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Inside design: Powell & Bonnell

Inside design: Powell & Bonnell Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: Powell & Bonnell

Toronto-based designers David Powell and Fenwick Bonnell opened their practice in 1990; a line of furnishings, lighting and textiles followed in 1996. In 2006, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) awarded them Project of the Year for an 1857 historic mill. And a few years ago, they garnered huge media attention for a tiny trailer they designed, making them ideal for a chat about small-space living.

Style at Home: Why are we reading more about small-space challenges?
David Powell: What was considered normal living space has now shrunk to as little as 500 square feet in urban centres. But people still want the conventional home with a living room, dining room, kitchen and so on. As a result, developers carve up small spaces, creating conditions that are challenging and, in some cases, almost unworkable. For example, we're seeing bedrooms where including a queen-size bed is almost impossible.
Fenwick Bonnell: It's every young person's dream to own a piece of real estate, but funds for a down payment may be limited. That means either living a long way from work (and enduring a long commute) or purchasing a small condo in the city, where prices are higher and spaces are smaller. In some cases, the shape of a building, along with the necessary mechanical infrastructure, creates oddly shaped spaces that may look dynamic on a plan but require a clever approach to interior design.

S@H: Just how do you define that clever approach?
DP: When every inch counts, the occupant must think outside of his or her very small box. You must assess living style and, in most cases, adjust your expectations. If you're surrounded by restaurants, do you really need a large kitchen and dining room? Multiuse pieces and inventive storage and sleeping arrangements also need to be considered. For instance, a king-size bed is now an impossible luxury. Professional advice is valuable when ingenious solutions are required, and an open mind is essential.
FB: It may not be advisable to consider each room individually with regard to function. Carving up a space further with a theme, purpose or colour could be a mistake. Changes in floor material can also break up the flow from one area to the next. Do you need a durable surface like tile in the entrance hall when you live on the 23rd floor of a residential complex? An incredible amount of functional space is wasted with doors; when dividing a space, consider using sliding doors instead.

S@H: What's the first step when approaching a small space?
DP: Plan, plan, plan -- and place furniture to scale on your plan. There's a good chance the antique cabinet your mother gave you won't fit. You may have to think about unconventional arrangements -- four chairs instead of a sofa and loveseat, for example. Smaller-scale furniture, often flexible in function, has been introduced specifically to address the condo market.
FB: You need to think in cubic feet, or volume, instead of square feet. For instance, the space around the top of a room can be used for storage.

Image courtesy of Powell & Bonnell

S@H: Describe the most inspiring small space you've ever seen?
DP: In 1999, we created a 600-square-foot living space for the Interior Design Show in Toronto. We wanted a functional open space without doors. We crafted these transparent "walls" of sheer curtains, so there was a blurring of defined space and function. We used lighting to play up focal points and add drama. The public reaction was astounding.
FB: We cut our teeth on that space and then moved on to an Airstream trailer of just over 200 square feet.

S@H: Are there advantages to small-space living?
DP: Yes, it's really freeing. Both Fenwick and I choose to live in small inner-city dwellings. We've become a population of consumers, and we can clearly see where that's leading us when we look at our landfill sites. The Japanese have lived with a minimal, functional aesthetic for centuries. We can certainly look to them for inspiration.
FB: We cut our teeth on that space and then moved on to an Airstream trailer of just over 200 square feet.

Powell and Bonnell's big ideas on small-space living

• Incorporate reflective surfaces wherever possible. A glass coffee table will make a room feel more spacious than a wood one, for example.

• Spend money on storage solutions. Visual clutter devours a small space. "And since in most small spaces nothing is hidden, efficient, attractive storage is essential," says David.

• Make good use of space-saving technological innovations. A few of Fenwick's favourites include washer-dryer combos, Miele's two-in-one oven and microwave, and flat-screen TVs.

• Consider integrating your fridge and dishwasher into the cabinetry so the kitchen can be opened up to the main living space without feeling like it's been "invaded by clunky appliances," says Fenwick.

Image courtesy of Powell & Bonnell

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Inside design: Powell & Bonnell