10 Questions for . . . Libby Langdon, Interior Designer

Consumer Reports News: December 31, 2008 12:09 AM

In this installment of 10 Questions for . . . , Senior Editor Daniel DiClerico speaks with Libby Langdon, a New York City-based interior designer who appears on HGTV's Small Space, Big Style; her new book, Small Space Solutions, is due out in March 2009. Here, Langdon reveals her favorite paint colors, shares several space-expanding tricks, and talks about the latest in lightbulbs.

What's your attraction to small spaces?
While traveling the country for my first show, Design Invasion, I saw that people have space constraints everywhere you go. I realized that I have a lot of tips for people who are intent on making their tight quarters feel larger and function better.

What are a few of your favorite tricks of the trade?
• Use full-scale shelves and cabinets. Pieces that go all the way up to the ceiling visually draw the eye upward making the ceiling seem higher and your space feel larger.
• Put your walls to work by mounting shelving to display collections and store items that would otherwise waste precious table space and create clutter.
• When hanging drapes, mount the rod where the ceiling meets the walls. This will also expand the space visually.
• Avoid using all wood furniture, which gives a room a clunky feel. Mix in glass-topped tables to give the room a lighter, airier and more open appearance.
• Position a large mirror on the wall directly opposite a window or a door with panes in it. This will amplify the available natural light.

Can color be used to expand a space?
People are often petrified to paint a small space a color because they think it's going to make it look smaller. That can be the case if you paint all four walls a bold hue. Instead, choose an accent wall, maybe the wall that your headboard is on in the bedroom (see picture) or that your sofa is on in the living room. Paint that accent wall a rich, wonderful color and keep the other three walls a neutral, mellow color, like a soft tan. What happens visually is that the dark wall recedes and it tricks the eye into thinking the space is bigger than it is. (Learn more about specialty paints.)

What advice do you have for choosing paint colors?
Flip through a few design magazines to find colors you like. Nine times out of 10 they'll list the names of the colors in the resource guide at the back of the magazine.

What role does lighting play in opening up a space?
Layers of light add depth and dimension and make a small space seem visually much larger. This might mean a combination of overhead fixtures, undercabinet lighting, wall sconces, and table lamps. Always try to light all four corners of a room. If you can't see a corner, it's as if it isn't even there. I can't tell you how many times I go into small rooms that are lighted by a single lamp. Even in a small room, four or five lights are not too many. You also want to think in terms of tall, large-scale lamps. People tend to fall into the "small space, small accessories" trap. But a tall lamp will spread a lot of light, while again tricking the eye by creating a sense of scale and height.

You use a lot of lights. Are you a fan of compact fluorescent lightbulbs?
I do like CFLs for efficiency but not always for the quality of their light. I prefer LED lights, which manufacturers say last up to 60,000 hours. I find the quality of LEDs to be brighter and truer. I've found some that are around $40, so they're starting to come down in price.

(The quality of light from CFLs has improved. CFLs labeled "soft" or "warm" white will more closely resemble incandescent lightbulbs, while those tagged "bright white," "natural," or "daylight" will give off a whiter, crisper light.)

Speaking of efficiency, are we seeing the end of the McMansion?
Houses are absolutely getting smaller as people realize they don't need so much house. Why pay to furnish and heat and cool all that square footage? There's a misconception that living in a small space means living with less. But it can actually be the ultimate luxury. When you come home and your space is functional and organized, you don't feel pulled in a million directions. You feel focused.

January is Get Organized Month. What advice do you have for people who want to start the New Year with a clean slate?
I first try get to people to put their clutter in perspective. I ask them, 'On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being total minimalism and 10 being total chaos, where do you want to be? If you're a 10 now and want to be a 5, that means you need lose 50 percent of the stuff. Most people are around a 7 or 8 and they want to get down to 5, which means they have to lose 20 or 30 percent of the clutter.

Once you have the clutter in perspective, you need to identify your worst space. But don't put all the pressure on yourself to clean it up in one day. Instead, set a timer for 45 minutes and start organizing. Come up with your "pitch" pile, your "donate" pile, and your "need to organize" pile. You need to be a little ruthless. But most people find that decluttering is contagious. Clutter stops us from moving forward and doing what we want to do. After 45 minutes, 1 out of 100 people I work with actually stops. It feels so good to get rid of things that they want to keep going.

Which areas of the home tend to attract the most clutter?
The three pressure points for clutter are the entryway, the kitchen, and the home office. The trick is to create systems for each that are going to work for your lifestyle. If you have kids, don't put a beautiful table in the entryway. It might look good, but it's totally impractical. Instead, create a storage system there to prevent the clutter from reaching indoors. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Inexpensive towel bars with S-hooks are great for coats and backpacks, then you can do some floating shelves above them for your keys, wallets, cell phones, and so on. In the kitchen, rollout organizers are a great way to maximize storage in cabinets.

What advice do you have for freshening up guest rooms?
A quick, inexpensive way to update a guest room is to hang floor-to-ceiling drapes behind the headboard. That creates a luxurious feel while drawing the eye upward and making the room feel larger. Another thing I love to do in guest rooms is replace the nightstands with two small chests. This balances the room and provides additional storage for guests.

Essential information: Hear what experts from other fields have to say by reading past interviews on the 10 Questions for . . . page. And learn about closet and garage organizers.


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