Livin’ Large

Small spaces need a little help feeling better. While renovating his condo, this homeowner discovered all the tricks.

Sansone chose a premium laminate flooring in Santos mahogany, with reddish tones that complement the marble floor in the kitchen. Tom Sansone learned a lot from living in a 6,000-square-foot home. First and foremost, he figured out he didn’t need that much space, that he could live quite happily with less.

When he moved on to a new place, a 1,000-square-foot condominium in Wilmington, he brought only four pieces of furniture with him: a large cherry bookcase, a highboy dresser, a four-poster bed and a rolltop desk.

“Everything else, I gave away,” he says.

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After Sansone winnowed out the possessions he didn’t need or want from the amenities he truly cared about, he was left with a clear list of priorities.

The jewelry table is a reproduction from the House of Spencer. Photograph by John LewisAt the top of the list was a gourmet kitchen with such indulgences as a Sub-Zero refrigerator—“I absolutely had to have it”—and a professional-style stainless steel range.

He also required a sitting room large enough to watch football games with friends, a small, casual dining area, a bedroom with a view of the city skyline and a mid-size master bath. Add an open-air balcony and a few well-outfitted closets and Sansone was home.

Attaining the polished, masculine vibe he wanted required extensive renovations. He turned to his neighbor, contractor John Piazza, to take on the job of transforming a plain vanilla box into a jewel case sparkling with interesting architectural details.

The first step was to open up the condo by removing a large section of wall that separated the kitchen from the living room.

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Sansone insisted his bedroom have a view of the Wilmington skyline. Photograph by John Lewis“This way, I can cook while my friends are watching the game and I don’t miss any of the action,” Sansone says.

There’s room for both function and glamour in the galley-style kitchen. Sansone brought in the team from the Kitchen Gallery Inc. in Wilmington to design a layout that maximizes storage with 42-inch tall cabinets in a rich cherry stain. A pair of drawer-size dishwashers is ideal for a single guy who doesn’t use many dishes.

The glam is supplied by crown-and-dentil moldings, tumbled marble backsplash, granite counter tops with a curved, ogee edge and a floor of rojo alicante pavers, a deep red marble quarried in Spain.

Built in the 1970s, the condo was constructed from concrete. Concrete floors are typically covered with carpet because they are incompatible with hardwoods, which need space to breathe.

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“But I had my heart set on wood, so I started looking at engineered woods that look amazingly like the real thing,” Sansone says.

He chose a premium laminate in Santos mahogany, with reddish tones that complement the marble floor in the kitchen.

A glass-top dining table visually enlarges the living room because it doesn’t interrupt the line of sight. Photograph by John LewisWood floors also help to make a space appear more expansive. Sansone applied a few other maximizing design principles to his condo. Vertical storage, such as bookcases and tall dressers, claims much less valuable floor space than pieces with a low, horizontal profile. Enclosed storage is streamlined and less cluttered than open shelving.

Large windows and glass sliding doors are dressed simply, with tailored, retractable shades that don’t compete with the view or eat up space in the interior.

The biggest lesson Sansone learned in decorating a small space is to keep an eye on the details. In the bathroom, he invested in a high-end seamless shower door that doesn’t break the view of the custom tile work inside.

Throughout the condo is custom millwork, including a fluted column topped with carved acanthus leaves. There are opulent crown moldings and a substantial chair rail in the living area. Baseboards are enhanced with stately detailing.

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 The galley-style kitchen maximizes storage with 42-inch cabinets. Photograph by John Lewis“That’s plank molding, no corner rounds here,” Sansone notes. “The difference in price is less than 50 cents a foot—and it makes it look like a million bucks.”

He bought most of his furniture at Pala Bros. in Wilmington, tearing a photograph of a leather sofa with a tufted back from a magazine and asking the store to find it for him.

“I shopped every day for two weeks at the store,” Sansone says. “And if there was something I didn’t find there, they tracked it down and ordered it for me.”

His sister, Kathryn Mello, became his personal shopping aide, picking out Murano glass pendant lights for the kitchen and a vibrant, multicolor print fabric to upholster the contemporary parson-style chairs in the dining area.

“She has a feeling for that sort of thing, and I was completely comfortable with just letting her run with it,” he says.

When it came to selecting the palette for the condo, Sansone handed over the paint chips to his sister, who chose a clear, pale aqua for the walls of the kitchen and master bedroom.

“People tell me it looks very nice but to me it’s gray—but a gray I like,” Sansone says.

Get the Look

  • To maximize windows, minimize window dressings. Voluminous drapes can make a space feel more enclosed. Streamlined, tailored blinds offer privacy yet maintain a feeling of spaciousness.
  • A glass-top table makes a dining area appear larger because the surface doesn’t break the visual flow. (But cover the glass with a tablecloth for dining to prevent scratches.)
  • Borrow space from adjoining rooms. Opening a passage between a kitchen and a sitting area makes both spaces look and feel larger.
  • Invest in a large piece of furniture. It will anchor the room and make a statement. The trick is to blend in smaller pieces to achieve a sense of balance and harmony.
  • Consider hardwood floors. They make a room look more expansive than wall-to-wall carpeting does.
  • Keep everything in its place. If you live in a small space, it helps to be a neatnik.

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