How to make 800 square feet feel twice the size
The greatest compliment Lauren Bradshaw received on her Mar Vista apartment came at an unlikely time: as she and her family were moving out.
“This place is so … tiny?” her friend said, the words echoing in the empty room. “You made it feel so big.”
The friend was right on the money, of course, and speaking on several levels: Bradshaw has a seemingly magic way of making things feel larger than life. Her children’s book, “Henry’s Bright Idea,” about a clever fox and his friends on the hunt for a lost idea, creates a great big world that delights toddlers and young kids. It’s based on her line of handmade dolls, Walnut Animal Society, which brings the couture-like stuffed woodland animals to life, thanks to natty, locally sourced details and simple, charming facial features. And her unassuming yet bubbly personality makes one feel as if you’re the only person in the room, bathed in her enthusiastic light.
But back to that empty apartment. Or before then, we should say. Bradshaw is a decorator who used her apartment as a sort of breeding ground for establishing her style. One-of-a-kind pillows mixed with IKEA, antiques with Craigslist finds, Eames with DIY projects.
In the bedroom alone she used IKEA parts and gold paint to fashion her desk, hand-stamped the pattern onto found fabric for the bolster pillow, wove the wallhanging and even custom-mixed the paint color: a sunset-cloud hybrid made from Benjamin Moore’s Opal and Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground.
Of course, her craftiness, while prodigious, wasn’t all that propelled an 800-square-foot, second-story rental into an airy and welcoming family home that left guests — many of whom resided in twice-as-large houses — downright envious.
Bradshaw attributes the home’s larger-than-life feel to several things, chief among them her skillful deployment of rugs. “We were able to make each space feel like its own room with every rug,” Bradshaw explains. “It seemed like we had a dining room, family room and kitchen, even though technically they were the same room.”
She also made a quick study of breaking the rules in order to carve out more space. First up: the plants. General wisdom states that small spaces shouldn’t waste floor space on anything not technically useful (see: sofa, lamp, desk). But Bradshaw’s fiddle leaf fig and rubber tree didn’t just add oxygen, they opened up the home.
“The life that a plant brings to a room — it’s almost like having a happy person in the room all the time,” she says. “And the small act of taking care of it, and watching it grow and change, that brings an extra energy.” It also helps if you, like the Bradshaws, purchase plants at a small size and allow them to grow into the space: that ceiling-height fiddle leaf fig was once just a couple feet tall.
Rules might also dictate that sectionals are for McMansions only, but Bradshaw used theirs, a model from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, to carve out a makeshift entryway, where she pulled off another two-for-one move: a desk in place of an entryway console. Accented by an IKEA chair that spends much of its life pushed all the way in, artwork that masks the computer into seeming like part of a gallery wall and one of those life-lending plants, it’s perhaps the most welcoming and productive take on the often-odd by-the-door spot.
Attitude also played a large role. “Joseph and I learned early on: You can’t have too big of an argument in a tiny little home,” Bradshaw says, laughing. “I also loved how close by our kids always were — hearing them play, even while I was trying to work! It felt like our own cozy little treehouse, up on the second story.”
The Bradshaws have since packed it all up, said goodbye to the honey-wood herringbone floors and marble counters, and moved to Nashville. There, Joseph, who works as a country music singer and songwriter, will be closer to the industry, while the whole family, including Arlo, 2, and Henry, 6, will enjoy the closer proximity to extended family.
With Los Angeles in her rearview mirror, Bradshaw continues her L.A.-style hustle of multiple business projects, including bringing her inspired interiors business to larger square footage and writing a sequel to her first book.
As she wrote in “Henry’s Bright Idea,” of the colorful woodland gang of characters, “their mission is to create and to always remain curious.” Sounds like she could be talking about her own crew.