In case you didn’t get the memo, living in a small space might not be as easy as it’s cracked up to be. For many, downsizing is all about having a simpler, more streamlined lifestyle. Still, small space dwellers are tasked with the unique challenge of fitting all their essentials into a limited number of square feet—all while making their space feel light, airy, and larger than it really is. (After all, nobody wants to feel as if they’re living inside a shoebox.)
When the stakes are this high, mistakes are bound to occur. While some mishaps might result in lackluster décor or subpar storage solutions, others can make your space appear even smaller than it already is. And, unless you actually want to be claustrophobic, these mistakes aren’t doing anyone any favors.
When it comes to purchasing furniture for your small space, there’s a good chance you prioritize comfort and price point above everything else. (Let’s face it, nobody wants to sit on a stiff sofa.) But according to Jessica Davis, owner and principal of Atlanta-based firm Atelier Davis, it’s important to think critically about the size of your pieces, too.
“[You want] long, clean lines where possible,” Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, principal of Jean-Gabriel Neukomm Architecture, adds. “A simple trick is to use furniture that works with the architecture in concert, so a really long built-in cabinet along a wall can significantly expand a space.”
“Understandably, darker is more forgiving when it comes to daily life: Kids, dogs, and potential spills,” explains Amanda Lantz, principal of A.Lantz Design. “However, in a small living room, for example, darker colors on sofas and chairs will make the space feel packed and then it becomes obtrusive to the eye. If you lighten the upholstery, the room suddenly is lighter and airy.”
“Don’t opt for tiny pieces of art in a tiny home; it’s like embracing the opposite of what you want,” she explains. “Beautiful rooms are all about scale and proportion, and the shape and size of your art follow the same rule.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s important to choose pieces that suit your personal taste. From a sizable tapestry to a well-curated gallery wall, the options are virtually endless.
“Select a bold paint color or, my personal preference, fun, bold, and large-scale patterned wallpaper for a small space,” she recommends. “If wallpapering the room scares you, opt to just wallpaper the ceiling and pair with a high-sheen paint finish on the walls.”
“Most people think a dark color makes a room looks smaller, but not having proper lighting is actually more detrimental,” says Carolina V. Gentry from Pulp Design Group. “Illuminating a room with different types of lighting makes a space feel larger.”
In a perfect world, your place would be covered in sun-drenched windows and spacious skylights. However Dr. Kwandaa Roberts, a physician and interior designer with popular Instagram account @TinyHouseCalls, says there are plenty of ways to recreate the look.
“Place mirrors opposite windows to bounce light around the room,” she recommends. “And, don’t forget the artificial lighting, which is critical when designing a small space. Sconces are perfect because they don’t take up surfaces or floor space.”
For many, filling your small home with personal touches can feel like a catch-22. On the one hand, decorating your place with photographs, sentimental artwork, and mementos can keep your space from feeling sterile. However, too many personal items can make your space feel crammed. For interior designer Lauren Nelson, the key is to design with intention.
“People have a tendency to hold onto anything of value, even if it's not adding value to the space itself,” she says. “It's better to edit down a room than pack it full of knick-knacks.”