Can You Have Big Furniture in a Small Space?

published Apr 18, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

As a professional who has a BFA in Interior Design one of my biggest pet peeves is when I open a shelter mag to the advice section and some big-name decorator is quoted saying something like, “Just because you live in a 300 square foot studio apartment doesn’t mean you can’t have a large, overstuffed sofa and a king-sized bed.” Uh, hello! That’s exactly what it means!

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Now, I’m not suggesting that if you live in less than 500 square feet, that you are limited to doll house furniture. What I am suggesting is that you have to pay attention to something that very few people do: scale.

Scale is determined by visually comparing an object to the space around it. For example, if you are in a large furniture store with 20 foot high ceilings and an open loft-like design, pretty much any 8′ long sofa you choose will seem dwarfed by the space. When you get that same sofa home to your 10′ x 12′ living room, however, it will look enormous because it takes up more of the space around it. The more space your furniture takes up, the smaller the room will seem, which, I think we can all agree is not generally a good thing.

So, if a room full of Lucite and leggy Danish Modern furniture is not your style, but you are limited in your square footage, I have a few tips to help you make the most of your space:

  1. If you like a comfy, overstuffed look, apply it to a chair and ottoman and keep your sofa simple. Or just pick out a fluffy loveseat and skip the sofa altogether.
  2. Choose furniture that does double duty and provides you with extra storage — it doesn’t have to be modern. Think trunks as coffee tables, or vintage filing cabinets as end tables. Have 2 dining chairs also serve as occasional chairs in your living area. Ask yourself, “What is the least amount of furniture I can get away with, while still meeting my needs?”
  3. Look critically at your seating groups: is it easy for people to know how to enter/exit? If you have to step over an ottoman and around an end table in order to vault yourself into a chair on the far side of the room it’s time to do some rearranging and perhaps some purging.
  4. Really think about scale. Does your furniture look big for the room? Does it look big compared to the other furniture in the space? Sometimes all it takes is changing out one elephant in the room to bring everything together.
  5. Finally, despite what those decorators have told you: painting a small room a dark color (including the ceiling!) will not “expand the space.” It will just make it seem smaller and darker.

What do you think? Is it possible to fill a small space with large furniture and still have it feel spacious?