Story and photography by Beth Schatz Kaylor
Arriving at Darika Polk’s picturesque home in central Bismarck, I step onto the covered porch as she greets me at the door. A young, soft-spoken woman, Polk and I chat in her cozy, shoebox-sized kitchen where she is making coffee: just a coffee filter set over a coffee pot, steaming hot water poured over freshly ground beans. “I have a big coffee maker too, but with limited counter space, I just don’t use it anymore,” Polk says.
Polk’s coffee-making routine is one of the many ways she has happily pared down her lifestyle in recent years. With the clever storage of pots on hooks by the window and a magnetic strip holding knives over the small stove, along with a quirky antler rack to hang aprons and one of her pet cats gently purring by my feet, her kitchen is a perfect balance of warmth, beauty and efficiency. As with many older homes in the area, the total square footage of her house is sizable, but it is partitioned into small rooms, closets, nooks and crannies rather than the large great rooms common to newer homes. And Polk likes it that way.
“We moved from a 3,000 square foot loft into this home. We wanted a cozier space, something with compartments.” And she is not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size of single family homes has been declining from its peak of 2,521 square feet in 2007 down to 2,392 square feet in 2010. Bestselling books like “The Not So Big House” by Sarah Susanka and magazines with small home design plans fill home design shelves at bookstores. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the current trend towards smaller homes is expected to outlast the economic downturn as consumer attitudes toward housing shift to more efficient, functional spaces.
With a home built in the early 1900s, Polk embraces antiques and vintage finds at local thrift stores to feather her nest. Although she seems to be born with a knack for style and design, Polk, a travel agent with Satrom Travel, scours the internet for decorating inspiration. “I like ApartmentTherapy.com for ideas on what real people are doing to decorate their spaces,” she explains. “I read magazines like “Elle Décor” too, but those aren’t realistic for most people, including me.”
When decorating with the small rooms in her home, Polk follows a few tried-and-true rules to enhance the space:
- Be smart about storage. “I made spice jar magnets so I can store my spices on the side of the fridge,” Polk says. Her home is filled with multifunctional furniture pieces, like an antique trunk that serves as a coffee table and a decorative stack of vintage suitcases that also stores papers.
- Use multiple points of light. “A dining room should have three points of light,” Polk says, which she demonstrates in her home with a hanging chandelier, a pair of lamps, and a large mirror set on a buffet. The effect is warm yet subtle, a glow filling the dining area.
- Steer clear of clutter. “I’m very selective about objects to display,” Polk explains. “I’m not interested in knick-knacks. For me to purchase and display an object, it needs to be either functional or really meaningful to me.”
Another source for realistic decorating inspiration comes from Lisa Bohrer, owner of Spaces, an interior design and décor studio on the corner of 2nd Street and Main in downtown Bismarck. As a professional interior decorator, Bohrer helps her clients figure out how to best utilize their space, regardless of their square footage.
“I actually live in a small home myself,” Bohrer says. “When I purchase a piece for the store, I often ask myself if it would fit in my own home.” Design consultants at Spaces work with every budget and offer free in-home consulting to their clients for projects both big and small. “I’ve been called the queen of kitchen soffits,” Bohrer says with a laugh, referring to her knack of revamping those awkward spaces between the tops of kitchen cabinets and the kitchen ceiling.
To enhance small rooms and spaces, Bohrer uses a few design tricks:
- Use vertical space. “Accessorizing with long and narrow pieces can help draw the eye up and make the walls appear taller,” Bohrer says. Think of incorporating tall cylindrical vases or vertical art pieces into the room décor.
- Supersize your window treatments. “You can make a small window look bigger by extending the curtains to cover sections of the wall on either side,” Bohrer explains. Stretching the curtains down to the floor further accentuates the room-expanding effect.
- Prioritize. “The old saying holds true: less is more,” Bohrer says. This means paring down to a few choice pieces of quality furniture.
Regardless of square footage, perhaps the most important thing to remember is to let the room décor fit the purpose, not vice versa. “I make sure I understand how my clients are using a room before we start a design project,” Bohrer says. “Are they watching TV or reading in this room? Do they have one child or four? I know I’ve done my job well when the space works for our clients’ real lives.”