One on One With Diane Skaggs


There is nothing like walking into a home, feeling the flow of form and function immediately make its presence known. The manipulation of lighting, space, colors and accessories is necessary when dealing with small spaces such as cottage homes or even a guest house out back.

Sometimes structure makes it impossible to open up the interior entirely, but there are tricks of the trade that can provide openness characterized by bright continuous flowing space and even allow for more storage.

Enter Diane Skaggs. She is a problem solver. A problem solver equipped with an interior design degree, a combination that allows her to implement the grandest ideas in the smallest of spaces. Having just finished work on a project that remedied inefficient use of space, she shared with me some of her techniques for dealing with the problem and magically creating a comfortable place with plenty of room to breathe.



Q:  Designing for small spaces such as cottages or guest houses poses certain challenges any designer. What is your point of view when making changes?

A:  My focus usually is to create an efficient home and workspace within the confines of the small area. I like to open up the space and avoid any kind of confinement by creating a functional floor plan. Lighting too is essential as well as providing more storage room. I just recently transformed a place with a fabulous ocean view into a little treasure by the sea.


Q:  How does one work with remodeling small living spaces?

A:  An effective way to solve any layout problem in a small space is to simplify the design as much as possible. Eliminating elements that are not essential to the home and creating a setting dominated by clear, pure lines makes the interior seem larger and brighter.


Q:  What parts did you focus on first?

A:  A dramatic change can occur by removing ceiling soffits. The soffits that house heating ducts can be replaced with a wall mounted, low profile energy efficient heating system. You can also remove doors, gaining inches here and there and allowing for more space. On the cottage project, an air return duct was removed and this allowed for additional closet space. And by aligning all the ceiling heights to match helps create a space that feels much larger; a space that breathes and doesn’t feel hemmed in.



Q:  How does one create the perfect kitchen in small cottage space?

A:  I’ll site one of my recent remodels that had kitchen space problems. The original kitchen was a galley style with counters flanking opposite walls. I created a U shaped kitchen, adding cabinet space & counter space. I also removed ductwork & soffits from above, creating height and an expanse of volume in the kitchen. Shortening up one of the walls removed bulk from the interior. The kitchen cabinets looked best in a horizontal wood grain. The material choice launched a clean, linear look that I repeated in a number of ways throughout the cottage. For example I mounted the cabinet hardware horizontally instead of in the typical vertical fashion. Linear, horizontal backsplash tile was chosen in the kitchen, and in the bath 24 x 24” floor tiles were cut down to 9 x 24” and laid along the length of space making the space seem larger and at the same time repeating the clean, linear element of design. Also, an elongated subway tile was used in the shower area.


Q:  Any other key factors to apply?

Multifunctional objects in a small space requires solutions to various challenges. I’ve had a custom built wall-hung sliding door in the bathroom designed complete with mirrors on both sides to create the illusion of more space. By framing it on all sides it looked like a wall hung mirror instead of sliding doors. The door served as a full-length mirror when rolled to the right of the bathroom door, but when moved to the left it served as a bathroom door thereby taking one function and using it as another. In addition the mirror on the opposite side of the door became a full-length mirror in the bathroom.


Q:  Flooring can make a difference in providing the illusion of space, yes?

Yes. When various flooring materials are used it causes the eye to stop and start, creating visual clutter and making the space appear smaller. I like to choose no more than two materials when dealing with small spaces such as tile for the bath and maybe Maple hardwood for the remaining spaces. By using the same hardwood in the majority of the space unifies all the rooms, marrying adjacent living spaces, and creating a feel of more space without the addition of square footage.



Q:  Certain colors definitely can enhance or take away space. What would be your choices?

A:  For instance, wooden floors are complimented by a soft warm color palette. Elegant simplicity is one way. Don’t use anything that would dominate the space or make it feel smaller. Concentrate on neutrals like warm grays for accent walls and add a strategic bit of Bahama Beach Blue that can tie into the bedroom or other room.


Q:  How can lighting be used to help open up and improve space?

A:  Using a decorative wall sconce can create a warm, mellow ambiance that creates a nice cozy feeling. Play around with mini adjustable spots and run them along the ceiling, placing them close to the wall running the entire length of the space. The wall can serve as a display for artwork while the light serves a dual purpose – it washes the wall where artwork now resides and adds a layer of lighting to the space.


Q:  Bathrooms are another focus of enhancements. What do you suggest?

A:  Once again, I’ll sight my work on the cottage. The seldom used bathtub was removed and a walk in shower was constructed in its place to create clean lines. A full height cabinet was installed beside the shower, providing a new storage space within the bathroom. Wall sconces were added, a light in the shower and the installation of overhead cans replaced a single fluorescent ensconced within a dim overhead soffit. This change brightened up the dingy feel of the fluorescent lighting. The old built in sink cabinet that absorbed too much space was replaced with a floating vanity, narrower and not as deep allowing for more breathing room in the bath. The look was completed with a trough style lavatory and open shelving below. The original floor plan specified two lavatories and the client wanted to keep both, so a slightly smaller identical vanity complete with trough lavatory was placed in a newly added mini hallway just outside the bathroom.




Diane Staggs, Allied ASID

Diane Grace Interiors