Homes & Design Photo Credit: Marilynn Arbeau

This Cozy B.C. Cabin Offers a Master Class in Small-Space Design

Designer Jennifer Connolly shows us how she managed to pack a dream cabin into 750 square feet.

Homeowners always have a list of hope-fors and must-haves, each with their respective challenges—that’s a given.

In Jennifer Connolly’s case, a couple were looking to her to redesign their cabin-style pool house in Penticton, B.C., and outfit it with a full-sized dishwasher, a fridge and freezer, an oven, king-sized bed, a powder room (in addition to a full bath), a fireplace and a washer-dryer. The catch? The building had a pre-existing frame of around 750 square feet. And that’s over two floors, each with a can’t-change-it footprint of around 350 square feet. 

What’s more, her clients were the classic “opposites attract” kind of couple, with one favouring the traditional and rustic Canadiana cabin-style aesthetic, and the other a more modern, Scandinavian look.

But the toughest design challenges breed the most creative solutions, and what Connolly pulled off (with help from designer Tricia Morrison of Details by Others and Blackhawk Contractingis nothing short of a master class in small-space design. So get out your notebooks and have a backup writing utensil at the ready—we’re going to show you how her team managed to fit a dream cabin into a shoebox (and how you can too).

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The celling is hemlock stained to match the same hue as the white oak floors and walls.

Decorate and furnish with see-through pieces. The clear Bocci lights and the Saarinen pedestal table and its Nakashima chairs in the main room are all great examples of pieces you can see through. This keeps the space more open—even the coffee tables in front of the love seat have slim, tapered legs, which creates a more spacious feel.

Eliminate room thresholds. Consistent flooring throughout means you transition seamlessly from room to room without any visible threshold to break up or compartmentalize the space.

Get creative with food storage. See that wood wall to the right of the fireplace? That’s a sneaky storage-unit-like pantry with big shelves that go up to the ceiling. Inside there are baskets in clean white alcoves for storing anything that doesn’t fit in the kitchen: dry goods, cans, veggies, fruits etc. The team had to go off-centre with the fireplace to fit in this special wall, but keeping it all wood with wood walls and floors surrounding it makes it all blend beautifully.

Take the fireplace up to the ceiling. Bringing the stone up to the ceiling is an easy way to make the space feel bigger. This same principle is used a lot with cabinets to make kitchens feel roomier.

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Try bigger furniture pieces in a small space. Connolly was a little worried about fitting in the requested Eames Lounger, as it’s anything but dainty, but as long as you can move around something comfortably, big pieces can make the space feel larger than it is.

Open shelving beats bulky cabinets. It’s no coincidence open shelving is trending in this time of the small footprint, because Connolly says as soon as you put a mass of cabinets on a wall, they cut in on valuable space. Open shelving keeps things airy, and in this kitchen for four, there isn’t going to be a ton of dishes to clutter up the place.

Embrace two-in-one appliances. The pool house didn’t have space for a stackable, so the designer went with an all-in-one washer and dryer from Australia. In the kitchen there’s a Miele Speed Oven that bakes, convects and acts as a microwave.   

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Pro Tip: Opt for consistent dishware. Connolly says the secret is to clean-looking open shelving is keeping dishware consistent. Here, she used only attractive white and glass pieces, eschewing a mix of pattern and colour. “So no matter where those white bowls end up, or where those glasses end up, it won’t look messy,” she says.

Fridge drawers are the next big thing for small spaces. The designer says she could have put a traditional tall fridge in this space by backing it up into the fireplace where the speed oven is, but she really didn’t want to. They would have had to put in a panel at the end of it, which would have closed off the kitchen, and made it feel really tiny when you’re in that space. So Connolly fought hard to keep this space open, and the compromise was Sub Zero fridge and freezer drawers. These hold a ton of stuff, there’s even an ice maker in there, and keep everything below the waist.

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Dump handles for finger pulls. “We couldn’t afford to even have a pull stuck out too far or we wouldn’t be able to fit all the cabinetry in there,” says Connolly. So she opted for barely-there finger pulls in slimming silver.

‘Glossy’ is a small kitchen’s best friend. Choosing white for cabinetry and walls is a no-brainer, but adding a lacquer finish to millwork takes things to the next level. Glossy cabinets are reflective and bring more light into the space.

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Turn awkward spaces into storage. Anywhere the designer could find storage, she pounced! Take for example this stairwell and its awkward shelf—a by-product of imposing concrete from the foundation—Connolly teamed up with Penticton’s Ellis Creek Kitchens to create a smart storage area. They used special Richelieu hinges so doors would pop out and over, making it possible to stand and store without having to move out of the way.

Uniform flooring and walls extend the space. The wood on the ceiling, floors, and walls is all the same tone. The rift and quartered white oak on the floor is the same wood they put on the walls, which is not only a great cost-saving tip, but one uniform wood colour will elongate spaces and make them feel bigger, explains the designer.

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Make the bedroom furniture “float.” All the master’s furniture was custom built to fit the space, and the king-size bed was specially tapered at the bottom with recessed shelves to appear as though it’s floating. (An impressive feat considering there’s still a ton of storage down there.) The bedside tables eschew supporting infrastructure altogether and appear suspended off of the bed frame.

Swap sconces for lamps. Lamps take up precious bedside table space—go vertical with a sconce.

The powder room in this cabin-style pool house is only 32 inches wide.
The powder room in this cabin-style pool house is only 32 inches wide.

A skinny powder room calls for a skinny sink. Talk about using every nook and cranny. The team pushed out the fireplace just enough to put a 32-inch-wide powder room behind it. The key was an especially tiny Ikea sink set into the wall, (and clocking in at eight inches wide), which the project’s foreman had used on another project.

Go with pocket doors whenever possible. “I don’t think we have one solid swing door in the house,” says Connolly. “It’s all pocket doors out of necessity: we didn’t have anywhere to swing a door.”

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A glass shower in the full bathroom creates the illusion that it’s large.

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