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Multifunctional furniture can help when you're short on space

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Real Estate,Dee Ann Divis
So you've moved into a small but darling loft in D.C. -- or just purchased a sweet little Colonial in Old Town Alexandria. Now the problem is space. Delightful as your new home is, it doesn't leave you much room with which to work. And the loft presents a design challenge as well. You may have windows and lots of light but what do you do when your kitchen, living room, office and bedroom are all in one room?

Not to worry. Convertible furniture ...can help you maximize floor space, expand your storage and instantly switch the character of a room.

The classic example of convertible furniture is the Murphy bed: a drop-down bed that tips up into a cabinet to give you floor space in daytime hours. Murphy beds can be ideal for cramped spaces, especially where living space isn't separate from sleeping space (like in a studio apartment).

Then there's the Murphy desk bed that converts from a desk to a bed in a matter of minutes. And the best part is you can slide the desk portion of the apparatus up and down without having to remove anything from the desk. When the contraption is in "bed mode," the desk surface is hidden away underneath.

Murphy beds can be expensive, though, and may not be the best choice if you don't plan to live in the space a long time, said Jill Valeri, president of the Welcome Home in Ellicott City, Md. An alternative is to purchase or build an extra-deep banquette for use with your dining table. "When you remove the back cushions, it's the same size as a twin bed," she explained. Put a fitted sheet over the seat cushions and you can use it as a guest bed. Add some storage space for those bed linens, too, by adding drawers underneath.

If you have a small kitchen or minimal dining space, you might consider a fold-down table like Porada's Tip Over hybrid, which serves as a dual-function wall mirror and dining table. When not in use, it folds up to the wall into a handsome oak mirror, and when you need to pull out a table for company, you open the frame of the mirror into legs, and tip it over for a contemporary-style eating surface. These mirror-to-table pieces are available at Poliform Washington in D.C.

But if you don't want to go to the expense of buying a piece of trendy Italian convertible furniture, you can make your own or hire a skilled cabinetmaker to do it. Robin Prior with Gilded Manor in Fairfax suggests using an antique armoire or former TV cabinet and installing a fold-down table into it to use for a desk or dining surface.

If you're looking to maximize space in a living room, consider a sectional sofa with a reversible chaise that will allow you to switch which side it's on in the event you move to another house or apartment. Then use a large round ottoman with storage space inside as your cocktail table. It can serve as table, footrest and storage chest all in one. You can also purchase small square ottomans for tight spaces that have convertible tops that switch to tables, making them multifunctional as well.

"In this transitional time, people are trying to get more bang for their buck," says Charlie Heck with Rowe Fine Furniture in McLean, which sells a variety of convertible storage ottomans. "People want pieces that just don't serve one purpose."

ddivis@washingtonexaminer.com

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