The thought of entertaining 14 people in a 511-square-foot condo may seem like a modern-day version of stuffing them into a phone booth. But to 32-year-old Paul Faggion, inviting friends over for dinner before seeing a U2 in concert in September made perfect sense.
Aside from the fact that his downtown Toronto bachelor pad is only blocks away from the Air Canada Centre, the elementary-school teacher says he can seat up to 15. He couldn't always make that claim.
His previous condo felt closed-in, though to his surprise it was about the same size as his new one-bedroom unit. He traipsed through more than 25 condos before finding it two years ago.
"The layouts were just terrible. There was no place to put a three-person couch. You couldn't put a [dining]table anywhere," he says.
Mr. Faggion says most condo developers "seem to throw these really tiny spaces into the nooks of buildings" without thinking about how people will live in them.
Though his new, open-concept suite had a lot of potential - a storage-friendly galley kitchen and two walls of windows providing an "incredible" southwesterly view of the city and Lake Ontario are among its highlights - it wasn't without its shortcomings.
Designer Yanic Simard says the first time he saw the corner condo, the previous owners' furniture, which included overstuffed pink-and-green chintz sofas, was disproportionate to the space. "It looked very cluttered," he recalls, "… like a little country house trapped inside this beautiful city condo."
A principal at Toronto Interior Design Group, Mr. Simard sought to get more out of the space. He gave it a more masculine, urban feel and opened it up visually, introducing a predominantly soft grey colour scheme, an abundance of metallic finishes to reflect the light and punches of pattern to add texture. He also upgraded the unit's standard builder finishes.
The dark, heavy carpet was uprooted in favour of chic maple flooring throughout. In the kitchen, the faux beech laminate cabinets were removed and painted a dark brown. The basic white appliances were replaced with sleek stainless steel models. Luxe marble countertops were also installed (as was an undermount sink and modern faucet), with an overhang to turn the peninsula countertop into a space-savvy breakfast bar.
The bar allowed Mr. Simard to reverse the original placement of the living and dining areas and make better use of the overall space. He situated a Saarinen Tulip table and transparent plastic-and-chrome chairs in the corner of the suite, away from the kitchen, to effectively create a separate dining room without visually chopping up the condo.
That being said, he doesn't like labelling rooms in a small space, he says, adding that Mr. Faggion also uses his laptop on the dining table - even though he has a desk area near the front entrance. "He has the luxury to have a second office in a 500-square-foot space," Mr. Simard laughs.
A few kilometres away, designer Steve Suraci had a seven-foot-long stainless steel and glass dining table custom-made for his client's condo, coincidentally 515 square feet in size.
Mr. Suraci acknowledges the table is large for such tight quarters, but it does triple duty - seating six people comfortably, alleviating the need for a desk, and acting as an island and providing a long surface area for food prep. Sitting opposite a wall of dark cabinetry and appliances, the multifunction table also helps to define the kitchen space.
Information architect Adam Schwabe, the condo's owner, purchased the unit two years ago, preconstruction, and hired Mr. Suraci's firm Icarus Designs to help make the most of the small space.
When Mr. Schwabe, 26, took possession of the unit, the sallow beige walls and white trim made its eight-foot ceilings feel shorter. And, with the exception of dark hardwood floors and cabinetry, it looked bland, Mr. Suraci recalls, so he painted all walls, trim and doors the same dramatic brown-grey. "There's a uniformity [to painting everything the same shade] but it also diffuses any kind of weird contrasts and the space looks bigger," he says.
Everyone thinks you're supposed to paint a small space a light colour, he says. "Go dark and dramatic," he recommends, "and add good lighting." With short ceilings lighting isn't just practical, it becomes a feature. "You can't help but notice it."
In this case, not only did the standard incandescent ceiling lights provide poor lighting, the unit does not receive a lot of direct sunlight. Mr. Suraci installed a series of halogen track lights, which he says are ideal in spaces such as condos where you must work around the placement of the electric junction boxes in the cement ceilings.
Over the dining table, he mixed things up a bit with the installation of an industrial-looking cable lighting system. "We wanted something a bit cool, a bit artsy but nothing that would block the space like a big chandelier."
Another big challenge was furniture placement because of layout limitations. With only one large wall in the living room, it was the obvious place for the sofa, leaving a smaller perpendicular wall for the television. "You can't have five people over and [have]everyone see the TV perfectly." But, he says, placing the TV against the large wall and floating the sofa in the middle of the room didn't make best use of the space. "You always have some tradeoffs."
Aside from the large, red reproduction Saarinen Womb chair that Mr. Schwabe insisted on buying, Mr. Suraci ensured the remaining furnishings were "the right size, the right proportion and practical. Nothing in this space is frivolous," he says.
In the long hallway, he hung floating white shelves, which open up and provide "a ton of storage and [a]practical place to hide keys." In the minimalist cube of a bedroom, there's only a bed and small side tables. Instead of cramming in dressers, the standard one-shelf, one-bar closets were reconfigured for maximum storage.
Mr. Schwabe recently sold his place in five days for more than 10 per cent above his asking price, entertaining six different offers. "It was a breeze," he says. "I really attribute that to what we did with the place," he says. "If you look at a lot of the other units for sale, they're just beige boxes."
Special to The Globe and Mail