Leah and Chad Steen bough their first home at the height of Seattle's real estate market eight years ago. The early 1900's house had a front yard that consisted of some patchy grass and a parking strip. The previous owners even left the Steen's an apologetic note about the sad-looking state. Although the house was small, the high sticker price left little cash for decorating, but limits only bred creativity. "Designing a small space means you can be discriminating, and vibrant decor updates don't have to be pricey, just imaginative," said Leah.
The front yard is now defined by bright boxwood, complementing the house's bold purple paint. Chad build the side gate from salvaged metal.
To transform the lackluster yard, Chad began by splitting the concrete into jagged pavers, and the Steens inherited the lumber for their fence from a friend. The garden gate and trellises were built using plumbing pipe from Pacific Industrial Supply (pacificindustrial.com).
The Steen's converted their garage into a welcoming, mod guest house. Moss hems the pavers in front of the space, and the window's came from Second Use (seconduse.com), one of Leah's favorite local second-hand shops.
In this funky, yet chic living room, inexpensive furniture mingles with high-end touches. Ikea curtains hang on plumbing pipe, while custom pillows sit atop a bargain (at $579) settee from Urban Outfitters. A hand-painted chinoiserie coffee table rests on an old Pakistani rug ($85 on eBay). "We're all about finding cool things on the cheap," said Leah. "Mainly because I have to, but also because a high-low mix makes a space feel more real."
A $10 framed mirror from Goodwill exudes "high class" with a couple coats of high-gloss red paint. The large oil painting (reflected in the mirror) was just $2 from Second Use.
With no proper dining room, the Steen's use the breakfast nook as such, and also as an art table for their two daughters. The vinyl cushions are specially treated to resist ink and other stains. The benches provide hidden storage under their hinged lids. Bold wallpaper adds a touch of whimsy, accenting a single wall. "In a small house, sometimes touches have to be small, like with patterned wallpaper and fabric," Leah said (Chinatown Toile by Flavor Paper; $150/15-ft. roll; flavorleague.com).
Although the Steen's house is a tight squeeze for the family of four, plus two dogs, it's not a challenge from a design standpoint. "You can make a small space exactly the way you want it, instead of having to fill excess rooms with 'stuff'." said Leah. A mix of inexpensive art--from eBay, Goodwill, and 5-year-old Piper--hangs above an old fire hydrant that serves as a sculpture.
A tray atop a narrow storage cabinet between the living area and the kitchen (really one continuous room) holds ingredients for cocktails, with unique art above.