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6 big ideas to make the most out of your small space

You don't have to aspire to a McMansion or shell out for an addition to create more space in the home. Regardless of whether or not you live in a tiny apartment or a detached house, there's space there that you're not seeing, and therefore not using. Want to create instant space? Follow the advice of architects, designers and organizers to make your home feel bigger and better.

Think above the box

Montreal-born architect Jordan Parnass knows that with a little creativity you can find more space than you might think you have. In 2009, Parnass, who is based in New York, created an East Village Studio that is less than 500 square feet that needed to be a live-work space. With that small an apartment, every inch needs to be used efficiently, a principle that should apply to every home. One key solution: a loft bed that made room for a walk-in closet below. Parnass has also done loft beds with dining-room tables and desks underneath. So maybe you don't want a loft bed, but is there room under your bed that's being wasted? Another fantastic use of space: stairs that double as drawers. Take a lesson from Parnass: "Anywhere we see empty space, like in that space under the stair treads, we'll say, 'Alright, how can we use that space?'"

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Clear floor space

How much space you have is often a matter of how much space you feel you have. Designers and architects have all kinds of tricks for managing that perception. At the top of the list: Clear as much off the floor as possible. That could mean cantilevered cabinets in the bathroom so you can still see tile, a strategy used by Bruce Carscadden in the micro lofts he designed in 2011, each of them less than 300 square feet. "It enhances the size of a space," Carscadden says. It could also mean something as simple as having chairs, couches and other furniture with exposed feet instead of covers or other material that go all the way to the floor. The more floor you can see, the more open and airy a room will feel.

Open the windows

Never, ever obstruct windows, especially in smaller spaces. That includes curtains that cut the window when pulled back, plants on the windowsill and even bookshelves placed so close that they cut the view when looked at from an angle. Windows "enhance that view of the outside, give you that sense of the long view," Carscadden says.

Fix the sightlines

Another trick of maximizing space by manipulating perception: getting the right sight line. According to architect Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House, that means opening up diagonal views. "If you can see from one corner of the house to the exact opposite corner, what happens is you're really looking along the hypotenuse of a triangle, so you've got a longer view and it makes the house seem bigger," she says. "The principle is called diagonal views. It's a super simple idea and the smaller the house, the more effective it is."

Rethink rooms

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Your friends and neighbours might all have dining rooms, but do you need one? What about that extra bathroom off the guest room: Does anyone even use it more than a few times a year? "Make a list of the rooms you have in your house, the names of the rooms and how often you use each of those rooms," Susanka says. "Often, the rooms that are the least used are also the biggest." You might find a living room would be better used as an office or play room. "If you use a room less than a half dozen times a year, at the very least make it do double duty," Susanka says.

Go vertical

Most homes have plenty on the floors – tables, chairs, ottomans, bookcases, you name it – with smaller items filling counter tops. Look up from there, though, and you won't see much. Adding shelving or cupboards to walls maximizes your available space, says Kathleen Murphy, a Montreal-based organizer. And by moving items up from the floor you also improve the flow and feel of a room. But don't go so crazy with all that new-found space up near the ceiling that you add storage for the sake of storage. "Make sure you're not just lining all of your walls with shelves so you can store stuff you're not using," says Kristie Demke, a personal organizer based in Edmonton.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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