a lot you can store in 12 inches. You won’t miss the foot, but you’ll gain all that storage.”

Bring the outside in
Create a seamless transition between interior and exterior by choosing color palettes and natural materials (e.g., hardwood, granite, or textured wool carpeting) that complement the view from your window. “When there are no visual barriers, the outside comes in and becomes a part of the room … (and) a small room can appear more spacious,” explains Marinello.

Watch that scale
Select furniture pieces in proportion to the size of a room. “Oftentimes, people want to push the boundaries of how much a space can hold,” Marinello says. But size isn’t everything; comfort can be accomplished with a 60- or 96-inch sofa. “Rooms have to breathe, furniture has to breathe.”

Find flexible furniture
Every piece should have a function, or at least be mobile and flexible. Nesting tables are fabulous in that way, says Marinello, as are sectional sofas that split apart. Ottomans that open are great for storage and can be tucked beneath console tables and magically pulled out when you need them. Or use a trunk as a coffee table.

Info:  Susan Marinello Interiors (119 S. Main St., Ste. 300; 206/344-5551)