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How-To: Decorate a Dual-Purpose Space

Having lived in a studio in the past, I've experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations of trying to make one room play two roles. I have many friends living tiny apartments who try to cram the furniture meant for both a living room and a bedroom into the same room, and let me tell you, none have succeeded. It's not only studio dwellers that encounter these issues, though. Sometimes a home office needs to double as a living room, or a bedroom as a workout room. If you're in the same boat, I have a few tips for you.

  • The first step is to weed out the clutter. Sell, donate, or recycle anything that's not essential. Trust me, it always feels good after.
  • Next, downsize. If you've got an expansive, L-shaped sectional, or a California King, switch to small sofa or a love seat, or a full-sized bed. Crate & Barrel has a couple smartly-sized "Apartment Sofas" that are ideal.
  • Buy furniture that's dual-purpose. For instance, the Offi Mag Table ($199) is a coffee table that stores magazines, but it moonlights as a laptop desk when you flip it on its side. Storage ottomans, trundle beds, bunk beds, and tables with extension leafs are also great buys.
  • Don't give your furniture rules, and make it dual-purpose. When I lived in a studio, I used an industrial TV stand to hold my TV, and also as a nightstand. I used the shelves inside it like a desk to store my bills, paperwork, art supplies, etc. — not just the DVDs and spare audio cords you find in most entertainment stands. There's no reason you can't fold your t-shirts and put them in a buffet or sideboard or use your nightstand as a jewelry armoire.

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  • Use rugs and flooring to define space. If you live in a studio with a bed, sofa, and coffee table in the same space, put a rug under the coffee table to instantly create a "living area." Got an elliptical machine and weights in your bedroom? Put a rubber mat under your workout area to create visual separation that doesn't hog space like a room divider would.
  • Don't use room-specific accessories. If your dining table also doubles as a desk, don't feel obligated to use a task lamp or desk chair on castors; just use a regular ole table lamp/chandelier/floor lamp and a comfortable upholstered dining chair.
  • Use lighting to your advantage. Using dimmers and having various lighting options in every room allows you to put the focus on whatever space you're using, as well as to offers a range of vibrancy for different tasks. If you're having guests over in your studio, turn off your bedside lamp and keep the "living area" well-lit; that'll tell your pals where to keep their eyes. If your dining room doubles as a craft room, a dimmer allows you to have bright light for your fine-tuned projects and ambient light for your romantic dinners.
  • Have a cohesive design scheme. If you're combining two spaces (and the furniture that goes in them), mixing patterns and palettes that don't match will only make things worse. Use my tips on how to be your decorator to learn to build a room that works before you begin. Pick one or two items that you love, and use them as a jumping-off point to making everything else coordinate. If you must, reupholster, paint, or refinish your furniture to match, or, God forbid, shop!
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