For rowhouse dwellers, little is not less


When Karen Graveline moved into her South Baltimore rowhouse six years ago, she had to leave a lot of furniture behind. The sofas and tables that fit so comfortably in her Silver Spring home wouldn't squeeze through the tight doorway of her new place.

After talking to neighbors who had to remove windows or jam favorite pieces through narrow corridors, the graphic designer realized her new city was ripe for a line of "rowhouse ready" furniture. Graveline and her husband, Stanley, began collecting vintage chairs, tables and sofas. They refinished the pieces and sold them at local antique stores. Demand was so great that last winter the Gravelines decided to open their own store.

The result is Home on the Harbor, an eclectic mix of mid-century modern furnishings several inches narrower than theirdepartment-store counterparts. Graveline deliberately chose a space with rowhouse-like proportions -- the Federal Hill storefront is about 14 feet wide -- so customers could see that a little less gives a room a little more.

"People see the value in it. They're so excited that it fits," Graveline said. "They'll say, 'We're so glad there's finally a store like this.' "

Demand on the rise

Furniture manufacturers and decorators say stores like Graveline's are part of a larger trend toward sprucing up small spaces. With the economic crunch forcing families to downsize into smaller homes and mortgage rates so low that young couples are buying condominiums in urban areas, the demand for small but sleek is rising.

In a 2002 study by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, 87 percent of respondents described their home as small or medium-sized.

"There are a lot of people challenged with smaller homes," said AFMA vice president Jackie Hirschhaut. "The industry definitely had to respond with furniture that was properly scaled."

And they have -- with more round tables, home offices designed to fit in corners and entertainment centers that take up less living room space.

Hirschhaut credits the home shows at local convention centers with showing families what's possible in a small space.

The proliferation of television decorating shows is also driving the small-space trend, said Karyn Valino, the marketing coordinator for Umbra, a Toronto-based furniture manufacturer.

"People are so much more educated about how they can be clever," said Valino, whose company supplies some of the pieces at Home on the Harbor. Valino also credits the huge boom in the condominium and townhouse market for encouraging designers to downsize their pieces.

"You really don't have much space in a condo, so you have to be really smart about how you furnish your house," said Valino, who just bought a small house in Toronto and faced a furnishing challenge. "The designers obviously are tapping into the inspirations around, but we also listen to our customers. They'll say, 'we need more laundry storage and shelving storage.' "

At Home on the Harbor, Graveline's tastes lean toward art deco and Danish modern, and she's filled the store with multifunctional credenzas, coffee tables and couches that embody that mod look.

A sleek Metro coffee table doubles as a magazine rack. A rattan ottoman opens to reveal conical storage space. And lamps have retractable reading tables.

"Very few pieces do only one thing," said Melissa Paper, a theater student at University of Maryland Baltimore County who works at the store.

The "rowhouse ready" concept immediately intrigued Paper. When she moved into a South Baltimore rowhouse, she and a roommate had to drag all their furniture through their neighbor's house because few items would fit up their serpentine spiral staircase.

"Baltimore is rowhomes," said Linda Glinos, who lives in Perry Hall and was shopping recently at the store. "But not every style comes for a rowhome."

Graveline knows that all too well. She'll often pass on favorite styles because, ultimately, size matters. Most sofas, for example, are 36 inches deep. Graveline looks for ones that are 30 inches deep, so they'll fit through most rowhouse doors.

Similarly, she looks for sofas less than 72 inches long, an odd hybrid between a love seat and a full-size sofa. If the size is right but the fabric wrong, Graveline may buy it anyway and send it to Maurice's House of Art, a block up Charles Street, for reupholstering.

Maximizing nooks

Decorator Andrea Loran, owner of Loran Design Projects near Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, said her clients in spacious Greenspring Valley and Washington, D.C., homes are often looking to maximize small nooks.

"I just took photos of the smallest den I've ever done in my entire life," Loran said of the one-time porch that is now an 8 foot-by-16 foot den with a love seat, ottoman, and dining room table.

Loran predicts the demand for multifunctional furniture will only increase as the lure of downtown living brings more empty-nesters and former suburban dwellers into condominiums.

And that trend may bring even more people through Graveline's narrow door.

"Our inspiration is the rowhouse -- that's what gave us the idea," she said, "But our customers are from all over the city."

Furnishing small spaces

Karen Graveline, owner of Home on the Harbor furniture store in Federal Hill, offers these tips for decorating in tight spots.

* Hang large vertical mirrors on the wall. Make sure the mirrors reflect something with light, such as a window or a piece of artwork. Be mindful that not all mirrors are created equally, and that small mirrors can clutter a wall.

* Use your tape measure before going furniture-shopping. Often, customers come in to Home on the Harbor and have to go back home to measure a doorway or room. By the time they return, someone else has snapped up that one-of-a-kind vintage sofa.

* Look for low-slung sofas with low backs, which fit more easily through narrow doors. Sofas with high legs look less bulky, and ones with removable legs are easier to shift around.

* Use glass tables -- they're almost invisible and make a room look less cluttered.

* Question traditional layout. Ask yourself if you really need all the pieces that you think a room requires.

* Seek versatile items, such as chairs that fold and can be stored or floor lamps with built-in tables.

-- Rona Kobell

Rowhouse resources

Web Sites

See the hot pink O Chair, creative clocks and other funky multiuse pieces from this Canadian company.

Maple heirloom pieces, distinctive writing desks that double as computer or end tables and other wood pieces.

A resource of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, this site lets you look for styles and prices and offers small-space tips.



3620 Falls Road, Hampden


Multifunctional French Country antiques, including tables with drop leaves and daybeds that can convert into couches

Home on the Harbor

1014 S. Charles St., Federal Hill


New and vintage furnishings designed with the rowhouse in mind

Su Casa

8098 Main St., Ellicott City


901 S. Bond St., Fells Point


Sofas, chairs and ottomans that come in three parts for re-assembly. Store delivers for free within Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties, and the staff is accustomed to working around spiral staircases and other space challenges.


8352 Honeygo Blvd., White Marsh


10100 Baltimore Ave., College Park


The Swedish company's two area stores offer ready to assemble furniture, while its Web site has an entire section on small-space storage, complete with a guide for each room.

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