20 Brilliant Design Tips from the Small/Cool Contest’s Top 20 Spaces

published May 18, 2022
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The 20 homes that make up the second round of 2022’s Small/Cool Contest are all 1,000 square feet or fewer — and positively packed with beautiful decor and genius ideas. We do not envy you, our readers, because you’re in charge of voting by Friday, May 20 to narrow down all of that gorgeousness for the championship round. What a challenge!

But what we’re more than happy to do? Glean as many design tips as we can from your round two picks. Keep reading for 20 of the best insights from the top 20 spaces (arranged alphabetically by first name).

Before you purchase new items, plan with what you’ve got (and love).

“The chair, armoire, coffee table, and kitchen storage shelf are all hand-me-downs from family. The bed frame and dresser were both thrifted from previous apartments. I had to figure out how the pieces that were important to me would fit before I bought anything else.” From Bailey’s Cozy, Bookish Space

Credit: Bridget Wack

Don’t be afraid of maximalism in a small space.

“[M]y most significant small space innovation has been to commit to a bold interior design — I have a decorative stove, two velvet sofas, four bright paint colors, and over 20 vintage oil portraits!” From Bridget’s Lively, Vintage Space

Get sneaky with hidden storage.

“My living/dining area is a multipurpose space… So I need to hide everything! Behind the heron art is my mini exercise trampoline. Below the TV in a basket is a router, and underneath that, I refinished the speakers by painting them and applying a cool fabric.” From Carolina’s Cozy, Boho Space

Credit: Cat Hart

A little creativity can majorly increase furniture functionality.

“Don’t leave any dead/unused space. We turned our counter with stools into a banquette to maximize the seating in the same amount of space.” From Cat’s Vibrant, Playful Space

DIY and upcycle to make your home feel like you.

“[O]ur home is crammed full of projects which have been a labor of love; for example, the hand-painted, pink ombre mountain mural on three walls of our bedroom, which I painted using £24 of tester pots during the first lockdown when we needed a place to escape to.” From Claire’s Curated, Creative Space

Add volume with plants on plants on plants.

“Filling a room with lush greenery is an easy way to make a home feel lived-in and bountiful without taking up a ton of floor space!” From Danielle’s Botanical, Airy Space

Think beyond the storage your space originally offers.

“The self-designed bookshelves are a dream come true, and also the heart of the apartment.” From Elisabeth’s Scandi, Loft Space

Discover updated ways to use vintage pieces.

“Our home is filled with these secondhand finds that are used in new and interesting ways: an antique pie chest became a bar cabinet; a humidor cabinet is used as our side table; a Queen Anne vanity is now the centerpiece of my partner’s work-from-home setup.” From Emily’s Sophisticated, Secondhand Space

Credit: Eryn Irwin

Design a space to evoke feelings you crave.

“My bedroom is one of the coziest rooms in the place, and I strive for that, and the plants are a peaceful addition. Although small, it is big in comfort.” From Eryn’s Modern, Boho-Jungle Space

If your space lacks architectural detail, create it.

“DIY is my JOY. My favorites would be the painted arch over the bathroom doorway and the faux fireplace that I pieced together from Facebook Marketplace finds and some $1 tiles.” From Lyndsay’s Retro, Earthy Space

Credit: Maitri Mody

Lacking wall space? Hang art and a projector screen in the same place.

“I didn’t have a wall for a TV so I installed a pull-down projector screen that could go over my gallery wall. I can still enjoy movie nights.” From Maitri’s Colorful, Eclectic Space

Use a glass partition to delineate ‘rooms’ in a studio — but maintain light.

“I used a room divider to separate the sleeping area from the living/working space. It feels like I added an extra room.” From Marina’s Bright, Colorful Space

Touches of a dark color can actually make a small space look larger.

“Painting the entryway this dark charcoal was a bit of a gamble since it was already such a tiny room, but I actually love how moody and sophisticated it made it look. And bonus point, the high contrast it created with the rest of the apartment somehow makes it feel bigger.” From Marion’s Organic, Modern Space

Source items creatively for a unique home that’s entirely you.

“My favorite DIY in the space is my kitchen cabinets and countertops. The countertops were salvaged from a University of Washington biology lab classroom, while the cabinets were purchased from a ReStore and finished out with custom stained door fronts.” From Michelle’s Light-Filled Loft Space

Credit: Miki Carter

Lighting can change the entire look of a room.

“My favorite DIYs are all of the light fixtures. It’s surprisingly easy to do, and I can put the old fixture back up when we move out.” From Miki’s Quirky, Colorful Space

Embrace your home’s bones and add your own spin.

“When I moved in, I knew I wanted to create a happy space that was reminiscent of the peaceful Caribbean islands, but without taking away from the beautiful apartment features, like the fireplace, molding, and beautiful hardwood floors.” From Natasha’s Happy, Coastal Space

Take advantage of every floor-to-ceiling inch of your wall.

“I have a fairly large plant collection that could only be housed if we went vertical with storage. Our living room had the perfect niche for built-ins in a spot that gets all the morning sunlight!” From Pratika’s Colorful, Cheerful Space

Add color by painting the unexpected.

“Sometimes we are afraid of adding color to the kitchen furniture. Loved how the chalk painting shows here, with the combination of light blue and gray, adding to the stencil I used for the kitchen floor (also with chalk painting).” From Ramiro’s Colorful, Energetic Space

Homes on wheels can have open shelves — with a clever hack.

“I really wanted to incorporate lots of open shelving. The kitchen and bedroom have mini shelves, and most things are secured with magnets or Gorilla Tape so they don’t have to come down when we pack up and move!” From Sheena’s Eclectic, Bohemian Space

Display items you love, and conceal the little things you don’t.

“To hide everything that would make the room look cluttered, we opted for kitchen cabinets instead of open shelving.” From Steph’s Sunny, Colorful Space