Photo by Gail Owens
When it comes to entertaining in tight quarters, I am a champagne glass half-full, not half-empty girl. If you are a happy and relaxed host then your guests will follow suit. But, there are some tricks of the trade that make small-space entertaining a breeze like a self-serve bubbly bar. It only takes up 12-square-inches, and it makes people smile!
Photo by Gail Owens
Set Up Self-Serve Drink Stations
Establish two self-serve drinking stations and place one in the front and one towards the back of the room. This will encourage a smooth traffic flow and the happy mingling of guests. One station can be the water and vodka bar. The second station can be a help-yourself champagne and wine bar.
Most importantly, self-serve stations for food and drink will give the hostess more time to enjoy her own party, which is always a good thing.
• Find a small flea market chair that has a seat that can be easily removed. Check underneath the seat for simple screws that will release the seat cushion. Once I removed the seat cushion of my chair, I kept the serial numbers as part of the character of the chair.
• Paint your chair to match your party theme.
• Attach champagne corks as wine glass holders.*
• Tie basket to the chair back with twine and line the basket with an insulated cooler bag cut to fit. This will hold extra bottles of chilled wine or bubbly.
• Place a plastic punch bowl onto the seat and fill with ice and bottles of bubbly.
Where to Buy the Book
* For all of the project details and many more clever space-enhancing tips and projects, check out my latest small-space design book, Decorate This, Not That!
To reduce water condensation from the ice bowl, double up on bowls. Place two plastic punch bowls on top of each other with a white cloth napkin in between.
My love and awe of succulents continues. Now that my succulent bouquet in a cement-covered dollar store urn has been thriving, this girl born with a brown thumb was starting to feel confident. I wanted to hang a unique planter to a new garden gate that wraps around my cottage. My flower boxes always end up looking a little faded, so low-maintenance succulents in a vintage postal box was the way to go.
Vintage Postal Box Planters Are Ideal for Succulents
Because succulents have a shallow root system, they don’t need a lot of soil to grow. Succulents have no problem squeezing into a small, narrow vintage postal box, and I was lucky enough to find one close to home. One of my favorite places to find vintage treasures is the Newport Avenue Antique Center in Ocean Beach, California. On my first day of the hunt, I found a small cast iron mail box from the 1940s, which was 40% off. It was already painted a dark French green, perfectly matched to the shutters on the front of the house. Because it is made for the outdoors, I didn’t have to worry about rust and it not holding up in harsh weather.
Cut a coco plant liner to form a cone that fits snugly into the mailbox. You’ll need to trim and cut a little flap in the front to allow the succulents to spill out. Add a potting mix made specifically for cactus and succulents. Once the liner is in place, pack in as much soil as you can and insert small succulents to form a pretty bouquet. Water when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Give it a whirl!
Vertical Storage for a Narrow Living Room
A well-styled mannequin catches your attention in a store window, and also stands out as stylish vertical storage for hats, scarves and jewelry. They are perfectly sized for a narrow nest. A few years ago, I found this used mannequin at a retail display supply outlet, and I embellished it with a papier-mâché skirt made with wire, covered with silk poppy flowers. Papier-mâché is one of my favorite mediums to work with, and this project inspired a DIY Rococo styled picture frame for the living room as well.
From the skirt on up, the overall theme is Matisse’s poppy fields. The bodice is decoupaged with laser-printed images from a local printing shop. Unfortunately, ink-jet images from a home computer will bleed when it touches the decoupage glue and won’t work for this project. My dutiful friend, nicknamed “Moulin Rouge,” performs double-duty in this compact living room. It displays as a sculptural art piece and is a catchall for hats and other accessories. The mannequin keeps clutter at bay while taking up very little floor space.
Through the years I have found old and damaged mannequins or dress forms at store display closeouts, fashion design schools and on Ebay. Check out davessurplus.com and your local Craigslist for some real bargains.
Skinny Kitchen Sculpture
A faux birthday cake made from two Styrofoam rounds tops the mannequin that lives in my kitchen. Use a polymer air-dry clay by Paperclip to create these pretty madeleine lookalikes. Just press the clay into a madeleine cookie mold, let dry and paint to look like threat thing. Since I have an open kitchen layout in my New York City apartment, the mannequin anchors the dining nook and separates it from the living room. Establish different zones in a small space to give the eye a variety of places to roam, which eases the feeling of a confined home.
Customize your mannequins by stripping off all of the outside muslin fabric and padding and work with the raw frame. Most frames are made out of plastic and are easy to paint, decoupage and glue adornments on.
Because mannequins are tall and lean, they shimmy into tight corners and cast the illusion of height in any tiny niche.
Wild Wave Pillow from CottageandBungalow.com
Cottage chic means different things to different people, and now with over a year of coastal cottage “nesting” under my belt, I can share my short list of petite décor touches for under $100 that can make any shack feel like a cozy, warm cottage without breaking the budget:
Layer In Natural Elements
Save on Crafts
Adding a few natural wood elements instantly adds warmth to any cottage interior. Drape this Pastel Painted Driftwood Garland on a shelf or a mantle. Only $19.99.
A Birch Branch wrapped with string lights combines the best of two worlds: twinkling lights with the natural beauty of birch. A six-foot battery-operated strand is only $17.99
Go Large Scale With Accessories
I am convinced throw pillows can make or break the look and feel of a cottage, and CottageandBungalow.com is a stylish source for those featured pillows (like the blue Wild Waves pillow above) that demand star billing on a plain sofa or chair.
Cottage and Bungalow
A large clam shell looks splendid dressing up a table top or holding candle votives inside a fireplace. The Imperial Clam Shell is $72 but for a limited offer just for Living in a Nutshell readers, you can redeem an additional 15% off. Just use this unique discount code at checkout: LIVINGNUTSHELL15.
The natural woven texture and color of baskets are scattered everywhere in my cottage for storage and lighting solutions. For the money, this Basket Weave Bamboo Pendant Lamp is a steal at $59.99.
Entertaining in a Petite Cottage
Burlington Coat Factory
Cooking and entertaining is part of the cottage lifestyle I love and what better than serving dinner for family and friends on a set of four lobster plates designed by the fabulously talented Nanette Lepore for only $9.99 at Burlington Coat Factory online.
My last visit to Hobby Lobby took me by surprise. Aside from their vast array of craft supplies, the home decor and accessories department is enormous and well-priced, especially with their online coupons. This Large Red Tub with Rope Handles is festive as an ice cooler or a planter for gerber daisies. $9.90
Bar Cart on Wheels
Entertaining in a small space is one of the ways to extol the virtues of living large and proud in tight quarters. A mini-cart on wheels is an adaptable small space staple that I’ve come to rely on in each of my dinky digs. I’ve even been known to put a portable fireplace on wheels in a studio. Being able to move things around makes you feel less beholden and cramped in a niche.
Laundry Cart 2.0
This former laundry cart now stands in seamlessly as a portable bar and beverage station in my quaint living room. In such tight quarters, the cart also doubles as an end table. This bar-to-go is particularly handy when it is wheeled outside for impromptu garden cocktail parties and the baskets can be removed for easy cleaning.
Keeping the original, distressed white paint finish reminded me too much of its former days as a laundry basket. Layer it with gold gilding wax to give it a much needed hint of Hollywood Regency shimmer on a shoestring.
Ice buckets and stemware can now be stored out in the open freeing up precious kitchen cabinet and counter space. The standing bar cart also establishes a visual separation between the living room and the dining nook, preventing what I call, “shoebox syndrome.” With established zones, a petite abode breathes and moves more like a grander, well-appointed home. Give it a whirl!
When I moved into this old beach cottage, all of the lighting had to be replaced, stretching the budget in many directions. I opted on transforming an inexpensive large basket I found at Burlington Coat Factory (they have a good home decor department) into a hanging pendant lamp shade over the dining room table.
The over-scale size of the basket anchors the dining nook and makes the whole space read bigger. Make a plain lamp look fresh and pair it with a jute lamp cord from World Market. Lamp cords in different colors and textures can add a great deal of surprise and personality to a humble light.
I tied the lamp cord into a figure-eight knot for added interest and installed it with the help of my contractor friend, Joe. The basket pendant lamp is just what this little dining nook needed. Onto the next!
DIY Rubber Flooring
Rubber flooring isn’t just for garages and basements anymore! Ugly, cheap kitchen tile laid down in the 80s was the eyesore that was my kitchen. There was no budget or time to rip up the old floor and install new ceramic tile. Instead, industrial rubber flooring proved to be a smart and stylish solution. The tiles click together like Lego puzzle pieces and require no smelly adhesives to install.
Easy Installation Tips
To install, rubber tiles are easily cut to size with a pair of sharp craft scissors. Score the top of the tile with a utility knife and finish the cut with scissors. Have a rubber mallet handy to tap the interlocking pieces together without leaving a mark on the surface. Your local Dollar Tree always have them in stock. It is a good thing to add to your tool kit. You will be surprised how often you use it.
These rubber coin tiles are from Rubber Flooring Inc. and cost $265 to cover 60-square feet. They were offering a 25% sale and last I checked the promotion was still being offered. They also come in a wide array of colors.
Rubber Tiles To Go
The floor is easy to clean and is resistant to mold and mildew. For renters, the flooring is chic and portable and you can take it with you to your next nutshell in a jiffy. Or change out the floor easily when the mood strikes. Give it a whirl!
1940s Beach Shack Before
I have been blessed with a two-bedroom, 1940s cottage (a whopping 614-square feet), about four blocks from the beach. For the past two decades, this former rental property became rundown over the years from careless tenants and neglectful gardeners.
Living Room Before
But beyond the dingy wall-to-wall carpeting…
Dining Nook Before
and stained ceramic floor tiles and dated wood paneling in the kitchen…
you could see that this cottage has good bones and real design potential. Every room, including the petite garden in front, is going to be my personal design lab.
Master Bedroom Before
Guest Bedroom Before
In the next few months, I’ll share my twist on chic, smart, portable decor ideas, storage solutions and garden design tips on a budget without sacrificing style.
I move into the house in a few weeks so I am painting the shutters Benjamin Moore Essex Green. It is a classic green-black. I can hardly wait for a tiny bit more curb appeal. Check back and see how the little shack becomes a cozy beach cottage, room by room!
Old Living Room With Wall Partition
Tear Down This Wall
A small 25-foot-wide wall partition between the living room and the dining nook blocked dreams of total sun-filled cottage bliss. My 1940s beach shack was typical of homes built in that era where there was no concept of an open floor plan. Every room was compartmentalized and walled off. It was time this cramped 187-square-foot relic gets a modern makeover.
Wall Removal Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
Staying on budget means limiting the amount of contractor work needed in the space. For only $350 the wall partition was removed, and it opened up the living room and dining nook to allow the sun to shine and fill the entire space. Now a full-sized sofa and dining room chairs can fit without hitting the wall. The amount of usable square footage has doubled.
Wall Removal Between Living Room and Dining Nook
Bye-Bye Ugly Carpet
All of the carpeting was taken up (the best day ever!), and new wood floors will be laid down. All of the walls are painted Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White, a perennial favorite of interior designers. I’ll be bringing in color on the walls later on, but white is the base I want to work with for now.
The petite cottage makeover continues. More space-maximizing ideas to come.
DIY VIP Seating
Arranging a sit-down dinner party in dinky digs is daunting enough without having to referee a round of musical chairs. Who wants to be stuck with the uncomfortable, outcast wobbly chair all night? Avert a future seating crisis by stocking up on a few inexpensive folding bistro chairs (these are from Ikea for $15/piece) that can be dressed up for the occasion with simple upholstery webbing and Ikea cotton dishtowels.
Custom Padded Seat How-Tos
Let’s face it. These wooden chairs without padding are not comfy past 20 minutes. But for less than a dollar a yard, upholstery webbing came to the rescue. Cut webbing strips to cover the length of each chair slat horizontally and vertically. Add an extra 1-1/2″ on either side to tuck under the chair seat.
Fold strips in half lengthwise for double cushiness. By folding them, the strips will also be the same width as the chair slats. Stretch strips horizontally over the chair slats and secure the sides under the chair with a staple gun. Next, weave straps vertically over and under the horizontal wooden seat slats. Secure each end with a staple gun. Thick webbing eliminates the need to store bulky seat cushions in space-starved nutshells! Check out this tip for storing folding chairs.
No-Sew Chair Slipcovers
Dishtowels folded in half are the ideal-sized slipcovers for chair backs, and the best news: there is no need to pick up a needle and thread. Fusible bonding web attaches side seams with the heat of an iron. Glue grosgrain ribbon to the center of the opening (front and back) for a bow closure.
Handmade burlap tags rubber stamped with the word “reserved” guarantee friends will feel they are at the top of your VIP list!!