14 Smart Tips for Decorating Your Small Space, According to Designers

published May 18, 2020
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.
Post Image
Credit: Apartment Therapy

The Small/Cool Experience at Home is bringing 20 trends to life by 20 designers—all in less than 120 square feet. Check out the whole virtual experience online and at @apartmenttherapy on Instagram from May 15-17. Thank you to our sponsors BEHR, Amazon Handmade and Tuft & Needle for making this experience possible.

Yes, small spaces can present some decorating challenges (especially when you love stuff!), but a tiny footprint doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all sense of style. There are plenty of clever ways to pack lots of personality into little spaces, and Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Experience at Home brought out some top-notch ideas from some top-notch designers. Here, some of their best tips for getting the most out of your home, no matter the size.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

1. Go all-in with wall coverings

“A small space is the perfect place to create big impact,” says Dana Ferraro of Molly Patton Design. “Try a unique wall covering on every wall, even the ceiling, to make a small space feel extra special.” Ferraro went bold with her Small/Cool Experience 2020 design—dubbed “Vintage Florals”—and covered the walls with garden lattice to give them a touch of the outdoors.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

2. Use flexible storage

“When living in a small space, flexible storage is key,” says designer Michelle Lisac. In her design, “Sunset-Inspired Palettes,” Lisac included a large storage cabinet with adjustable shelves that can be used for multiple functions, such as a media cabinet, bar cabinet, craft storage, or to hold books and decor.

3. Choose bigger furniture to create the illusion of space

Another tip from Lisac: Go big with furnishings. “Instead of filling a small space with multiple pieces of small furniture we used larger functional pieces,” she says. “Selecting larger (but proportionate) furniture in a small space can actually make it feel bigger.”

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

4. Give yourself a neutral base

Jessica Brigham, who designed this “Maximalist Boho” space, recommends using a neutral starting point to help pull an eclectic mix of decor together. “Start with a neutral base and blank canvas—such as bright white walls and natural fiber rugs—as the foundation for creating a cohesive color- and pattern-filled space,” Brigham says. The white walls and neutral rug shown in her space help the busier pieces—like the leafy wallpaper and animal-print bench—shine.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

5. Take advantage of vertical space

Even when floor space is tight, walls can offer lots of room to decorate, says Hilton Carter, who designed this space called “Bringing the Outdoors In.” As Carter explains, “When working in a small space, maximizing your floor real estate is important. So going vertical is always a great idea when trying to bring in that “wow” effect.” Carter brought the “wow” with his vertical living wall.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

6. Fool the eye with curtains

Caitlin Murray, who designed the “High Contrast” space, has an easy tip for making your room look better: “Mount drapery higher than your windows and close to the ceiling line—it helps draw the eye up and can make a space seem loftier,” Murray says.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

7. Make mirrors work for you

This is an especially good trick for rooms that don’t have many windows. Abbe Fenimore, designer of the “Crystal Influence” space, suggests hanging mirrors to make a small space look brighter and bigger. “Since small spaces rarely have multiple windows, I recommend installing a large mirror to brighten up the room,” Fenimore says. “Hang the mirror on a blank wall and treat it like a window by installing drapery panels just under your crown moulding. It will instantly open up your space and give the illusion of higher ceilings.”

8. Choose multifunctional furniture

Another of Fenimore’s smart tricks? “Invest in furniture that can do double duty,” she says. “For example, a desk that can also function as a vanity will not only save space, but provide extra storage for those smaller items that tend to create clutter.”

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

9. When in doubt, get it off the floor

Emily Henderson designed the “Eclectic English” space, and has a smart tip for maximizing floor space. “Consider using a coat hook instead of a coat rack, or a floor lamp with a built-in side table, or add a bar set up on top of your dresser,” Henderson says.

10. Create separate zones with rugs

Another Henderson trick: “Layer your rugs to define areas in a small space,” she says. “Choose a large, more timeless neutral rug for the base, then layer with a smaller, contrasting rug off to the side to make a separate zone.”

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

11. Use a consolidated color palette to help tie everything together

Kelley Carter, designer of the “Bright Monochromes” trend space, suggests keeping your room’s color palette small. “Stick to a palette with a maximum of four colors,” she says. “Add dimension by using varying shades of the colors. Keep all other items out of sight in a beautiful cabinet.” It will help the room feel cohesive and not cluttered.

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

12. Add texture overhead

Apartment Therapy’s home director, Danielle Blundell, designed “The New Natural” space. If you’re hoping to bring natural materials into your own home, she recommends looking up. “A pampas grass ‘chandelier’ is a great way to add texture and subtle color to your space, especially if your room isn’t rigged for overhead lighting,” Blundell says.

13. Fake a side table

For a space-saving solution that’s also beautiful, Blundell recommends making your own side table out of a surprising material—books! “Try creating an inexpensive ‘side table’ out of a stack of books,” she says. “Not only does this move offer extra storage, your latest read can always be at the ready—right on the top of the stack!”

Credit: Danie Drankwalter

14. For a money-saving solution, build your own rug

Blundell’s super clever budget tip, pulled from the “Infinite Storage” space she created with Jamie and Filip Hord, will make you say, “why didn’t I think of that?” Instead of splurging on a pricey big rug, Blundell says, put two or three smaller rugs together. “That’s what we did with this Rifle Paper Painted Braided Multi-Stripe Rug. Use carpet seaming tape to fasten them together.” So easy!