Claudia Morris-Barclay
Photo: Contributed by Claudia Morris-Barclay
Photo: Contributed by Claudia Morris-Barclay

How one Atlantan makes a business designing for small spaces

In a certain sense, every house can be a tiny house.

Minimalist living has always found its disciples, from the early days of Donna Karan’s “seven easy pieces” to today’s Real Simple fixation on spare decor. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the New York Times best-seller from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo, has become a national sensation, inspiring everything from “capsule wardrobe” guides to Pinterest fan clubs.

And that’s where Claudia Morris-Barclay, Atlanta tiny space consultant, comes in.

Morris-Barclay specializes in small space design, from decorating tiny houses and mobile homes to decluttering nooks and cramped areas within larger houses.

“Even in large-scale homes, I’m still focusing on small spaces: a master closet, something you could reach in,” she said. “But in some of these larger homes, that could be its own tiny house. You have to subdivide it in as many spaces as possible.”

The minimalist lifestyle, with its spartan aesthetic and chic caché, would of course one day collide with the tiny house movement — Morris-Barclay said it was only a matter of time.

“The idea of tiny homes seems new, but it’s not,” she said. “I think so many people have been living in small spaces, 500 square feet and smaller, for a long, long time.”

Morris-Barclay had also been “living tiny” for a long time before she turned her organizational chops into a career as a small-space designer.

As a Queens, New York, native and an entertainer living in New York, Miami and then later Atlanta, she found herself turning efficiency-sized apartments — many of them 500 square feet or smaller — into cozy spaces that popped with personality and still comfortably stored her belongings.

After helping friends solve organizational snafus time and time again, Morris-Barclay recognized her skill as more than just a knack for spring cleaning.

In 2010, she embraced “space designer and storage consultant” as an official job title.

“I was having so much fun with it, and people were so relieved when it was done. It always seemed so overwhelming for everyone,” she said.

When Morris-Barclay moved back to Atlanta permanently in 2012, she noticed the tiny living scene was gaining momentum — and attracting significant attention from area designers.

The range of home styles fascinated her: She saw everything from large mansions in the suburbs to small apartments in midtown; from newly-built tiny houses outside the perimeter to 1920s-era homes inside the perimeter.

“Atlanta is a microcosm of the U.S.,” she said. “You can be in Atlanta and you can drive 25 minutes outside of Atlanta and not see another building for miles.”

She became involved in the Tiny House Atlanta design community, attending meetups and learning from other consultants.

“This whole community is about personalization and customization — it’s about looking around and feeling, ‘This might be something I built,’” she said.  

The Atlanta community taught Morris-Barclay more about the importance of letting possessions go, which is something she encourages clients to consider as a first step when redesigning a cluttered area or less-than-tidy room.

"You may only need four mugs, but if you love to go to art festivals and you have one mug shaped like a frog and another shaped like a dinosaur, that’s whimsical and on display,” she said, suggesting storing the mugs as as room-brightening art in an open-doored cabinet.

She sees potential even in something as simple as a kitchen cabinet. The tinier the space, she said, the more opportunities "to show your personality.”

“Every piece you have becomes sculpture — every decision becomes more important,” she said.

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