You'd Never Guess This Is an 800-Square-Foot House

See how a Charleston designer used smart design hacks to save space.

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Trevor Tondro

Designer J.P. Horton’s petite Charleston rental is both his home and his design office. He wows clients—and himself—with vivacious rooms brimming with oversize art and clever furniture hacks. Read on to find out how he turned 800 square feet of living space into a spacious, airy house!

JESSICA MISCHNER: This isn’t your typical 26-year-old’s home.

J.P. Horton: Ha! I’m an old soul. I wanted it to look lived-in and loved, like I’d been there forever. That’s why I use antiques, which instantly confer history.

It looks so much bigger than 800 square feet! What’s your strategy for maximizing space?

I always start by drawing out the floor plan by hand—it gives me the creative liberty to, say, erase a sofa that isn’t working, and clearly see what’s missing. For instance, my living room is also my foyer, so I had to create the sense of an entry. Other space-saving tricks: buying older pieces, because they’re often smaller in scale; utilizing oversize art or gallery groupings to draw the eye upward; and using a variety of lighting—table lamps, floor lamps, sconces—to add depth and dimension to a room.

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Add visual texture by mixing woven fabrics with prints.
Trevor Tondro

So almost everything here is multi­-purpose?

Yes! For me, function always comes first. That’s especially true in a small space, where things inevitably move around. That’s not to say that the colors and upholstery in all the rooms must match, but they definitely need to talk to one another. Plus, I get bored easily, so I’m always mixing things up.

It seems like you’re a rule breaker in all the right ways.

With small spaces, you have to do whatever works. And, let’s be honest, I’m not a minimalist. I have a lot of things, so it was important to me that my house feel collected but not cluttered.

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Symmetry is key to making small spaces feel collected, not cluttered.
Trevor Tondro

How do you draw the line between the two?

To me, collected means taking a group of objects­—travel mementos, family heirlooms, personal items—and editing them down to the most important of the bunch. Accessories, art, and flowers give life to a room and spirit to a home, but you don’t want them all lined up on a shelf. Everything needs to be there for a reason, or it feels cluttered.

You clearly relish a good DIY project.

Early in my career, my budget often demanded that kind of creativity. That midcentury bar cart? I bought it years ago, spray-painted it cream, and lined the glass with fabric. I still love it.

What’s that showstopping artwork in the sunroom?

It’s actually a piece of scenic wallpaper hand-painted by the artist Paul Montgomery. It was a gift from my former design firm, and this was the only room with a ceiling tall enough to accommodate it. I decorated the entire space around it. The walls are in Benjamin Moore Guilford Green; here, it acts as a neutral and helps bring a feeling of the outdoors inside. I’m constantly inspired by nature, and I also specialize in garden design. The blue ceiling nods to the “haint blue” verandas popular in Charleston. I love historic shades because they have complex pigments and tend to change color throughout the day, depending on the light. It’s another subtle way to make a room more interesting. The blue also works with the drapery panels, which help define the space; otherwise, your eye wanders from window to window without a place to land.

But this is about more than aesthetics, right? You don’t just live here, you also work from home. How do you create a separation?

It’s hard. The dining room isn’t only for dinnertime; it’s also for meeting with sales reps and clients. The guest room doubles as my office, so half the room houses my clothing and the bed while the other half is where we stash our materials library and office supplies. My coping method is to stay organized. When I’m in my living room, I don’t want to be staring at fabric samples. I want to relax and enjoy my home.

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