ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Practical Space-saving Ideas for Small Apartments

Updated on March 11, 2016
My living room a few months after the completion of my kotatsu table.
My living room a few months after the completion of my kotatsu table. | Source

Japanese Style in the Texas Winter

I've decided to move into my living room, permanently. One of the primary reasons would be because of the local utility conspiracy. At one time there was a choice between two utility companies. One was user friendly, reasonably priced and fair in their billing practices. The other, well even with my first experience with them I swore to never give them a red cent of my hard-earned money. Well, somehow, the latter chased the former out of town and we're stuck with their regime. Why, then, am I the only person screaming mad about this?

The line is drawn. In the summer I use only the fan and not the air except for the occasional cooling for which the air conditioning is on for no more than an hour. In the winter, well in the winter I have plans to reduce my bill. For now, I don't set the heat any higher than 75 in the day time and a little higher at night. I love my very warm jamas.

About two summers ago I contracted a local wood craftsman to construct a kotatsu table for me. I lived in Japan when I was very young and have not forgotten the experience. Thanks to that sojourn in the land of the rising sun, I don't wear shoes in the house, I use a kotatsu table and eat sushi. The efficient use of space is another thing I learned on my stay there.

I've decided that the answer to heating the apartment efficiently is to move into my living room and in the evenings close off the two bedrooms. My office will then be relocated to the former bedroom and the living room where I'll sleep. For this I need to up my game on furniture and accessories.

Upping my game on furniture may not be what you think. I already have the kotatsu. I plan to get the Kotatsugake (futon blanket for the kotatsu) and Kotatsushiki (rug for under the table). I have some old curtains with a lovely floral pattern which will make a wonderful quilted blanket for keeping the heat in. A thinner blanket, the shitagake goes between the table frame and the quilted blanket. The table top is then put over this.

Use of the kotatsu table in japan is an economical way to heat the primary living areas in Japanese homes. In the videos and other articles I provide for the futon bed and kotatsu table, notice the size of the rooms and also that the rooms are completely enclosed by walls or doors. There aren't any hallways to heat.

I have a fireplace as well. Once I get an apartment sized load of wood delivered, I'll be all set. So, let's talk a little more about the futon bed and the kotatsu table. The topic is more interesting than you think.

My Jacquo Lifestyle Magazine article offers more tips on using space efficiently.

Tatami whattie?

Do you know what tatami is?

See results

The Flooring

Oriental Furniture Goza Mat
Oriental Furniture Goza Mat

This is the perfect covering to put beneath the futon bed at night and the kotatsu table in the day time. Two side by side lengthwise will provide ample coverage and can be easily stowed away with the bedding in the day time. Oh, and you can use it for a yoga mat as well.

 

Sublime Comfort by Night, Invisible by Day

I had the good fortune to be very young when I lived in Japan. My mind was like a sponge and I took in all I could regarding the culture. Even to this day, I still remember those years fondly. My favorite remembrance is the Japanese style bed. Designed for comfort and warmth, it is quite difficult to rise from beneath the plush covers in the morning.

The terminology for each layer in this process of somnial delight is comprised of only a few terms:

  • Futon ~ originally meant a filled cattail cushion. It's use in English is borrowed. With regard to bedding, it encompasses the combination of shikifuton (-buton) and Kakefuton (-buton).
  • Shikibuton ~ the thick padding that is placed on the floor or on the tri-fold mattress.
  • Kakebuton ~ covers the individual(s) on the mat.
  • Mofu ~ a summer blanket.
  • Makura ~ pillow.
  • Tatami ~ a flooring material originally made from rice straw.
  • Tri-fold Mat ~ though not truly traditional, it was already in use in Japanese homes by the late sixties. Prior to its widespread use, the shikibuton was placed directly on the floor tatami flooring.

My use of the japanese style bedding is adapted for use in an american-design home. My home is not floored with tatami panels, so a tatami-like mat suffices and can be used beneath the kotatsu table under the kotatsushiki. I use an american pillow and not the Makura.

You'll find several very useful articles at My Japanese Bed. For a chuckle, have a go at The Futon: Official Furniture Piece of College Romance.

The First Layer of Comfort

Brand New Brown Twin Size Shikibuton Trifold Foam Beds 6" Thick x 39"W x 75"L Long, 1.8 lbs high density resilient white foam, Floor Foam Folding Mats.
Brand New Brown Twin Size Shikibuton Trifold Foam Beds 6" Thick x 39"W x 75"L Long, 1.8 lbs high density resilient white foam, Floor Foam Folding Mats.

As mentioned above, the tri-fold mattress which is placed first under the shikibuton wasn't originally used in Japanese homes. This is a later development. The shikibuton can be folded in thirds for storage purposes.

 

A Lazy Day at the Kotatsu

Photo-manipulated by hub author. Original image from Morguefile.
Photo-manipulated by hub author. Original image from Morguefile. | Source

Setting Up the Kotatsu

Kotatsugake ~ Kotatsu Blanket

Tokyo Nishikawa Reversible Kotatsu futon
Tokyo Nishikawa Reversible Kotatsu futon

The blanket is a must for the kotatsu table. It holds the heat in while one sits at the table. It is placed over the frame of the kotatsu on top of the underblanket (shitagake). The table top is then placed over this arrangement. Some people will sleep while partially positioned under the table. I don't recommend the practice any more than I use an electric blanket.

 

The Romance of Kotatsu Culture.

The kotatsu table is my answer to the gauntlet thrown by the local utility company. Summer, I have in hand. No air conditioning except for once in a while after sunset for about an hour. It's just me, so I use the fan for cooling in the area I occupy primarily.

Families have a greater challenge with toddlers, youngsters and teens in the house and the occasional spouse, it's just not going to happen that all those folks huddle in the same room. Susie Q is on the cell in her room while clicking away on Facebook. Danny D is in his room with the newest and loudest band rocking his world without the headset. Tommie Terrible Two is occupying a new spot in the house every few seconds with mum close behind. Pappa Joe is enjoying a reread of the days newspaper from his favorite chair in the den.

No easy answers to this one folks. Glad I don't have to provide one. But back to the kotatsu table. Along with my move from the bedroom to the living room, I can close the doors in the other rooms so that the majority of the heat is pumped into the living room and kitchen area. The kotatsu means I can lower the setting on the thermostat and keep my self warmer with the electric heater under the table. I have a fireplace which I intend to use this winter. The bedding can be laid out at night and put away in the morning. My kotatsu was made with screw in legs so I can always dismantle it and stand it against a book case or behind something.

Though I'm not planning to go out of country for a while yet, I find it amusing to read about how foreigners deal with heating in other countries. This article, Ode to a Kotatsu: How to love the Japanese Winter, is rather interesting in that regard. This article provides a nice visual of a kotatsu table in use, Kotatsu: (Staying Warm in Japan).

Kotatsu 101

As with bedding there are a few terms which are necessary to know about the equipment. First is the rug that goes down under the table, the kotatsushiki, to protect tatami flooring and also helps to insulate and keep the heat from being absorbed dissipated by the floor. The kotatsugake is the blanket that goes over the shitagake, or under blanket. The zabuton is a traditional pillow cushion on which people sit to the table.

As you view the various videos and articles, take a look at the size of the spaces that the bedding or table are being used in. The area of my living room and kitchen will be larger than many of those areas you'll see. Enjoy this interesting article on another foreigner's use of the heating table, My Kotatsu Is Fierce.

Sushi on My Kotatsu Table

Source

The Kotatsu Train

Keeping Warm in the Japanese Winter

From what I recall, the Japanese winter was far more brutal than anything I've experienced here in Texas. I lived in a prefecture called Kanagawa in Yokosuka. My family used the kerosene space heaters but not the Japanese style furniture. Our house was a mixture of American and Japanese when you walked in the door. We had a little dog named Buku.

Travel in another country is usually a treat. Residing in another country brings the concept of treat to the next level. One frequently asks oneself, "How do they do that?" So, the fun isin learning how the natives get about their days and accomplish the same tasks in their own different way as you and your fellow countrymen would back home. So take a peak at the article, "Kotatsu."

The kotatsu style table is known in many cultures by different names. The Persians have the korsi, while the Spaniards and Portuguese use a mesa camilla. A few other cultures have their own versions as well.

The Next Layer of Warmth

EMOOR 5-Layered Gauze Blanket (Green), Japanese Twin Size (55 x 82 in.). Made in Japan
EMOOR 5-Layered Gauze Blanket (Green), Japanese Twin Size (55 x 82 in.). Made in Japan

In the summer this and a top sheet is all that is needed. In winter it aids in keeping the heat in close to the body while sleeping.

 

Care and Maintenance of Futon and Kotatsu

As with any bedding item, cleanliness is important. For the mattresses, airing is recommended. In an apartment setting, this may be tricky to manage. If you don't have a balcony but have a front porch area or patio, then several laundry racks like the one below will come in handy. Range them in a line lengthwise with about a foot to foot and a half of space between each on. Lay your mattress over top of them. You'll need to flip it several times as well as fold it the other way. The tri-fold mattress can be opened partially and upended on one side. I recommend a tarp or paper or something underneath so it's not sitting on the bare ground. After a point, turn it the other way around.

Launder what can be laundered. The blankets and other linens can be washed. You may get away with airing once or twice for the heavier quilt, but the closer an item is to your body the more necessary it is that it have a washing. I like to dry laundry in the sun when possible, but it has to be a hot day so things will dry quickly even if they are thick or have to be folded to fit over the racks without touching the ground. You can also look into getting a mattress beater designed for the futon if you'd like to go that far.

The kotatsu table itself requires little upkeep. Wiping the table top from time to time is a no-brainer. Also, making sure no lint or other debris has become lodged in the heater unit is important also. The rug can be vacuumed. If it is more like a blanket or a quilt, then launder the under rug. I like the idea of a fibrous rug, like sisal or jute or similarly coarse fibers that goes under the blanket like under rug. Kind of an under under rug. These coarse fiber rugs may also need to have a spot wipe as well.

Check the cord and plug for problems. When not in use, the heater unit should be off and unplugged. Wipe any wood tables with a wood treatment from time to time. Lemon oil would work or something as recommended by the manufacturer.

For my futon, I have in mind to make a pouch filled with lavender and other aromatic dried plants to scent my futon and tri-fold mat when they've been stored away. I've not fleshed out the details of how I'll make it, but it will of necessity have to be rather large to fit over them entirely. Also, the contents will need to be closed in the pouch so as not to make a mess by spilling out of any openings. I think I can devise something like this with velcro.

There's a great article in My Japanese Bed on how to care for your futon ensemble.

Thinking of Building Your Own Kotatsu?

I've compiled a number of links below with information on ways to build your own kotatsu. Unfortunately the website which provided detailed information on how to do so is no longer available. Since the time that I had my kotatsu built a trend in building one from the IKEA Lack coffee table has surfaced. That is a viable option for many people living in countries in which the kotatsu isn't commonly used. One of the links below actually uses two table kits in the process so as to have a table top to go over the quilt.

Please share a picture with me of your kotatsu after you've built it and I'll post it here.

© 2014 Tanya Jones

Thank you for stopping by for a visit.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      ElleBee, thanks for stopping in to visit. I think New Englanders dress warmer as a rule year round than we do here. I don't wear a jacket unless I absolutely must do. So, 75 is the setting at night when I'm sleeping because I tend to get really cold when I sleep and kick off the covers as well. Don't want to get sick. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I recall being quite surprised to find out a number of years ago that winters get below 0 in some parts of the country. BTW, I'm not a Texan, I just live here.

    • profile image

      ElleBee 

      3 years ago

      I know it wasn't the point of your article but omigoodness does the 75 degree thermostat setting stand out to me! Luxury of luxuries! We keep our heat around 61-62 in the winter, although that is definitely on the stingy side, most frugal people I know keep there's around 65, and I had never known that anyone intentionally set there's above 70. I guess that is the difference between a New Englander and a Texan!

      I do however like the tips on small living as well, the idea of using just the living room definitely makes sense, and is one I have seen others do in winter time to save on heating costs.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thanks for visiting, vespawoolf. My stay in Japan was a very positive experience for me in many ways. Thanks for taking a moment to comment.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 

      3 years ago from Peru, South America

      I agree, the Japanese wrote the book on small living spaces. How nice you were able to live there and absorb such clever ideas. Thank you for sharing.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, esmonaco, great to see you. Thanks for the comment. I always learn a ton when I visit your articles.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, teaches12345, for commenting. Glad to have you visit my hub. Frugality is born of necessity. I love a challenge and meeting this one can be entertaining.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      A wonderful and informative hub, thanks for the ideas.. I'm always learning new things when I read your work :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      What an interesting post on space saving ideas. You are truly good at being frugal and creative in decorating your space. It seems to cozy and just the right size for any lifestyle.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      I should have your outlook, smine27. A single person, living alone and working all day has little time for housework. I've thought of scheduling tasks for different days of the week or month. Maybe that'll work. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I love my tiny apartment in Tokyo. Easier to clean that's for sure.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thanks, AliciaC, for stopping in and commenting. I do too. When truth comes to tell, the differences between cultures can many times become things that make us closer as people.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting hub, Arachnea. You've taught me a lot of things that I didn't know. I enjoyed learning about the traditions of another culture.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      DreamingBoomer, thanks for visiting and commenting. I think there's are a couple of reasons children have minds like sponges. This would be one of them, to establish a foundation of knowledge for use at later times when needed. I think this change will make all the difference for me.

    • DreamingBoomer profile image

      Karen Kay 

      3 years ago from Jackson, MS

      I love how a childhood memory has stayed with you and helped you to creatively manage your current situation. Lovely thoughts!

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thanks, goatfury, for visiting and commenting. Tatami as used in Japanese homes is laid in the floor much like they used to lay in planks of wood here for flooring. However, since shoes are not worn in the home, it's resilient to use over time. I like the idea of using the tatami panels in place of area rugs. I'm thinking that using a rug mat underneath will keep them from moving around.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thanks, lindacee, for stopping in and commenting. I've found that where doors are not available to close off living spaces you don't want to heat, heavy curtains closing off the area will do in a pinch. Visiting and residing with other cultures is a good way to pick up new ways to do things. I think that one benefit of this current economic climate is the focus on efficient use of resources. I like that the government is focused on establishing programs which will promote availability of efficient resources as well as encouraging businesses to move in that direction as well. I've never been to South America.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 

      3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      A lot of the things you're working on hearken to my martial arts gym (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Of course we have tatamis (Zebra brand), and I hadn't considered using them in my house, but it actually makes a great deal of sense. Interesting writing!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 

      3 years ago from Arizona

      Great ideas for making the most of a small space! I live in Las Vegas, so we do what we can during the summer to reduce our energy bill, but we're at the mercy of house that was constructed 17-20 years ago--not terribly energy efficient. Living in a foreign country does impact the way you think about your home. I lived in South America for 3 years and you learn to make-do with what you have. Those lessons will remain with me, no matter where I live. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Hi, mary615. I appreciate your stopping in to commenting. Japan is a wonderful country to visit. My apartment is small in that it's not the size of a standard two bedroom home. One room is my work area the other is currently the bedroom but that's about to change. I love the walk in closets in both bedrooms though. I think this endeavor of mine will be a positive change.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Jackie Lynnley, you're right. Consummables are a necessary evil when it comes to subsistence. The provide a non-realizable benefit. But I suspect if I'm too hot to move or too cold to do anything, I'd be grateful for heat and cooling. Petrol is another thing that eats my pay-check like there's no tomorrow. All I do mostly is go to work and back home again. I limit my excursions these days to studio time and checking the post. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      3 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, favored, for stopping in and commenting. For a while now, I've been working on increasing my green footprint or whatever they're calling it these days. This will be a major step forward. Also, the utility bills aren't getting any smaller. I appreciate your stopping in and commenting.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      3 years ago from Florida

      This is a very interesting Hub! One of my daughters visited Japan as part of a class trip and she just loved the country and the people and how they lived. I live in a very small apartment, and I could adapt some of the ways to save space.

      Voted UP, etc. and shared.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      3 years ago from USA

      It looks like you have pretty much mapped out how to get through winter with this solution. I hope it works out well for you. There have been times where we've closed off part of the house in the winter to keep down the heating bills, so I can really relate to this. Thanks for including the video, it helps to understand what you are doing.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very interesting and I too do what is possible to keep my electric bill down. The last time they said it was below average so guess I am doing something right. If we can get through the two worst winter months and two worst summer months saving the rest seems pretty easy. Utilities are like food; it just goes and the money with it with nothing to show. Since utilities are expected to skyrocket it is a good thing we are already watching our bills I would say.

      Thanks for sharing.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)