Love grows best in little houses. When Brooke Christen saw that statement on a decorative sign as she was shopping one day, she felt like the artist was speaking directly to her. At the time, she and her husband, Kevin, were figuring out life in a 1,100-square-foot home in Connecticut with two young children. They were far from family, and their new home was three times smaller than the house they left behind in Utah. "The moment I read it," Brooke says, "I knew we'd adopt it as our motto."
For Brooke, the move to the 1950s Cape Cod (which she'd seen only in photos before setting off across the country) meant paring down. At the same time, she didn't want to be afraid to bring in large-scale pieces, including her great-grandmother's piano where her two girls continue to learn to play. "I say go big or go home," says Brooke, an interior designer who blogs about decorating at Nesting With Grace. "I find if you use bigger pieces, your house can actually look bigger."
Five years after the move, and with a third child added to the mix, the Christen house is full to the brim with cozy accents. Going small has simply meant getting creative in stylish ways. "It surprised me that really you don't sacrifice anything in a smaller house," Brooke says. "We chose location-close to schools and downtown-over square footage and couldn't be happier."
Anything is fair game for a paint job, according to Brooke, including her great-grandmother's piano. Painted a chalky pale pink (with a wax top finish), the piano doesn't take up a lot of visual space within the tight confines of the living room. "I always like the look of neutrals, but when I try them, it feels off," Brooke says. "This pink is pale enough it mixes well with any color."
The living room built-ins and window seat sold Brooke on the house when she saw photos of it. "I love the thought of curling into a window seat with a good book, and I love catching my kids doing it," she says. The large sofa (with a single cushion for a streamlined look) provides plenty of seating. Brooke opted for a natural linen that wouldn't overwhelm the room.
In the built-ins, she pulled out a few shelves to create larger openings that are perfect for holding bigger items—which in turn allow the eye to rest. Swivel chairs add flexibility to a tight space and spin to allow for group chats or quiet moments facing the fireplace.
Although the Christens' home had loads of charm, one thing it lacked was a fireplace. Brooke got creative in the living room, adding an electric insert framed out by bricks. To get an idea of scale, she taped off the area for the insert and mantel. She landed on placing the mantel at about eye level to make the walls appear taller. "Putting it closer to the fireplace visually cut the room in half," she says.
The look before was dark and dated. Now it's light and bright. For Brooke, remodeling the kitchen was a game changer-making the space seem visually larger and lifting her spirits. To save money, the couple kept the existing configuration and the original cabinet bones, opting for new doors and a new white color scheme. New hard maple butcher-block countertops and brass hardware warm up the white cabinets, appliances, and subway tile backsplash. A patterned porcelain tile underfoot adds bold interest.
Brooke grabs storage space wherever she can. To free up cabinet space, the kettle lives on the stove, knives and pot holders are mounted to the side of the fridge, and a big basket on top of the fridge serves as a makeshift pantry for bags of snacks. She's also ruthless about what lives inside the cabinets. "There's only one mug allowed per family member, plus two extra for guests," Brooke says. "When it comes to storage in a small kitchen, you just have to be selective about what you keep. We try to store only things we use daily."
Brooke wasn't afraid to reassign rooms. When the dining room became Finn's bedroom, she carved out an eating area in the kitchen. "Building a banquette with a round table gave us space to do that," Brooke says. The banquette provides storage for small appliances and the kids' craft items. An oversize light fixture defines the eating nook, but Brooke made sure her pick had an airy look so it wouldn't overpower. Small floating shelves hold a few bowls and dishes. "I love to use everyday items as decor," Brooke says.
Movie night. Play room. Guest bedroom. What was originally a bedroom is now a much-used hangout that reflects Brooke's belief in making rooms work for how your family lives. "We get our money's worth out of this room," she says. A drop-leaf table-a $10 find at an antiques store that Brooke refreshed with gray paint-has a slim profile, allowing it to work as an end table when its leaves are not extended for playing games.
Poufs work as a coffee table or for seating-and are easy to move when converting the sofa into a bed. A sleeper sofa floats in the center of the room, defining the dormer area behind it as the kids' play area while smartly shielding toys from the main sitting area. Two types of peel-and-stick wallpaper-a bird print and faux brick motif-add textural interest.
Sharing a bedroom was new to Ella and Lola, who discovered they liked it as much as Brooke liked the comfort of having them together in one room. Brooke broke with space-saving convention, nixing bunk beds for twin beds with storage. "I'm in love with the look of side-by-side twin beds," she says, also noting that she likes the accessibility for both girls.
Accent walls done with bold wallpaper-usually peel-and-stick for installation ease-are one of Brooke's signature looks. "The wall behind a bed is one of the best places for an accent wall," she says. For the girls' room, she wanted a pattern (and overall look) that wasn't too childish. The ocean-motif wallpaper nods to the room's subtle beachy vibe.
Brooke looked to the past to give both girls their own desks and yet still fit in a dresser, tucking vintage-style school desks from Walmart under the sloped eaves of the attic bedroom. She painted the legs-one desk pink, one blue-to personalize each piece.
Without a closet, the girls' bedroom relies on drawers for clothes storage. Brooke spotted this pink vintage dresser in a consignment store for less than $100. "I wanted something with character," she says. "Sometimes it takes time to find exactly what you want and for the price you want to pay, but I always find it's worth the wait."
At 10×11 feet, the master bedroom is far from big. Still, Brooke didn't shy away from painting walls a dark moody gray and bringing in a substantial upholstered headboard and footboard. "I really wanted it to feel cozy," she says. The ceiling got a makeover with faux wood wallpaper-a relatively low-cost way to cover up odd tiles.
The couple remodeled the upstairs bath after moving in, but recent changes have made it more livable. A new larger vanity-a counter/sink/base ensemble purchased online-provides better storage. Brooke spray-painted the handles gold to match the faucet and fixtures. The shiplap-style walls are moisture-resistant PVC boards designed for exterior trim. Wood coat hooks are a space-saving alternative to a towel bar.
The spruced-up backyard deck gave the couple something they desperately wanted: space for entertaining. "It feels like our home doubles in size when the weather warms up," Brooke says. The couple freshened everything (rail spindles included) with gray paint and used navy and white porch paint to create a striped "rug" that defines the sitting area. A vinyl privacy screen attached to garden stakes and screwed to the top of the deck cozies up the alfresco seating area.
Concrete primer and bright white paint proved a quick way to pull blah gray concrete steps in line with an updated railing. Brooke took the look up a notch with a black-and-white painted runner. Sporting a coat of pink paint, the new wood door is also an attention-getter and hints at what's to come in the house. The marble pebble walkway was a $30 improvement.