Homes of all ages and styles tend to come with at least one design “challenge” in the form of an unconventional — even downright awkward — space. It might be a stair landing, an empty corner or even an entire room that you just don’t know what to do with. How do you bring style and function to those areas?
We posed that question to two highly sought-after Dallas interior designers: Roz Murphy, who runs the namesake firm Roz Murphy Design, and Lisa Patton, a principal behind Studio White Interiors. Here are their real-life examples for bringing every nook and cranny in your home to its maximum potential.
Add a cozy spot to a stair landing
Many two-story homes have a landing that could easily be ignored as a bland pass-through space, but those areas provide an opportunity to showcase individual style. In the home seen above, Murphy added a window seat with storage for books and other accoutrements of a young family.
She outfitted the space with custom upholstery and cheery artwork, along with coordinating emerald-colored knobs for the cabinets below the seat. “We wanted to add some color and personality to that space — and a little bit of charm,” Murphy says. “Growing up, I loved nothing more than curling up next to the window, looking outside and daydreaming.”
On a larger landing, Murphy opted for a small settee with an eclectic mix of patterned pillows. Then she added a faux animal skin rug, floor lamp and slim C-shaped table, along with artwork.
“In such a large space, partly for sound absorption, we thought it would be nice to add some upholstery and just have it be a cozy little nook. There’s actually a skylight above it, so it’s really inviting,” she says.
Create cohesion in a multipurpose space
A little creativity can take a multipurpose room (in this case, a laundry and craft area rolled into one) and convert it into a customized space full of personality. “Isn’t it so fun?” Murphy says with a smile.
Because there wasn’t any natural light in the room, she set out to create an open and airy feeling. “We went with a light pink Palm Beach theme with the natural palm fronds on the ceiling. The client wanted it to be a really happy space but also function well, so there’s regular quartz countertops and everything is easy to clean.”
Even if areas of a room have different uses, a continued style adds intentionality.
Bring softness to an empty corner
Murphy’s client’s study had the usual desk and bookshelves, giving the room a very buttoned-up feel. She chose to warm up the corner spot right off the living room with a little softness by the window. A chaise lounge proved to be the perfect solution.
“It’s just a nice little reading spot. When you have a family, a really cozy chair in your home office is such a wonderful way for your children to be with you,” she says. And suddenly an empty corner serves a purpose.
Give your entryway some personality
In this Tudor home in University Park, Murphy styled the area in the front entryway to be aesthetically pleasing from both inside the house and out.
“It’s sort of a dead space, but we really wanted to utilize it because you see it from the front window. So we selected a new chest and a fun lamp for that corner,” she says.
Murphy then refreshed the front door in a pretty French blue and added a new shag rug for a bright, happy entrance. The shelving, original to the home, provided a perfect spot for special books and accessories.
Create a small work station in an empty area
When you’re left with extra real estate — beneath cabinetry, say — consider adding a little desk, even in an unexpected place.
This particular home had a study being used by the husband, but the wife needed a place to get a few things done.
“So we created a desk space for her. This is actually in the mudroom, off the garage,” Patton says, noting the child’s jacket hanging to the left of the desk. It’s the perfect spot for bill paying and all the tasks associated with running a busy household — without taking up an entire extra room or cluttering a space like the kitchen counter.
Add custom storage in unused spaces
Decades ago, homes were often built with deep recesses on either side of the fireplace to house armoires and other console TV display units. These days, designers reimagine those types of spaces for the needs of modern-day families. “We just added a lacquered cabinet below so they can store all their games in there, then added shelving to display art pieces from their travels,” explains Patton, who also says a home bar would also have worked in that space had one not already been in place across the room.
Use an alcove to create a modern home bar
Some of Patton’s clients wanted a bar in their open-concept main living area. “The living room, kitchen and dining room were essentially all one space,” Patton says. She decided to add plumbing and utilize the space below the stairs for the bar, which she outfitted in white oak cabinetry with black backsplash tile. “We had to just squeeze it in, and it looks like it was supposed to be there,” she says. “It ended up being kind of like the jewelry box of the space. It’s just such a pretty little display.”
Give flair and function to empty spaces created by stairs
Stairs often create a big, rounded area that’s ideal for a focal table. But coming up with a plan for differently shaped areas can be tricky, especially when trying to marry form and function. This particular space had about a 2-foot rectangular setback.
“We placed a bench there with some more sculptural vases,” explains Patton. “We put a really tall vase in the corner, then a shorter one next to it, to fill the space and give it a purpose. You can actually sit there and put your shoes on.”
When faced with a small, square niche, Patton had to get creative. Adding the paneling was the first step, but that wasn’t quite enough to finish out the space.
This particular client loved collecting pieces, so Patton opted for vintage finds, including a wicker chair with a seat she had reupholstered. “It looks like it’s styled. It’s just a nice little vignette,” she says.
A floating or suspended staircase provides a unique challenge with its modern, minimalistic design. The void underneath the stairway calls for an aesthetic that’s both contemporary and uncomplicated. Murphy says this living area had a museum feel to it. “I wanted to soften the space by anchoring it with something darker and cozier, then pull in a natural element with a big plant,” she says.
Add a vanity to a recess in a closet or bedroom wall
A small recess, even in a closet, can be put to use. When a client mentioned that she didn’t want a vanity in the bathroom, Patton came up with a great solution. “We gave her a dry vanity makeup area where she can get ready,” Patton says of the beautifully lit space in a recess in the master closet. A vanity could also be used in a bedroom niche.
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