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Making a Big Scene in Small Space : Compact Costa Mesa Apartment Can't Contain the Imaginations of Tamara and Jeff Beardsley, Who Use Bits of Ribbon, Lots of Paint for Whimsical Interior


Space is a driving force behind decorating and living. The less space, the harder it is to fit in everything you need (and don't need) to live.

Consider a family of three residing in a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. Where does the crib go? Or the dining set? How about space fillers such as a file cabinet, end tables or a rocking chair?

How do you keep the place from resembling a storage shed? Give it some personality when it is one of 700 nearly identical units in a sprawling apartment complex and all changes need to be reversible when you move?

After years of letting those considerations stand in their way, Tamara and Jeff Beardsley of Costa Mesa let their imaginations run wild.

Through uninhibited use of color and detail, they turned their production-style apartment into an environment that is part tropical fairy tale, part Victorian fantasy, part jewelry box.

"People think when you live in a small space you're limited. But it's what you make of it," Tamara said.

"For a long while I thought I couldn't do anything because I didn't have a house, but . . . ," she stops mid-sentence, looking around the living room of the mini-dream home she and Jeff have created in a whirlwind six months.

The couple, who celebrated their sixth anniversary this month, have lived in the apartment since they married. A year and half ago, daughter Ellis was born, bringing the population of the small apartment to three. But, as they edge closer to their goal of purchasing a house, Tamara confided that she's no longer in such a rush to leave their tiny home.

For one, the apartment has become a showcase for her highly whimsical art. Tamara makes jewelry, box purses, card holders and picture frames with colorful faux gems and white pearls clumped together with glitter-filled glue or wrapped with wire. Her signature accessories have appeared in fashion magazines internationally.

Necklaces of varying lengths hang here and there, integrated as part of the decor. On the entrance hallway wall hang several pieces from her garish silver and pearl collection; the jewelry looks like something a sexy B-movie space alien would wear. Dozens of jeweled strands have been piled on a dress form painted gold and standing in a living room corner.

"Because I design jewelry, I didn't see relegating it to a drawer," she said.

Her wildly decorated box purses and frames--with themes of the circus, dinosaurs and the sea--are exhibited throughout the house. And Tamara applied the technique to trim otherwise dull furniture, such as two short metal folding tables, found in the bathroom and bedroom, trimmed with clusters of pearls of all sizes.

The "bar" in the living room, however, is the couple's star piece. Three years in the making, the cabinet has been altered from its original, "horrible, brown veneer finish" with a rainbow of paints, faux jewels and miniatures.

The body is painted with floating polka dots of various sizes, some grouped into grapes, others as the centers of sunflowers. The entire piece was washed in yellow paint, then orange. It's finished with a light layer of gold fabric glitter. Large earrings and pendants from Tamara's collection pepper the doors and serve as knobs.

The bar top is a kid's fantasy featuring a mini-train set that goes through a colorfully jeweled tunnel, cows drinking out of troughs filled with pearls and tiny plastic people going about their business in a world crammed with multicolored gems, pearls, white Christmas lights and jellybeans sealed in resin and all embedded in hardened glitter goop.

With such eclectic pieces throughout the apartment, decorating had "to be a collaboration," Tamara said. "It's hardly subdued, so it can't get by unnoticed."

A running joke between the couple, she said, is that her ideas are not always grounded in reality. She said that Jeff, who is a golf course superintendent, always finds a way to bring her vision into the real world--even if it means reworking the original idea some. "It's definitely trial and error," she said.

For example, the dining set was finally moved to the covered balcony and surrounded by a jungle of lush, leafy house trees and plants. "This is Southern California. Sitting out there just makes a meal more of an event," she said.

"I really feel a home should be a sanctuary, so within a small environment we had to answer several needs."

Foremost, the apartment had to be child-proof to accommodate Ellis. The couch and chairs are covered in canvas that can be easily removed and popped into the laundry. Ellis' bright wooden toys and rag dolls intentionally fit the setting.

"I'm so obsessive that things look a certain way. So I really had to do things she could be a part of," Tamara said.

Because Ellis' crib has been incorporated into the living room, the bedding coordinates with the rest of the living room, she said, "so it doesn't look like a secondary area."

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