The 18 Best Small-Space Decorating Ideas, According to Small/Cool Designers

published Oct 15, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Head on view of a bedroom with white walls, sage wainscoting and a neutral patterned area rug. The bed and bedside tables are a light brown wood and the bedding is beige with a blue throw and a sage green throw and a blue and green decorative throw pillow and theres a green dog bed at the foot of the bed.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool NYC pop-up opened its doors to the public on Friday, October 13, so if you’re in the New York City metro area, swing by to visit us IRL at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We can’t wait to see you! The event features shoppable rooms designed by 18 different pros that highlight the biggest home decor trends for 2024.

But if you can’t make it to New York City on a weekend day (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) before we close on October 29, don’t worry: You can virtually tour all of the rooms, and you can follow along on Apartment Therapy’s Instagram and TikTok, too, to see more of the spaces. And if you’re looking for smart design ideas for the tiniest of rooms — or the nooks, corners, and crannies you just can’t figure out what to do with — you’ve come to the right place.

Here, our featured designers are sharing their best tips from their respective rooms at the Small/Cool NYC headquarters. Read through, and you’ll be far better equipped to tackle your next design challenge — I promise!

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

1. Pick multi-functional pieces that work smarter — not harder.

“To maximize your furniture’s potential, choose flexible furnishings and double-duty pieces — like a combo air fryer/toaster oven, a coffee table that provides storage, or a chair that can swivel,” says Drew Barrymore, who designed a lovely kitchen-meets-studio space for the “Sunny Style” trend. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

2. Look for compact furnishings to stretch your square footage. 

“Maximize storage by incorporating cabinets with smaller footprints,” says designer Nate Berkus on behalf of NATE HOME by Nate Berkus, which is manufactured by mDesign and available on Amazon. “They add additional shelves for storage and decor, plus add a sense of height to your space. Within your cabinets, select storage solutions that bring texture and visual interest, such as natural woven trays and perforated metal bins.”

His last bit of advice for nailing a “traditional with a twist” look in a bathroom like his from Small/Cool NYC? “Crisp white towels make any room feel like a luxurious retreat,” says Berkus, and you can buy his NATE HOME by Nate Berkus sets on Amazon.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

3. Know that no space is too small for adding a little bit of charm.

“Architectural interest can be hard to come by in cookie-cutter rooms, but that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce charm into the design equation,” says Danielle Blundell, Apartment Therapy’s executive home director, who designed the “Wild Instincts” trend room in partnership with Spoonflower. “Shop for a mantel like this one. You can’t light up logs here, but it’ll provide a focal point that you can deck out with accessories like candles, artwork, and books. It’s a rental-friendly find you can bring to your next place, too.” 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

 4. Go vertical to “find” storage opportunities you didn’t know you had. 

“Small-space storage is all about taking advantage of vertical square footage,” says Megan Baker Detloff, Apartment Therapy’s home projects director who took on the “A DIY-BUY Paradise” trend. “If you don’t have a spare wall (or your landlord is strict about holes), a freestanding magnetic board outfitted with magnetic containers can help you maximize vertical storage.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

5. Wallpaper an unexpected surface.

“Yes, you can use wallpaper in a dorm room, and no, not just for your walls,” says Blair Donovan, shopping editor at Apartment Therapy. “Personalize small appliances, pencil holders, and more with removable peel-and-stick coverings. The bolder the print, the better!”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

6. Fake it ‘til you make it when it comes to windows.

“When your space doesn’t have a window, the silhouette of a mirror helps create the illusion of one,” says designer DuVäl Reynolds, who created this charming lounge for the “Make It Fashion!” trend. “Enhance the effect by dressing the wall with fabric.” That’s exactly what he did, by bringing in curtains that match his plaid Spoonflower wallpaper. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

7. Build a base of furnishings that mixes high- and low-cost items.

“Artfully blend high-end luxury items with thoughtfully curated and budget-friendly pieces,” says designer Bailey Li, the “All About Artistry” trend curator. “Invest in a selection of key luxurious statement pieces — such as a designer sofa, an eye-catching chandelier, or a premium area rug — to serve as the foundation for the room’s style and atmosphere.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

 8. Treat your surfaces like jewelry with a crafty and cheap DIY.

“From side tables to stair steps, you can add the opulence and charm of real brass to just about anything without the typical hefty cost by using brass shim stock,” says designer Miles Willis McDermott, who put his signature black, white, and gold stamp on the “Grand Entrance” trend. “This ultra-thin and versatile material is still solid brass, but can be folded by hand, cut with scissors, and tacked with decorative nails without having to drill any holes.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

9. Consider peel-and-stick wallpaper for a non-working fireplace.

“Elevate your non-functional fireplace surround with peel and stick wallpaper,” says designer Carmen René Smith of Aquilo Interiors, who riffed on French design for the “Parisian Pastiche” trend. “Choose a bold and colorful pattern that complements your decor style. Apply the wallpaper to the fireplace surround, making sure to carefully align the patterns for a cohesive and eye-catching look that instantly transforms your space.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

10. Do more with less.

“Don’t overstuff a small space with a lot of little things,” says designer Hollie Velten-Lattrell of SPACES by Hollie Velten, who took on the “Hipstoric Nowstalgia” trend. “Ground a few central statement pieces and you won’t need filler.” She also has an ingenious idea for storing things within plain sight. “Use ruffled hems on your sofa and chairs to hide extra storage,” she says.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

11. Hack your way to a double-duty table.

“Think about repurposing your furniture for more than one use,” says designer Kim White, who curated the amazing “House of Hacks” trend. “Imagine turning a coffee table into a dining spot, giving you flexibility without taking up extra space.” That’s exactly what White did by pairing a motorized base from Amazon with a tabletop she scored on Facebook Marketplace — it goes from coffee table height to dining height with the touch of a button on a remote.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

12. Treat your prettiest objects as functional decor by displaying them out in the open.

“Elevate the ordinary to artistic utility,” says designer Dala Al-Fuwaires of House of Form, who put her spin, literally, on the “Soulful Space” trend. “Transform your everyday objects into functional art, showcasing the elements that ignite your passion, seamlessly woven into your surroundings.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

 13. Store more with bins, risers, and hooks.

“Maximize space with storage solutions,” says content creator Maitri Mody of @honeyidressedthepug, who put together this colorful cook space for the “Creative Cabinetry” trend. “Shelf risers and wall hooks are great ways to make the most of limited space in a small kitchen.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

14. Lean into one color to visually expand a space. 

“Monochrome palettes can help expand a small space, offering a cohesive look that unifies the room and its furnishings,” says designer Kevin Francis O’Gara, who put together the “Restful Retreat” trend in partnership with Serta. “Embrace your favorite hue and explore a tonal color palette to create a restful retreat — perfect for a bedroom design.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

15. Don’t be afraid to go “busy” — even in a small space.

“If you’re short on wall space but have lots of pieces to display, let one statement wall be busy,” says Charli Penn, executive lifestyle director at Apartment Therapy, who tackled the “Hang Time!” trend. “Hang photos, art, textiles, sconces, and mirrors together to form a gorgeous gallery wall filled with all of your favorite pieces.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

16. Bring back the bunk bed for kids’ rooms and spaces that are young at heart.

“Bunk beds are a classic strategy for a small space, and this option invites a more creative interpretation that allows it to really grow and change with children,” says Maxwell Ryan, founder and CEO of Apartment Therapy, who curated the “Room to Grow” trend. “You can even turn the lower bunk into a secret hideaway.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

17. Squeeze in beautiful storage pieces everywhere you can. 

“Even the most petite space can feel big with the right design choices,” says designer Anita Yokota, who designed the “Off-Beat and Beautiful” trend room in partnership with Tuft & Needle. “Use every moment you can to create storage: Baskets at the end of the bed look great and keep the space organized, while a pegboard wall featuring shelves and baskets blends seamlessly into the wallpaper.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio

18. Let a floor-length mirror create an optical illusion in a tiny room.

“A large floor mirror is worth the splurge,” says designer Natalie Wong, who created this “Suite Dreams” bedroom setup in partnership with Beautyrest, “The optical illusion reflects both light and space to make a small room appear bigger.”

Small/Cool NYC is a shoppable — in real life and online — home design showcase full of decorating tips and tricks from your favorite designers. Visit us from October 13 to October 29, 2023, on weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Check out the virtual experience online and follow along on Instagram@apartmenttherapy and TikTok@apartmenttherapy. Thank you to our brand partners Serta, Beautyrest, Tuft & Needle, Spoonflower, Clare, Taskrabbit, and Walmart for making this experience possible.