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Bringing Serenity and Flow to a Small Home

Tips from a pro on making compact rooms feel calming and comfortable

Saltbox Serenity

Photo by David Prince

Maybe it was knowing that the house was built in the 1700s—for a parson. Or maybe it was wanting an escape from big-city sensory overload. When interior designer Stephanie King took possession of a spare saltbox in Bedford, New York, three years ago, she adopted a palette of weathered grays, warm blacks, and pristine whites.

What an Understatement

Photo by David Prince

"The house is incredibly charming, and the minute I walked in I just knew I could make it spectacular," she recalls. "But because the rooms were small and the ceilings were low, I knew it had to be almost monochromatic to create a sense of flow." Working with a preservation-minded contractor, she restored mantels, moldings, and built-in cabinets, and rebuilt worn pine floors downstairs.

Shown: To give a vintage Colonial a quiet edge, ebonized floors were paired with updated-traditional furnishings.

Small Space Style

Photo by David Prince

Each room also got a judicious dose of color and texture. Linen, cashmere, and leather signal luxury in rooms remarkable for their simplicity. "Friends always say how serene it feels," says Stephanie. Her other design trick is to "use large pieces to make small rooms look grand." A vintage clock stands tall in the living room; an oversize portrait dominates the breakfast table. "I also keep the clutter down," she says. "It makes the rooms seem bigger."

For other tips on how to turn a small house into a calm retreat, read on.

Shown: Interior designer Stephanie King relaxes on a tailored sofa in her 1700s saltbox. She redid every room, but with a light touch.

Conscious Color

Photo by David Prince

A custom sofa, scaled to fit the room, has soft gray upholstery with crisp white piping. Accent pillows in rich hues warm up the neutral palette. A tall case clock and curtain rods raised high add a sense of volume to a low-ceilinged room.

Neo-Baroque Light

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Faceted glass adds an extra dimension to the Square Crystal Ball fixture. $140;

Urn-Shaped Lamp

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

The Classic Alabaster lamp is made of the real stone, with a graceful shape and a deep-gray shade. $529;

Oversize Footrest

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Dark wood legs and pumice-colored fabric give the 40-inch-square Holden its contemporary look. $700;

Graphic Rug

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

A friezelike pattern turns the Greek Key rug into a centerpiece. Starting at $650;

Textured Accent

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Capiz shells enliven the Solid Silk Handloomed pillow cover. $34;

Streamlined Seat

Photo by David Price

The simple lines of the Upholstered Slipper Chair let it adapt to most rooms. $300;

Purple Blaze

Photo by David Price

A Visions of Violet bouquet comes in its own matching vase. $40;

Kitchen Clean

Photo by David Price

An all-white scheme—on the counters, cabinets, walls, and backsplash—is grounded by a slate floor, sculptural black-painted chairs, and a dramatic photograph. Charcoal-gray slate flows naturally from the other rooms' glossy black pine.

Shimmery Light

Photo by David Price

The Faux Crystal Balls fixture will add a touch of glamour over the breakfast table. $200;

Shapely Seat

Photo by David Price

The Portofino dining chair has a curved back and white vinyl seat. $149;

Classic Pedestal

Photo by David Price

The Avalon extension table seats four to six diners. $499;

Stylish Storage

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Oversize glass Apothecary Jars make decorative use of your fruit. From $35 each;

High Profile

Photo by David Price

The Regent Porcelain Handle Gooseneck Bridge Faucet delivers a dramatic arc. $1,060;

White Wash

Photo by David Price

Vintage touches, like a marble top and wide-spread, porcelain-capped faucet handles, give a simple white vanity a character boost. White subway tile looks luxurious when it climbs all the way to the ceiling.

Marble Top

Photo by David Price

The Classic Turned-Leg Single Wide Sink Console is pretty and practical.$2,199;

Bath Decanter

Photo by Don Penny/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Mouthwash doubles as a color accent when served from the Claro wine decanter. $29;


The chrome Belle Foret Widespread Faucet with Pop-Up Drain has the authentic details of a period fixture. $214;

Shell Mirror

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Let gifts from the sea add interest to an expanse of white bath tile with the Triton Sea Shell Mosaic mirror. $398;

Candle Light

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

The Metropolitan wall sconce in brushed nickel has a space-saving slim shape. $180;

Vintage Spray

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Kohler's Bancroft Single Function Showerhead has one spray setting, just like its Victorian ancestors. $37;

Neutral with a Punch

Photo by Colette Scanlon

Feminine flourishes, such as a graceful bench, flowing bed canopy, and soft gray coverlet, are balanced by snappy red accents and crisply framed artwork.

Flexible Light

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

The Charleston wall sconce has a classic swing-arm design. $74;

Touch of Red

Henley Ruby pillows provide a pop of color and texture. $25 each;

Bedroom Bench

The curvy Parisian Bench could hold your breakfast tray. $129;

Controlled Contrast

Photo by David Price

Bold black accents and controlled pops of color keep pale furnishings from looking washed out. Homeowner Stephanie King updated the original fireplace with a slate surround and glass doors. Accessories with curved profiles soften the mantel's sharp lines.

Bobbin Chair

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

The antique-look Abacus dining chair has a distressed black finish and traditional ticking. $895;

Blue Vases

Photo by David Price

Curvy turquoise vessels warm up their neutral surroundings. From $28 each;

Round Mirror

Photo by David Price

The 34-inch Saratoga mirror's resin frame has a leaf pattern and bronze accents. $265;

Beach Souvenir

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

A craggy White Coral Centerpiece—made of resin—adds texture to a creamy mantel. $22;