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Decorating Small Spaces

How can you take a really small space and make it bigger? How can you really commit to decorating if you don't own the place?

Janet Lee, a designer for, is a born city dweller. She has lived in small rental apartments for most of her adult life, and her passion is interior decorating. In recent years, Lee has figured out fantastic ways to make small spaces look sophisticated and chic. And the best part of her ideas? They are all noncommittal, which makes them perfect for a rental space.

Lee shared some of her small space decorating tips on "The Early Show" Thursday for people who want to make their apartment seem a little bigger, and a little more livable.

Lee said she believes good design takes courage.

"There are no rules," she said. "Go with your gut and just give it a try. It's when you break the rules that something interesting happens."

Another mantra of Lee's is that no design is set in stone. Good interior design should be forever evolving, according to Lee.

"From time to time, change around your seating area, switch rugs from one room to the next, (and) rotate photos in your picture frames," she said. "You'd be surprised how energizing this can be."

Whether you're living in rental or some other form of transitional housing, Lee said you can create a wonderful, stylish place to live in. In fact, she said she looks at rentals as "decorating labs" where she can test out all of her ideas without a full commitment.

Recently, Lee completely refurbished her friend's tiny New York apartment. She shared how she completed the project on "The Early Show" using the techniques below. While she was putting the room together, she blogged on the Web site about how she did it:


First Lee painted one wall a very bright color (Benjamin Moore paint in Pink Corsage). Why? Her philosophy is that people embrace big bold color, and that it creates an illusion of space in a small apartment.



Recently, I was asked by a friend to bring new life to her living room. She had 16-foot tall walls, and a very short budget to work with. I decided to create these beautiful butterflies as art for the wall, and I laminated them for strength and structure. Click here for good laminator for under $40.

I cut them out of French inspired gift wrapping paper. You can find the paper at Kate's Paperie for $4.50 a sheet. And because I really am not good at drawing, I used an inexpensive butterfly cookie cutter as my template. Here is a good one for just 75 cents.

I put my handy heat seal laminator to good use and laminated each butterfly. If you don't have one, a big office supply store like Staples or Kinko's can laminate them for you. I called Staples, and they will laminate an 8x10" sheet for $2.00! You can fit eight butterflies on one laminating sheet. And at 25 cents a butterfly, that's a bargain!

I then cut out each laminated butterfly, folded them slightly in the middle so the wings would take a two dimensional shape and adhered each one with a Velcro dot. You can find the dots at drug stores and office supply stores.

The great thing about using the Velcro dots is that once you put them on the wall, you can adjust the position of the butterflies at any time.


One of the great details of redecorating was a white frame she used on the pink wall. It really made the color pop, and Lee said it was really easy to make:

Lee said she loves to mix it up when it comes to different design styles in a space, especially when it's shy of vital square footage. A little vintage here, a smidge of art deco there keeps the eye entertained and keeps the mind away from a room's shortcomings.

I searched everywhere for an inexpensive rococo style frame with lots of curly shapes and dramatic molding, but they were just too much for what I wanted to spend, so I found an easy way to make my own. I found a plain white, flat frame and ordered pieces of decorative molding from

Each piece cost between $2.50-3.50. I used hot glue to attach the molding in place. Then I used papier-mache (my favorite is Celluclay that you just mix with water) and filled in all of the empty spaces between the molding. After that dried, I applied a skim coat of a product called Paperclay.

It's a smoother air-drying clay that will give the frame a more finished look. Let that dry one or two days and then paint on two layers of gesso and finish with two layers of white paint. I know it may sound like a tedious process, but it really is kind of therapeutic, and the result is so satisfying. Use your new frame around a mirror to make any hallway or bedroom look important. It will make you go absolutely cuckoo for rococo!


These stools are very simple to make and make a great seating space, or the perfect ottoman. For about $1.45 a yard, Janet found a new appreciation for burlap:

I recovered $19.99 ottomans I found on EBay with French vintage grain sacks that were $45 each. I finished them with decorative nail heads and green grosgrain ribbon I found for $2.00 a yard. To tie in the theme, I sewed silk pillows on my friend's couch and backed them with burlap to match for a great look and great savings on more expensive fabric.


This is a professional looking piece of art that you can do yourself.

For a modern twist on a classic Victorian silhouette, I surprised my friend with one of her very own in the colors pink and brown. I took a photo of her profile -- she had no clue why -- and printed it out onto photo paper. I cut out her image, and then used it as a template to trace onto brown paper. Make sure to include little details like eyelashes, eyeglasses, a crooked smile etc.

Once I cut the silhouette out of brown paper, I glued it onto a pink background. I framed everything in an inexpensive shadow box from Ikea that came with a white matte. I loved the idea of trailing my friend's long ponytail outside of the "box" -- or matte in this case. It is the easiest project, and it would be loads of fun to do one of your family, favorite pet or friend. Try fun color combinations like yellow on green, turquoise and white or orange and brown. They really make great personalized gifts too!


Lee was inspired to the idea from seeing the shrink-wrapped ads in the subway, which cover the entire car or inside of the car. She figured that most people have to have ugly metal file cabinets in their homes. So why not cover it with a neat shrink wrap to make them look more fashionable and chic? Here is how she did it:

Some fashionistas out there may argue that the "Mac Daddy" of all designer labels is none other than Louis Vuitton, and I would be remiss not to have a touch of the Louis Vuitton in my living room. I took a boring metal file cabinet and covered it in vinyl adhesive. I ordered everything from a company called For more on these looks featured on "The Early Show," click here.