From the new book: Theme 1 – Prioritizing the establishment of three main living areas

From my book: “Pursuit of the Dream Scandinavian Studio – 60 Themes with my small space living journey in Vancouver”

“Theme 1: Prioritizing the establishment of three main living areas

Even in the smallest of spaces, including a studio apartment, I have found it worthwhile to establish three main living areas, including an inviting lounge or living room, a proper dining/work area, and a separate sleeping area. In my experience, defining those three separate areas creates a purposeful home. When I speak of this principle, I don’t necessarily mean separate rooms or actual walls dividing up the areas; still, you can give the illusion of separate spaces by utilizing things such as rugs, bookshelves, or furniture placement.

My idea with this concept is that you have some degree of separation from daily activities. Experts say that you tend to sleep better when a bedroom is reserved (mostly) for sleeping. When eating, I like to feel present and only have a bit of music for ambiance. I also find that primarily eating in the dining area helps preserve your living room furniture over time. Some studies also show that there can be negative impacts on mental
health if a lounge space is also used as a bedroom, and I have found that I did not settle well in shared housing situations with just a shared kitchen. Taking advantage of the ‘three areas principle’ also allows you to contain clutter more easily. ”

“In terms of effort for this to work, it requires some investment in furniture and pieces suitable for small spaces. I will touch on sourcing furniture further in this book. In recent years, I’ve noticed a rise in popularity of multifunctional furniture such as the Murphy bed folding up into the wall or a coffee table that can convert into a desk or dining table. I will not touch on this much in this book, but I would caution that multi-functional pieces can be costly and may need to be built into the unit. While the daily task of set-up and take-down for these pieces can be relatively quick, they can mentally add up over time. There also tends to be more wear and tear due to the frequency of setting them up and taking them down. That being said, this can still be a very innovative solution for micro-spaces and where resources allow for it.”

Excerpt From: Martin Emslie. “Dream Swedish Studio Pursuit.” iBooks.

Top 10 tasks that I do right away when arriving home

While I strive for new ideas to manage with small space living, there are many days where you don’t have the energy to re-organize. It can be fair to say that many of the images on this blog and in my latest book took a reasonable amount of time to stage before taking photos. There are days where I put off de-cluttering tasks and where I might even question the importance of it at times. But without structure when decluttering, small space living can easily leave you unsettled and start to impact mental health in more ways realized. Thankfully, I have been able to create systems that are manageable and take minimal time. Here are some of them:

  1. Turning on the string lighting the moment I arrive home after dark – it creates instant warmth and reminds me that I’m home. I try to only use the wall light for a minute or two when hanging a jacket up and placing away a bag. For the string lighting, I have a simple plug on the faux fireplace by the doorway.
  2. All corner lights on after dark – there’s something about dark corners in a small living space that can make it feel unsettled. I would rather my corners be illuminated, have a dimly lit home and just lamps on for reading, than for a ceiling light to dominate the room lighting. To reduce the set-up time further, I am also working on programing a few wifi bulbs that can be turned on via my smartphone.
  3. Clearing the faux fireplace, doorway shelf and kitchen table of any clutter right away. It usually only takes a minute and will leave your home with a settled feel.
  4. A Junk box is the default for clutter – you will always have items where you’re unsure of where they can go. A junk box is handy for that quick putting away of things.
  5. Specific boxes for gloves, camera gear, laptop accessories and courier side-gig related items to reduce the junk box burden. The junk box can fill quick and my strategy was identify items that I use more than others and have designated spaces for them.
  6. Removing clutter underneath the daybed – it can be acceptable to have clutter underneath the daybed as it’s not in the way and is out of sight when sitting on it. However it is noticeable from other areas of the room.
  7. Aligning books and magazines. It’s the idea of clean lines and can make an even more noticeable difference to the eye than you think.
  8. Straightening of throw blankets and pillows on the daybed. Some like them scattered, however I find that with a canvas cot daybed, it looks a lot more together and proper when accessories are orderly.
  9. Re-aligning of living room chairs. It can be easy for them to get shifted when in a small living space, especially where cords are involved. However a simple adjustment can make the place look together again.
  10. Balance with folding clothings on open shelving in the closet. It can be easy for clothing to get disorganized and it takes a bit of time to have them all folded. On days where time is limited, a simple fix can be to just fold a few of the bigger items. But equally important, is being in the habit of folding clothing regularly to prevent a build up of unfolded clothing.

In summary, by developing simple habits on a daily basis and having an idea of the real time involved, you can achieve a liveable home on a daily basis.

2021 – Where I will still be a minimalist for a while

Despite the drift towards maximalism, I still have minimalistic elements that I will probably adopt for a while in my home. While I like to have variety at home, minimalism still allows for the right things to be highlighted. Minimalism also makes day to day tasks in a small living space more manageable. Here are some of them:

  1. Neutral colours for furniture. Furniture generally is expensive to replace and is a long-term investment. However I also see neutral colours being popular for a while. Of the busyness in my home, neutral colours for my furniture (i.e. grey, white, beige) helps to bring balance. Many of those neutrals are also great at radiating natural light. The same also goes for my living room curtains for radiating light, not to mention a Scandinavian look too.
  2. My Kitchen table with minimal decor. Most photos in interior design magazines show dining tables staged with vases, plants, candles, not to mention dinnerware on the table too. Perhaps my decor from Scandinavia could make for great photo-shoots. However in reality, my dining table is often used as a desk during the day and for dining in the evening, complete with a candle and minimal clutter. Table decor can unfortunately get in the way during the day. When a space is re-arranged daily, it is also difficult to appreciate decor when it is always moved. There are always other areas to place decor permanently.
  3. Breathing space underneath the daybed. It is tempting to allow books and journals to sit underneath it as it technically isn’t in the way or visible when sitting on it. However it is noticeable by the eye in other areas of the room. Breathing room underneath it also makes the place appear bigger and highlights more surface area of my thick rug.
  4. The coat rack limited to only a few items. Perhaps the latest trend was to display your outerwear items (hats, jackets, bags, etc.). However when a space is very small and open plan, you don’t necessarily want those items to be overly dominate. For that reason, I try to only hang up the items that I need in that month and store away the other items.
  5. Open space for height in the walk-in closet. Originally I had boxes stacked nearly floor to ceiling in my walk-in closet. I also previously had a fabric wardrobe where boxes were stacked on top of it. When I however reduced the height of stacked boxes, the room suddenly appeared more spacious. I do however hang a paper/sphere lantern along with a mini-faux green wall and light to further highlight the ceiling height.

Maximalism in 2021

Minimalism has been a growing trend in interior design for a number of years. From some of my research, it seems to have surfaced from the great recession around 2007/2008 where the economy went from booming and display of disposable income, to many loosing jobs and even their homes when the recession came. It then became appealing to simplify your life and redefine what you really need. The accessibility of travel probably contributed to that trend as well and it became more about experiences than your home for many.

But during the pandemic, habits suddenly changed and people were spending more time at home than ever. Travel was also significantly reduced and spending priorities have changed as a result. While many have been impacted economically, unlike the great recession, many are still doing well and are spending a lot to improve their homes. While people previously valued dinning out and attending events, leisure time is is now largely spent at home. Many also have a lot more free time for new hobbies at home. Therefore, the trend of maximalism at home is starting to become appealing to many.

In this second part of the post, I am going to touch on how I am embracing elements of maximalism at home.

  1. Multiple lounge areas in my home – some would say that anything more than a bed, lounge chair and coffee table to eat on in a studio apartment, would make it hard to embrace minimalism. I’ve already maximized the space by having multiple lounge chairs in the living room, a dining table (and one that is very long). Then I added a lounge chair (and then a desk) in the walk-in closet. Additionally, I added a lounge chair by the window directly next to the living room. Perhaps I have significantly less open space, however with all the time that I need to spend at home, it’s more important that I have variety and multiple seating options. I often need a break from the living room, need to look out the window sometimes or need a place to brainstorm business ideas in the home office away from my main home!
  2. Having a lot of books – books are something that can add interest to any home. In fact if you actually look at Scandinavian interiors, the bookshelves are always packed and are sometimes from floor to ceiling. I usually acquire many books from a free shelf and as long. My favourites are those 1970’s coffee table books of my city and the unique photography styles back then.
  3. A permanently placed window chair and an additional side table in an already tight space – I will talk more about this more in detail in another post, however this is an example of adding more to an already tight area. I initially envisioned a lounge chair that could collapse and only be used on the weekends. Or taking a lounge chair and turning it around when I wanted to look out the window. Or using a wicker chair as a dining chair and turning it around when wanting to look outside. I discovered however that a side table and large plant on it actually created a barrier from the living room. It also makes the room look a lot bigger too. With it being permanent, it is much more inviting and easy to utilize and is great when I need a break from my home.
  4. Having three hanging paper lanterns/spheres in a small studio apartment – you could argue that this makes a small space feel even more cramped. However when you look at most Scandinavian interiors, this is one of the simplest hacks to give it the look of being Scandinavian. It also makes the space appear bigger and draws your eyes to see the vertical heights that are still in a small studio space.

You can also read my latest post on where I will still embrace minimalistic elements in my home for a while

My top 8 simple ideas to enhance a small living space and feel better mentally

1) Divide up a studio apartment with separate rugs and a bookshelf – your eyes are often drawn to the ground the most + 3 sections feels bigger


2) Light up corners and architectural features – best way to add warmth at home


3) Organize and align your books and fold throws after each use- it’s those small details that make a noticeable difference


4) Dust tables and vacuum rugs regularly – best ROI for cleaning 


5) Have a 3-4 object rule for coffee tables and have a clutter basket to easily contain clutter 


6) Add touches of dominant colours to your kitchen, a yellow tea towel from Finland is my favourite 


7) For an additional corner chair in an odd space, add a throw blanket, plant, nature picture and even a guitar to make it feel very inviting.


8) Use of curtains and pulling up Venetian blinds tends to be one of the most noticeable things. It also helps to radiate light.

How to Make a Small Space Appear Bigger

1) Use rugs as dividers for areas in a space. If you have a small living space that is just one room for your kitchen,kitchen table, living room and bed, you can use rugs to define an area and make it appear bigger. Rugs are one of the best ways to create the illusion of a bigger space. They can be used primarily to separate the dining area,kitchen and living room. They could even be used to create more than one living room area.


2) Work with height in a small living space. When you don’t have a lot of space to work with, most people forget about the vertical element and it’s there to utilize. One idea can be to have tall bookshelves or wardrobes. You could even have a separate bookshelf on its own at a higher level on the wall. Just remember earthquake safety if you’re in one of those prone areas; typically, you shouldn’t have a bookshelf above a couch or bed.


3) Have white or bright neutral coloured walls as much as possible. Most Scandinavian interiors are white or neutral coloured for the very reason of reflecting light and making a space appear bigger.


4) Work with mirrors to make a space appear bigger. Mirrors can have that illusion of making a room appear bigger and it’s not out of style to utilize them. Common types of mirrors can be kitchen mirrors or tall vertical ones.


5) Allow room for furniture to breath. By giving furniture room to breath, it can be a form of decluttering. Typically the unused space when furniture is away from the wall, makes a room appear bigger than if there’s more space in the centre of the room. Another way to allow furniture to breath is to simply reduce the size of the furniture piece. Look into condo furniture if you’re in a small living space. It’s also better to have more individual lounge chairs than multiple sofas that don’t properly fit the space.

5 Tips for Staging a Home

As someone who runs a Scandinavian interior design and small space living blog business, I have come across a variety of ideas and insights. Many of those ideas can apply to home staging too. Here are my top five home staging tips that I think will bring the greatest return on investment when selling your home:


1) De-personalize
Staging is making your home visually appealing to prospective buyers and not to your own decorating tastes. Start with removing anything personal such as family photos and books and replace with art and décor that is neutral in taste. Any rooms that aren’t utilized for their intended use, such as an exercise machine in a spare bedroom, should be staged for what they’re intended for. Worn or out of style curtains or draperies should be replaced with newer ones and ensure that bedding in the bedrooms is fresh. If your walls are overly dominant or the colour is dated, consider a coat of neutral coloured paint.


2) De-clutter 
De-clutter throughout your home and ensure that counters are free from clutter, including the removal of kitchen counter appliances. Replace with a few vases of flowers. I have seen kitchens staged with a table set or refreshments out and can make a space welcoming. The general rule of thumb otherwise is a maximum of three pieces of décor per tabletop.
When de-cluttering, you also want to look at your furniture and typically if there is major wear, it’s too big for the space, or the matching is off, consider storing away some of it and maybe renting or borrowing a few pieces. Small wear can be covered with a few stylish throw blankets or pillows. 


3) Maximize space
Home staging could also be said to be selling a lifestyle and you’re instilling a degree of emotion with the architectural features of your home. A great way to make a space appear bigger and brighter is to add a coat of white or light-coloured paint. Minimizing window treatments and maximizing natural light can enhance a room. If you have a smaller space, it is said that area rugs can help to define and divide areas and show functionality.
Under-utilized nooks and corners can be staged with light furniture such as a musical chair, décor or plant to highlight architectural features and present possibilities to buyers. Flooring can also add character to a space, ensure though that it is in good condition and keep the use of rugs to a minimum when staging.


4) Bathrooms and Entryways as two under-rated areas
Bathrooms are only a small part of a home however they can have a major influence on a purchasing decision. Avoid worn or dated towels and opt instead to have clean white ones, plus some neatly rolled-up wash towels, a small plant and even some luxurious soap on display to create a spa-like feeling. Replace shower curtains with new stylist ones. Generally sinks and tubs and that show wear and/or are dated, can be replaced at a reasonable cost and have a high return on investment.
Entryways are also a commonly neglected area of a home but in reality, it’s the place where a first and final impressions are made. Ensure that there is adequate lighting and consider bringing in a few plants and a nice doormat to make it welcoming. While you’re de-cluttering that area, it’s also your chance to showcase creative storage solutions that the home has for jackets, footwear and even sports equipment.


5) Attention to detail with cleaning 
Most home sellers are going to put in a decent cleaning and staging effort however time is not always on our side and small details can be missed. In the mind of prospective buyers however they’ll often look for what’s hidden and it’s not uncommon during showings for cupboards to be opened, closets to be checked and even looking in behind things. A lack of detail in hidden areas can leave prospective buyers wondering about deeper problems and it’s therefore crucial to be organized and maintain a list.


A professional home stager can also be a great investment, even if it’s just for a consultation to do the staging yourself, they can save you time and money and help you prioritize your efforts. If your budget is limited, at the very least, enlist the help of a friend or family member to look at your cleaning and staging efforts from another angle.
There are many more valuable tips but those are my top five to get you started.