Home & Garden

Don't let small square-footage cramp your decor

CHICAGO -- First-time home buyers Jason Loper and Michael Schreiber didn't have all the money in the world to decorate their new digs.

It being: an 800-square-foot, renovated vintage condo in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood.

What they had lots of were good ideas and the moxie to pull them off.

Have a look at three of their best:

Textile art

The Loper/Schreiber abode needed a couple of large-size pieces of artwork -- including one in the entrance area to cover an unfortunately placed electrical box that fits not-quite flush with the wall and certainly not centered.

To get exactly what they wanted (in spirit, in color, in size) they made their own art by covering a framework composed of wooden stretcher bars with artful, upholstery-grade fabric. Total cost of the "Balloon" that's the result: about $20.

The fabric came from Loomcraft in Vernon Hills, Ill., -- and was on clearance.

The stretcher bars came from Pearl art and craft supplies in Chicago's River North area. (It's cheaper to buy four wooden stretcher bars and snap them together yourself than to buy an artist canvas, which could cost about $50 at this size, Loper says. The four stretcher bars cost about $10 total. He bought top and bottom bars that are 43 inches long and two side bars 47 inches long.)

The technique/tool: a mere staple gun.

Loper, a handbag designer by profession who works in fabric, offered this tip: "Start stapling at the middle, so you know it's going to be taut." Staple at the middle of the top bar, the middle of the bottom bar, the middle of the two side bars. Then staple at the four corners and then fill in the rest.

Mirrors, mirrors on the wall

That's 32 of 'em -- lined up in grid formation as a handsome art installation for the main wall in the dining room. Loper and Schreiber got creative with "Malma," a simple, wood/mirror (10-inch) square from IKEA.

The couple got a whole load of them in a deep painted mahogany color.

More beauty: Malma squares cost $2.99 apiece; the whole art installation cost about $100 or less.

Loper's tip: To keep the squares from moving out of alignment, he placed two small pieces of black electrical tape on each bottom corner (backside). There is no sticky-stuff touching the walls; it's just the tackiness of the tape that keeps the square from moving.

Chalk it up

Because their condo is small (and got smaller in a very real way once they moved their furniture in), Loper and Schreiber are keenly aware of the clutter issue. It can creep up and into a roaring problem.

To eliminate the potential clutter of paper notes (grocery lists, to do lists, reminders, etc.), they painted the walls in their galley kitchen in erasable chalkboard paint.

Actually: Benjamin Moore Studio Finishes Chalkboard Paint, about $15 a quart, covers 100 to 110 square feet.

And no, they weren't afraid of black walls, even with their dark cabinets. The look is chic.