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Room of the Month - Small is Beautiful

By Sarah Van Arsdale on March 10, 2010

At NYIAD we teach our students a simple Three-Step Method for designing every room they create:

  1. A successful room is functional.
  2. A successful room expresses a mood.
  3. A successful room exhibits a sense of harmony.

This simple Three-Step Method is the secret of every interior ever designed. We teach our interior design students to consider these three steps every time they look at a room. You'll find the great home decorating ideas in our Room of the Month series as well as in the design tips on this site helpful in creating outstanding room designs.

When our students mail in their interior design project for analysis by their instructor, the instructor starts by commenting on these three Guidelines. Of course, the instructor analyzes other elements of the project too – decor, layout, furniture, style etc. But the key to good decor – and the essential element of every great interior design – is adherence to these three NYIAD Guidelines.

How do they work? How can you apply them? It's beyond the scope of this Web site to teach you every nuance, but you will get an inkling from the Room of the Month Analysis that follows.

With twenty-five years of graduates from the NYIAD School of Interior Design out there making the world beautiful, is there still room for more?

You bet.

One of our soon-to-be newest grads, Amie Svec of Ames, Iowa, is making us proud even while she's still a student. She sent in photos of this small room she designed, and we liked it so much we wanted to use it for this issue's Room of the Month feature.

One of the big trends for the coming year is in downsizing. Whether due to belt-tightening or an attempt to reduce one's carbon footprint, many people are again learning that less is more —and that small is beautiful.

With that in mind, let's take a look at this very small living room, using the NYIAD Guidelines to Interior Design: function, mood, and harmony.

The function of this room is clear: a small sitting room in a small apartment, it provides seating for two, and table space for a tea set, and a few books. The lighting is just right for curling up on that sofa with a book.

According to the designer, Amie Svec, the mood is traditional but with contemporary, eclectic twists. This room is in one of the apartments made from a 1920's Craftsman-style home, and the décor of the room reflects that history, with the old-fashioned styling on the sofa, chair, tables and lamps. But this look is updated with the realistic portraits and of course with the room's centerpiece, the large work of contemporary art on the wall.

Room photo © Amie Svec

The mood is also a warm one, emphasized by the wall color and deep reds throughout the room.

It's the color that really makes this room harmonize. Svec says the wall color came from "from a need to make this room warm and cozy. It is a small room, but I decided that was an asset, and so was not afraid to go bold and dark for the walls. I did keep the ceiling light, though. The loveseat and upholstery fabric was selected first, so that choice impacted the wall color as well."

The harmony is also created with the repetition of the stripes in the Roman shade and the pattern on the large painting.

Room photo © Amie Svec

This room is also an example of how using several patterns can actually help a room to harmonize, if you're careful about which patterns you use and which colors are involved.

"Mixing patterns is something I have always been drawn to. I enjoy the rhythmic movement a pattern provides, and the way it can make a room dynamic if done successfully. I love the play between the area rug and the loveseat. "

This room is a good example not only of how downsizing in terms of space can work, but also in terms of how you and your client don't need to spend a great deal of money in order to make a beautiful room. "The large piece of artwork behind the loveseat is from the owner's collection, and is just right for the space," Svec said. The red side chair was a garage sale find, reupholstered in a Robert Allen fabric called Dewdrops. The spots are chenille, a fun texture!"

Room photo © Amie Svec

Svec paid close attention to the apartment's history when designing the room. "This room was a kitchen at one time, when the house had been converted into apartments with cheap paneling on the walls. We removed that, repaired the plaster walls and had new trim made to match the existing trim in the rest of the house. Roman shades were used as the window treatments to show off the trim detail and provide privacy and light control, the vertical stripes draw the eye upwards, as the ceiling height is only 8ft."

Svec is doing all this work even though she's still a student at NYIAD. She's been in the design industry since 1992, when she started fabricating custom draperies for a few local designers.

"In 1995, I enrolled in our local community college which at that time had an excellent professional upholstery program," she said. "I did both upholstery and window treatments for years for my own clients and local designers, then went back to the community college to take interior design courses. After I took all of the classes that college had to offer, I signed on with NYIAD."

Svec has always been interested in art and design, and holds a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art.

"I'm busy with design clients at the moment and have people who do most of the fabrication end of the business for me now, but having done the fabrication end of it, I know that part of the business from the inside out," she said.

By carefully selecting color, fabric and furnishing, Svec has created a room that may be small in square footage but which has acres of great style.