Small space living is a fact of life for many and a deliberate choice for others. Our traditions and conventions say that this is a disadvantage, even a hardship, which is nonsense in my view because we hamstring ourselves to outdated ideas and forms.

I’m corresponding with a friend who is designing a layout to fit in his living room. The environment in a public room is far different than the typical spaces we build in. As a shared space a living room brings a different character and set of expectations. If one considers a layout for such a space, part of the struggle is letting go of old, entrenched ideas and embracing the parameters and requirements of the room.

A layout in such a space should look appropriate to the setting rather than dominate it as conventional construction and forms would. The usual basement layout overpowers the space, not only because of the square footage we devote to such construction but also because we design them to draw our attention. A living room layout should be subtle, not drawing anymore attention than the other objects in the room like a table, a painting or chair. This is incredibly hard to envision because we don’t have good examples of such a design. The few published attempts I’ve seen fall flat for me because they simply dress up a basement layout form in fancier coverings. Iain Rice coined the term cameo: as in an elegantly crafted object, which I think is a good benchmark to design toward.

This little gem that Chris Mears brought to my attention is a stunning example.

There are several aspects that I like, in particular the elegance of the support structure. The legs supporting the light bar reflect that someone cared enough to give them a pleasing sculptural form and finish. They have a lightness, finesse and a fine grade finish that goes beyond simple utility. In addition, that LED strip light all but disappears visually, yet provides more than enough light for the scene.

The backdrop and end panels frame the 3D modeling adequately without calling undue attention to themselves. Again, because of the restraint the builder exercised. They are just tall enough to serve their purpose, yet no more than required. This, in my view, reflects a refined sense of design and taste. I could picture this layout, as is, on display in a public room as a piece of sculpture or kinetic art. It wouldn’t feel out of place because the designer/builder cared enough to make every part of it beautiful.

This cameo layout is complete. It lacks nothing. The North American basement paradigm seems crude in comparison and I’m including my own work in that statement.

Who wrote the rule book that says a layout has to be a box of raw 1x4s, raw styrofoam and plaster, with the size dictated by some multiple of a four by eight sheet of plywood?



  1. Tim David

    It is also small. I travel on the trains it is pictured in the luggage rack of and you’d struggle to fit anything larger than a small backpack in there.

  2. Simon

    Another obvious example is Hepton Wharf, a small P4 layout which is exquisitely presented with wings, proscenium arch and curtains.


  3. Tim David

    Actually, there are loads of small but perfectly presented layouts out there. I do think that the lighting rig on Tresparrett Wharf is particularly neat and works well for the ultra portable nature of the layout, but I prefer a more traditional solid proscenium arch and a higher backscene.

  4. mike

    Thanks for commenting guys. Simon, that’s another nice layout.