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Book Reviews:
Small Spaces, Children's Spaces and Family Living

The publishing house of Ryland Peters & Small have produced three books covering one of the most familiar problems of this or perhaps any other century: How do we deal with shrinking storage spaces and creating privacy in smaller homes for ourselves and our families.

Small Spaces; Making the Most of the Space You Have by Rebecca Tanqueray approaches the reality of escalating home prices forcing most of us into smaller homes. The book takes the reader through a series of case studies that illustrate and inspire solutions that others have used.

One example is a house that is a testament to living in the narrow, including the use of a two-person elevator that doubles at times as a dumbwaiter, a feature we have considered as useful for older residents.

Flexibility is a requisite component for any planning in today's housing economies. And, of course, there's that currently popular word, transparency, that can be applied to all situations. Sliding partitions or dividers that fold away unobtrusively, mirrors (or mirrored tiles) to visually expand space, cabinets suspended above the floor, tricks to fool the eye into believing a larger area exists than actually does, are all hallmarks of creative use of space.

For guest rooms, consider what we once called a 'murphy bed,' beds pulled down from the wall when needed, recessed when not.

One homeowner commented that, "Furnishing with oversized objects — as long as they don't stop you from moving around freely — makes the atmosphere seem bigger." Don't overlook the floor to ceiling storage space available when ceilings are a lofty height. Frosted glass can screen private areas but allow light to illuminate public areas. Another way to allow light but contain privacy is to use a pull-up (rather than a pull-down) blind, still allowing privacy but admitting light.

The second part of the book lays out the zones that are needed and those that can be combined or, indeed, given up. Considering the inclusion of at-home offices today, uniform box files for storage make sense. Do you really need a separate dining room, or is that tub necessary? Investing in dual-functioning furniture also makes sense in small spaces and for older nesters like ourselves, the admonition, 'keep your hoarding instinct in check; clutter is a small space's worst enemy' is the ultimate piece of advice in this clever and informative book.

(As an aside, we bought a stacked washer/dryer to prepare for our smaller laundry corner. It works beautifully and takes up half the space.)

Family Living; Creating the Perfect Family Home by Judith Wilson recognizes the patterns of play, study and sociability that have to be taken into account when planning. Again the key is "flexibility, allowing room functions to be switched with minimal hassle. Plan for that, and the need for serial moving is reduced. It makes financial sense to create a home to grow into, and kids will appreciate the continuity."

And perhaps the most wise advice is that "No family home should be a show home — after all, it's children's clutter that creates its true soul but it shouldn't be a mess either. Enjoy creating a welcoming, beautiful, even sophisticated living space, and your kids will respect it and enjoy sharing it with you. And never underestimate the emotional power of the childhood home. Make it a fun place to be now, and your children will keep on returning long after they've flown the nest."

Children's Spaces From Zero to Ten, another book by Judith Wilson takes on those spaces that we, as grandparents whose charges are in residence at least two days a week are concerned with. We need space and answers to the storage needs we're developing with our quasi-day care roles.

This book also approaches the problem of a boy-plus-girl shared room in decorating as well as space terms. The book is divided into rooms for babies, girls, boys and the aforementioned shared rooms; bathroom, indoor and outdoor play spaces as well as spaces to eat and store.

Beds that are part of storage units can provide a sectioned off space and the ever popular cozy corner can be filled with a built-in bed.

Some of the outdoor suggestions in the book were imaginative and fun:

"A densely planted area, with a mirror on one wall, becomes a fairy grotto at the bottom of the garden, while a trompe-l'oeil gate suggests a secret world beyond."

All three books are full of visual clues, colorful and vibrant ideas, humor and understanding for the ways we live in smaller quarters, with children and our families.


©2004 Tam Gray for SeniorWomenWeb
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