A pared back palette of exposed brick, timber accents and cool neutrals, combined with crafty devices to maximize space, makes this petite downtown Vancouver condo feel like an airy Manhattan loft.

While the adage that good things come in small packages is seldom applied to real estate, Tina Wilson’s condo in downtown Vancouver is testament to the potential of compact spaces. Covering a cozy 562 square feet on one of the city’s busiest streets, this one-bedroom abode neatly packages a careful combination of natural materials, neutral furnishings and contemporary touches that belies its modest size. But if you walked into the 1914 property just one year ago, the design wouldn’t have been quite so forgiving.

“It was an ’80s renovation with green walls and dark rooms. It just wasn’t a functional space and felt quite claustrophobic,” recalls Wilson, who bought the condo back in 2014 with plans to transform it into an investment property. “But I saw the potential; I loved the exposed brick and original fir flooring, which lent itself to the kind of high-end investment property we were looking to create for short-term tenants.”

Drawing on her creative talents as a costume designer, as well as her husband’s practical experience as a welder and the expertise of general contractor Brent Stephenson from Summit Renovations, Wilson designed a space that felt more light, modern and, above all, spacious. Starting in the bathroom, she replaced a bulky bathtub with a sleek walk-in shower and substituted wall-mounted designs for the toilet and sink. Outdated shower surfacing was refreshed with new white marble walls and modern black hexagonal tiling.

In the kitchen, she opened up a cumbersome U-shaped layout, making way for an industrial rolling island bench, which now complements matte black pendant lights overhead. New white cabinetry supports a sense of spaciousness, while oversized appliances were replaced with space-saving alternatives. But perhaps the greatest addition to the kitchen was the discovery of the timber ceiling.

“In typical ’80s fashion, when the last renovations were done, everything got boxed in with drywall which hid these beautiful historic features,” explains Wilson. “One day, we were taking off the drywall in the hallway when we discovered a little piece of timber underneath. My husband automatically fell in love with it and was adamant about exposing the ceiling timber in the kitchen, which I thought was impossible at the time. It took three weeks straight of sanding.”

Continuing their quest in the lounge room to make the condo feel light and airy, Wilson painted the walls white, replaced trim with lighter stained fir and installed an inviting window seat, which now doubles as a storage compartment.

Mindful of a decor that would appeal to a wide variety of future tenants, the couple decided on an understated palette of neutrals, punctuated by subtle hints of blues and greens.

“We tried to create a space that’s not particularly masculine or feminine but still feels warm and homey. As a lover of colour myself, it was a challenge,” admits Wilson, who also works in surface pattern design.

Though the modernized property has taken on a decidedly more industrial feel, it has been softened with a tasteful selection of potted plants, textured fabrics and vintage-inspired details throughout. Whatever this stylish condo lacks in size, it makes up for in ingenious design and luxurious finishes.

Tina Wilson’s Small-Space Tips

1. Choose furnishings that direct eyes upward. “We wanted to keep everything off the floor where possible to make it feel as though there were more room,” says Wilson, who strategically placed furnishings and chose fittings that encouraged a sightline. “In the lounge room, for instance, it’s the white moulded plastic chair with wire legs and the white rug on the window seat that catch your eye first, which are both elevated pieces. Similarly, in the bathroom, we went for wall-mounted options with the toilet and sink to save on space and lift eyes off the floor.”

2. Downsize on appliances. Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to buying kitchen appliances—the homeowners chose models that fit the space to help create a sense of spaciousness. “There was this huge double-door refrigerator wedged into the corner of the kitchen that just didn’t make sense in a one-bedroom condo, especially for short-term tenants,” recalls Wilson. “We replaced it with a narrower design, which gave us so much more room to work with.”

3. Use mirrors to reflect light and create space. Coupling white surfaces with a selection of mirrors and mirrored cabinets throughout the whole home proved a simple yet effective way to make the condo feel bigger. “It really was a cost-efficient way to create the illusion of more space,” says Wilson. “It worked really well with painting the walls with white gloss paint, which also helped to bounce the light around and make the condo feel airy.”