February 2011: Rental Rescue


 When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When life hands you a small living room, make do. 

Highlight a room’s focal points, like a fireplace, and bring furniture into the center of the room, anchored by an area rug. Even a small or narrow space (below) can have a sense of openness if large pieces are opposite each other for balance.

As a renter, it’s easy to feel literally boxed in when it comes to home improvement. However, the inability to knock down walls and tear up old tiles doesn’t mean you can’t easily make a space look brand new, at least to you. Furniture placement and arrangement is an easy and often overlooked way to give your home a makeover. Here are a few simple rules for arranging furniture. 

1. Make a new plan. Careful planning can not only help you maximize your space, but can save you and your back a lot of pain. Measure your space and create a scale diagram (the graph paper you hated in high school geometry is perfect for this—easy conversion is one square on the graph paper equals one square foot in your space). Be sure to include features like windows, built-ins, radiators, outlets, etc. Measure your furniture and create replicas using craft paper. If your dining table is 6′ long, it should span the length of 6 squares on your graph paper. Creating this model will help you see if furniture will fit, try multiple arrangements, and easily “move” heavy furniture without the leg work. If you aren’t feeling crafty, several websites offer free, online room builder software (try bhg.com).

2. Focus. Before you start to play musical chairs, find the focal point for your space. The focal point could be a prominent architectural feature like a large window, a fireplace, or a set of built-ins. Or it could be the elephant in the room…the television. It’s O.K., I promise I won’t judge. If the focal point is not easily discernable, look for the part of the room that naturally draws your attention and consider how the room is going to be used. If its primary use is to watch television, it makes no sense to arrange the room as a library and have all of your seating at uncomfortable viewing angles. 

3. Size matters. Start by placing the largest pieces (sofas, beds, tables) in the room and work in the smaller pieces. Whenever possible, place your large pieces opposite each other to create balance in a space. Placing all your large pieces on one side of the room can create a feeling of heaviness on that side. Be flexible and honest. If your new bedroom is on the small side, it might be time to craigslist that California King. Consider reworking pieces in different rooms. Try your night stands as end tables, or the old foot chest at the foot of your bed as a coffee table.

4. Leave walking space. Forcing too much furniture into a room will only overwhelm you and your space. Moving between your furniture and around your room should not feel like climbing over a row of people at a matinee of Les Miserables. 

5. It’s not a show room; it’s your living room. Make sure the space meets your practical needs. Check to see if you can pull all of the dining room chairs out from the table without hitting the walls or sideboard. Make sure the TV is visible from the appropriate seating without doing backbends. Can people have conversations at comfortable distances? Is there somewhere to put your beer down while you’re sitting on the sofa?

6. Float on. Don’t force all of your furniture against the walls unless you plan on hosting dance classes in the center of the room. Bring your pieces out into the room and anchor them with an area rug. Floating furniture is an easy way to create great division within a space and make smaller “rooms” within a room. A sofa placed in the middle of a rectangular space can create a half wall, leaving the perfect space for a dining area behind. Don’t be defined by a square room. Try angling your bed on a corner to potentially create more usable space. The possibilities are really endless.


Tools you already own


Make MacGyver proud: use items you already have in your home in lieu of a trip to the hardware store.

Creaky, wobbly chair? Matchsticks can do the trick: shove in the wooden end of the stick and snap or snip off the end that sticks out. Use as many as necessary to fill the gap in the joint.

A nutmeg or zester can be used as a rasp. A butter knife doubles as a flathead screwdriver, in a pinch. Use a rolling pin as a mallet to tap wooden furniture tighter. A fork can act as an awl: pop out a hinge pin, create a tap hole for a drill. 

Need a clamp? Use the weight of your cast iron skillet. 

A plate can act as a palette. A mixing bowl: a bucket.

Empty glass jars are perfect for leftover oil paints or solvents. Yogurt tubs can serve as containers for small batches of latex or acrylic paints and soaking small brushes.

Even index cards can act as shims or mixing palettes for glue (I use them to push glue into cracks that I otherwise can’t get to). 

Last but not least, using cornstarch and hot water, you can mix up a batch of glue that works well on paper and other small, porous repair projects!

Oh, and I think there’s a way to make a reciprocating saw out of a couple of chopsticks and a potato, but I’ll have to double-check…—Christy Baker