Nirvana in a Small Space

By: Karen Pfeiffer Bush

Decorating a small home can seem like a daunting project—especially when you’re transitioning from a larger space. A good first step is to focus on the positive aspects of living in a small space: less maintenance, greater efficiency and function, and of course, the beauty and coziness factors.

Whether you’re downsizing to a smaller home or transitioning into a retirement community, small-space living does not mean the end of good design; instead, it is an opportunity to be smart and intentional with your design and decor. It’s a chance to shed some tired things and surround yourself with only items that you love, need, and use. While it’s a big task to sort through a lifetime of possessions, most of the hundreds of people my company has helped with this process express a feeling of liberation and peace once they’ve pared down to just their favorite and most useful things.

Many people choose to keep just their artwork or a single statement piece of furniture and start from scratch with the rest of the furnishing. Whether you choose from pieces you already own, or you shop for new pieces—or a combination of the two approaches—here are some tips for making your small space beautiful and functional.

Create rooms within rooms. Floating seating areas within a room rather than pushing furniture against the walls can actually make a room seem larger and airier. Desks or side tables can be placed against walls and used for work, dining, or display. A throw rug in the seating area will ground and separate the spaces.

Employ furniture that can serve multiple purposes.  A sofa table behind a floating sofa can double as a work surface—just pull up a chair. Bins underneath can hold office or hobby supplies. Reconsider the shin-bruiser bulky coffee table. Instead, use two smaller ottomans or trunks, preferably ones that do double duty as additional storage.

Smaller scale furniture need not be boring and uncomfortable. Look for smaller pieces that are still full and comfortable. Throw pillows can be used for extra comfort and to add bright pops of color. Larger pieces like sofas or loveseats are usually best upholstered a bit more neutrally while patterned side chairs and throw rugs can add layers and interest to a room.

Look up and maximize space by going vertical. Choose wall sconces instead of table lamps to free up surface space on side tables and nightstands. Use vertical space for storage and display. Floating shelves or custom casework can act as a focal point in a room.

Let in the light. Hang window treatments above the window frames as close to the ceiling as possible and position rods so curtains can be opened all the way to the edges of the windows. This lets in more light and gives the illusion of taller ceilings and wider windows.

Downsizing to a smaller space does not mean saying farewell to good design. It is an opportunity to embrace the wisdom of how you really want to live in a home and what makes your heart sing. What do you truly love to look at? What do you really need and use? How are you most comfortable? When you fill your space with only beautiful, useful, comfortable things that are intentionally placed for the best flow and function, you have reached design nirvana. Go for it! You know what you like!

Karen Pfeiffer Bush is a senior living specialist and owner of two Seattle-based companies, Housewarming ( and Studio 65 ( Contact Karen at (206) 719-1662 or email her at


Here are a few resources for smaller-scale furniture:

Del-Teet Furniture, 10308 NE 10th St, Bellevue,

West Elm, for interior design assistance and access to designer showrooms.


Originally published on 3rd Act Magazine, in the Spring, 2018 issue.

Finding the Right Fit: Part Three | Contractors

Contractors are in integral part of the renovation process. While the internet is a great place for many things, there is such a thing as too much information.  It can be extremely overwhelming trying to find a good contractor. A cursory Google search for “Seattle Contractor” came up with 20 on the first page alone including the two that paid to be put at the top.

Here is a good starting point to help guide your decision process:

  • Get personal recommendations. Who among your friends and family have had a remodel in the past two years?
  • Have a set of questions ready to ask each of your prospective contractors (more on this below)
  • Know your rough budget
  • Do your research! Learn as much as possible about the companies you are considering!
  • Make sure they’re licensed and bonded

Bill Babb of Better Builders in West Seattle, took some time to talk with me about the process of finding the right contractor for you.

The most important thing you should do before calling any contractor is to know your budget. With an established budget, you will be able to get more information from the contractor and know whether or not your project is realistic with your budget.

Things to consider before hiring your contractor:

  • Do they take the time to establish rapport? You want them to get to know you and your goals. What are your “pain points” and can they be addressed??
  • Will they let you know what to expect with every meeting? You should know just as much as the contractor about the topics and goals of each meeting.
  • Will they be honest about whether your budget is realistic? Will you get everything you want?
  • Will you get an upfront contract? You should know exactly what you’re getting into and there should be no surprises.
  • Did they follow up after your initial meeting? You want to be able to contact them and not worry about chasing them down.

There are specific questions to ask that are unique to everyone… It’s important to ask about things that are important to you.

Here are a few to get you started:

  1. If scheduling is important: How is the schedule maintained?
  2. If it’s the budget: Are there any additional charges to the agreed upon budget?
  3. If it’s keeping the house clean, keeping doors closed, not imposing on neighbors: How will those concerns be handled??
  4. The contractor should ask you some key questions also. There isn’t just one question that is important for them to ask you, it’s the 50 questions they’ll ask to find out what is important to you. What is your pain with the house? If there isn’t a pretty big pain, you should ask yourself if you really need to do the work?

The most important thing about hiring a contractor is that it’s a good fit. It’s just as important for you to be a good fit with your contractor as it is for the contractor to be a good fit with you.

Bill councils people to find someone that they can relate to. You are working with your contractor for a significant amount of time, it’s a very intimate relationship. Someone will be working in your home. Your needs and things are important and that should be communicated. Communication is the key to this being a successful relationship.


Walter (Bill) Babb is the owner of Better Builders. Better Builders manages new construction and residential remodeling projects throughout Seattle and the Greater Puget Sound Area, including: Kirkland, Bellevue, Lake Forest Park, Des Moines, Federal Way, Renton, Burien, Normandy Park, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Sammamish, Issaquah, Redmond and Kent.

Finding the Right Fit: Part Two | Finding the Right Designer

Finding a good Interior Designer can be a difficult task as there are many misconceptions and stereotypes about interior design and designers.


Here are a few misconceptions and clarifications about interior designers:

[one_third]Misconception[/one_third] [one_fourth_last]Clarification[/one_fourth_last]

[one_third]Interior Designers and Interior Decorators are the same thing.   [/one_third][one_fourth_last]You can find more about this in our previous blog post found: here[/one_fourth_last]

[one_third]Interior Designers are unaffordable.[/one_third]   [one_third_last]Any good designer will work within your budget (given that it’s realistic for your goals) Even if you just need advice on simple things. Most designers will consult with you for a small fee.[/one_third_last]

[one_third]Interior Designers won’t be able to design to my aesthetic.[/one_third]   [one_third_last]Any designer worth their salt has the education and background to design within any given style and do it well. Not only will they be able to work within your design aesthetic, but they’ll be able to guide you and ask the right questions to further develop your style and needs.[/one_third_last]

[one_third]I’m would be paying them to do something I can do myself.[/one_third]   [one_third_last]While you may have a good eye for design, color and color and layout, you could be missing out on important ways to implement as well as showrooms you don’t have access to (tons of places are to the trade only!) as well as the education on the top trends, technology, and building codes.[/one_third_last]


These are some questions you should always ask a potential interior designer:

  1. Can I see a portfolio of your work?
  2. Can you give me a testimonial from one of your clients?
  3. What is your design process?
  4. How do you charge? And do you offer a complimentary proposal or estimate for your services?
  5. What is your design aesthetic. Most have a preferred design aesthetic but all should be able to design within your given style.
  6. What is your education?

The Right Fit: Part One | Interior Designers & Decorators: What’s the difference?

Finding the right design partner is crucial to the success of your project.. The first step is knowing what type of designer you need, and the differences between the professions..

The titles Interior Designer and Interior Decorator are often mistakenly used interchangeably. There are a few key differences you should know that can help you decide what kind of professional you need.

Interior Decorators adorn a space with surface level changes, for example: furnishings, paint, art and accessories. Any modification is surface level, and most often is for aesthetics only. Interior Decorators require no schooling or formal training, though there are certainly in-depth courses and training opportunities that can further one’s skills and career.

Interior Designers go deeper to understand the needs and use of a  space and creatively come up with functional, safe and beautiful solutions to meet the end-users’ needs. They create designs on a more technical level and will often modify an interior structure. They can create full construction plans for permit, create fully detailed plans from start to finish and often act as a project manager on site with the contractor. College level education is required to become an Interior Designer. If your project entails moving walls or interior structure, electrical or plumbing modifications, building out kitchen or bathrooms, an Interior Designer is the right fit for you.


Growing in your space: chiropractic office design

Whether you’re in an office or your home, space is a valuable thing. But as you grow and change, so should your surroundings. Here’s a closer look at the process of turning an open chiropractic office into a more functional shared space.

The problem: our client wanted to bring in other doctors and be able to share his space while still maintaining privacy for the other doctors as well as the patients. His current space was open to everything, with only half-wall cubicles in the treatment areas.

The solution: because our client occupies this space as a tenant we decided to go with a non-permanent solution: Modular Walls. Working directly with the manufacturing rep. we were able to come up with a great solution to give him an additional 3 private treatment rooms while still maintaining the open exercise and roller massage table space.

Along with creating a new layout for the treatment rooms we were able to select all the finishes that would be changing in the space: flooring, paint and modular wall finishes. We wanted to incorporate his branding—which included bold reds and greens—without overwhelming you as you walked into the space. By picking a commercial grade carpet with touches of red and green, and utilizing accent walls we were able to make the space cohesive within their branding.

Once all plans were finalized we were able to clear out and install the new modular system. Now our client has 3 new private treatment rooms as well as a fully functional exercise space. His new clinic has been modernized without sacrificing who he is, and his branding.

Selecting the Right Paint Color for Inspiration and Function

Picking paint color can be extremely overwhelming. Whether you’re walking into the paint department of your local hardware store, which houses hundreds if not thousands of paint chips or you’re looking online at the manufacturer’s website, you have infinite choices when it comes to paint selections. You may think, “I’ll just paint the walls white. That will be super easy.” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. There are so many shades of white on the market that just asking for “white” may not give you the outcome you’re looking for. On Sherwin Williams’ website, when you navigate to the white color family you have 154 colors that are considered in the “white” family. 154!


Here are a few tips and tricks to help find the right color for you:

Start with inspiration photos. Use your favorite design inspiration website (Pinterest, Houzz) or design magazine to find ideas and a place to start when you’re hunting for just the right color. You can also utilize your surroundings. Pull inspiration from nature, take a look outside and consider the colors in places that make you most happy.

If you’re working with a small space, start out light and bright and layer in pops of color with your artwork and accessories to make the space feel larger.

Think about the function of the room. Is it a bedroom that needs to feel calming and relaxing? Stick with calming neutral colors. Don’t paint it red! Is it a dining room? Stick with appetizing colors; almost anything that you see in food is a good start. Studies show that blue can cause you to lose your appetite.

Don’t judge the color by how it looks on your screen. Paint color samples online will look slightly different on every screen you have (computer, tablet, phone) and will often lead to disappointment when the color doesn’t pan out the way you expected!

ALWAYS test your color in a few spots in your house and live with it for at least a day to see it in different light.. You’ll be amazed at how much color can change depending on the weather or time of day. All paint companies can provide you with a small sample of your color for minimal cost, which is worth the few extra dollars to know you’re going to love your space.


See how light can affect your space: