- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Dot-com executive C. Payne Lucas Jr. lives large in a small space. It can be done. He has made his 600-square-foot space look twice as large with a little coral-colored paint, a wall divider

accentuated by African drums and a fireplace that draws attention away from size and toward a comfort zone. Mr. Lucas has learned how to make a full house out of two aces and two eights.

He's the chief executive officer of the Web site TempZone.com, a temporary staffing and human resources consulting firm on Capitol Hill near Union Station. He could live anywhere he wants, in any size abode he wants — but square footage does not a home make. He believes that; he lives it, and he loves his apartment at the Car Barn of Capitol Hill, a gated complex in Northeast. It has cachet, and each apartment has its own distinctive features, such as a skylight or a fireplace.

"Within a minute of seeing the space, I said, 'This is it,'" says Mr. Lucas, 33. "I had looked at two spaces within the same complex, but the real draw for me was the two separate entrances to the apartment. The two doors gave me access on both sides of the building, which was very important."

The busy businessman didn't decorate on his own. He's constantly on the run and has no time. That's where interior designer Bill Johnson fits in. There's no rule that says just because you live in a small space, you can't get an assist from a pro.


Mr. Johnson, a graduate of Marymount University in Arlington, opened the Bill Johnson Studio in Northwest in 1995. He has worked wonders in spaces from coast to coast that range from 100 to 1,500 square feet.

Like his colleagues, Mr. Johnson has a knack for inventing space.

Mr. Lucas longed for serene surroundings, a warm, inviting space where he could center himself and unwind after an average 15- to 16-hour workday. He wanted his space to reflect his tastes: Style was a must, organization mandatory.

The fireplace in the living room served as the focal point. Along with the dual entrances, the hearth was a big draw, Mr. Lucas says, but he envisioned a totally different look and feel for his new digs. He decided to rearrange the apartment's floor plan.

The 166-square-foot bedroom seemed small and lacked character, but the possibilities seemed endless in the 252-square-foot living-room space, he says.

"I wanted my bedroom to be elegant and distinctive, and I wanted to enjoy the pleasure of having a fireplace. So, this was an opportunity for me to express myself in that fashion," the bachelor says.

Mr. Lucas conferred with his interior designer about the layout of his subbasement apartment. Mr. Johnson in turn came up with a creative solution. Remember, Mr. Johnson thinks big.

"Mr. Lucas wanted to create a bedroom setting in the living-room space, where the fireplace is located. The dilemma however, was the original living-room configuration led directly into the dining area and kitchen space," says Mr. Johnson, 32.

To create a separate space and provide privacy, Mr. Johnson, a member of the Organization of Black Designers (OBD) in Southwest, suggested an architectural modification and got management's permission.

"Since it's a small space, with 8-foot ceilings, I built a 5-foot-tall open-ended subwall which is anchored by an iron rod," the interior designer says.

"The subwall provides privacy and seclusion without closing off the space entirely. So, the larger space still maintains an open, airy feel," Mr. Johnson says.

Once that task had been accomplished, the two talked about color schemes and the visual tricks that can make a room appear larger and remove its boundaries.

Palettes and personalities go hand in hand. So do scale and balance, Mr. Johnson says.

The designer says that based on his client's color preferences, the location of the apartment and the parameters of the space, he used a palette of six colors that ranged from "Cajun Spice," slightly lighter than a paprika hue, to "Country Berry," a soft, pale lavender. The subtle color changes give the space continuity, Mr. Johnson says.

"The reason I used bright colors overall was because his apartment doesn't get a lot of light, so I wanted to use vibrant colors that would brighten up the apartment — but not lose sight of the fact that it's a man's space," Mr. Johnson says.

To imprint his signature on the space, Mr. Lucas says he simply gathered together his favorite belongings.

He liked Mr. Johnson's philosophy about not having to spend prohibitive amounts of money to decorate a home tastefully and still achieve the desired effect, Mr. Lucas says.


Mr. Lucas' furnishing are far from the generic, nondescript items, however. Mr. Johnson had the distinct pleasure of accessorizing with furniture, art and artifacts from around the world, collected by Mr. Lucas' father, C. Payne Lucas Sr., the president and founder of Africare, and his mother, Freddie Lucas, a former senior Washington lobbyist for General Motors Corp. The couple hopscotched the globe for three decades.

"My parents traveled back and forth to Africa for 30 years. So, I've become a collector of African art not only for myself, but for my family. I put up pieces in my home that are most meaningful to me," Mr. Lucas says.

African masks from Ghana, pressure drums, batiks from Mali and hand-carved mahogany furniture from Norway give Mr. Lucas' home a decidedly masculine feel.

To accentuate the subwall and not just use it as a tool for division, Mr. Johnson placed four African drums covered with zebra skins on the subwall's shelf — making it multifunctional.

Mr. Johnson then grouped colorful hand-woven straw baskets of various sizes from Mali on the bedroom wall. A framed mirror hung near the fireplace reflects the light, adds depth to the room and gives the optical illusion of twice as much artwork.

Reflecting on the use of mirrors, David Rice, the founder of the Organization of Black Designers, says they are an excellent way to maximize space. Here's a tip or two from another pro in the business of beautiful places and spaces:

"People tend to overuse mirrors. It's a cliche trick. Instead of placing mirrors on an entire wall, do a corner, or a column. Everything varies based on the situation," Mr. Rice says.

Most important, the interior designer says, steer clear of mirrored tiles with designs etched on them. He suggest using large pieces instead to achieve the effect. A framed mirror above a fireplace mantle works just as nicely as a framed picture or painting. The mirror reflects the light and gives the illusion of a larger space.

Here's another tip: If the space is small, it's better to use vertical blinds or horizontal blinds at the windows and avoid heavy window treatments, Mr. Rice says.

There's no place like home, Mr. Lucas says.

"Without question, I truly do love my small space. It's functional, it's manageable, and it's attractive. But more than that, I feel good in it. What else could you ask for when you get home after a long day?" he says with a broad smile.

Designers agree that in the end, "It's not so much about size, it's really about style," Mr. Johnson says.


Mr. Lucas isn't the only one who has made a palace out of a petit place.

LeAnna Joyner, 23, moved to the Washington area from Charleston, S.C., two years ago. She shared a house with some female friends in Arlington before finding a place to call her own in the District's historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Ms. Joyner scoured the papers for reasonably priced apartments with no luck. Then, in January she lucked out and found a studio apartment in Northwest.

The apartment space appeared larger on first glance, but Ms. Joyner soon realized she had to scale back her furnishings. She didn't want the space to take on a cluttered, crammed look, she says.

Although she didn't have an interior designer per se, an artist — near and dear to her — painted a picture to make her space blossom.

"I painted my west wall a vibrant yellow, which works very well with the navy-blue sofa. Then I hung a painting of a magnolia blossom on the wall, and it brings everything together. It catches just the right light in the afternoon," Ms. Joyner says.

To maximize her space, her furnishings are proportioned to accommodate it. She opted for a double pullout sofa bed instead of a larger queen size, she says. Some of her furniture does double duty.

"I've got a small end table that doubles as a stool, and it's the perfect height," she says.

Ms. Joyner bought a narrow table for her kitchen area. She jokingly says guests will have to bring their own chairs. Then, she placed a smaller magnolia print over the table to complement the large painting in her living room.

The communications coordinator for Leadership Washington in Northwest says small spaces can be made to seem spacious.

"I'm really happy with my apartment. There's enough space to move around, and I feel comfortable entertaining here," she says. "My biggest challenge was hiding the television, so I got an entertainment unit so I wouldn't have to look at it."

She stays organized in her small space the old-fashioned way, she says.

"I'm a woman, so I have to be mindful to put my clothes away. That's another big challenge to living in a small space," she says.

"I think if you like yourself enough — you can hang out by yourself in a small space. And, of course, I still have room to dance around the apartment," she says with a smile.

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