The Best-Designed Small Spaces Have This One Thing in Common

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Mandy Holesh)

I’ve been living in small spaces for almost a decade so I have my fair share of tricks for dealing with the lack of room. And lately, I’ve been writing about small spaces a lot too, which requires asking different decorators for their ideas. I usually get annoyed when the pros all say the same thing. But in the case of small spaces, the best-designed homes really do have one thing in common—they all make use of their vertical real estate, either through furnishing upwards or taking over the walls for storage, decoration, or a little bit of both.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The most obvious use of vertical space in a tiny apartment or home is shelving. Because let’s be real, who doesn’t need more storage? For maximum impact, go floor-to-ceiling with your shelves, keeping the items you access less frequently higher up. You can do this at any budget, with custom built-ins on the high end to wall-mounted slabs of particle board on the cheap, and freestanding shelving units in between. You can put books, shoes, tchotchkes here—really whatever you want. Keep in mind that the shallower the shelves, the better it’ll be for traffic flow in your space. And using some baskets, bins, or lidded boxes are your best bet for preventing a cluttered look, unless you have a collection you want to display.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

No room for an official home office? No problem, because you can use shelving and vertical space to create a makeshift one. All you need is a deeper shelf for a desk, pull up a chair, and call it a day. Vertical wall space well used.

Of course, hanging your things in vertical space is an option too. Hooks come to mind, and you could stagger or scatter them on a wall. But I’m digging this pegboard situation above. You can get pieces of this material pretty cheap at the hardware store and then add paint for a pop of color. Almost completely flat, they’re even shallower than shelves but still hold a decent amount from hooks or pegs. Try one near an entry if you don’t have the space for a console or table. And pegboard definitely allows you to use wall space for accessory storage, as seen here. So you don’t need a freestanding rack or jewelry box taking up space on a dresser or vanity.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Just when you thought you didn’t have room for a dining table in your studio or elsewhere, this couple came and dropped the mic with their tiny wall-mounted drop-leaf table and folding chairs, which they hung right above said table. That’s an amazing use of vertical space if I’ve ever seen it. And you know why it works? Because it’s tone-on-tone. White chairs blend into the the white wall, so the fact that there are chairs just suspended in the air isn’t visually aggressive.

Don’t have room for a countertop garden? Take it to the walls. In my opinion, you can’t beat a vertical garden no matter how you choose to install it—wool pockets, planters. A wall garden serves so many purposes: Cooking ingredients, air cleaning, living decoration. So many of us want the benefits of greenery but can’t give up the floor or table space. Do this instead, folks!

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

You can also go the wall-mounted bar or rack route, and find all sorts of storage for things that hang like cookware, utensils, and linens. Think about your storage needs and what format would suit your items best. Generally, bars or rods are great for flatter things that will lay flush to the wall. But you could definitely hang heeled shoes or mugs on them as well.

(Image credit: Adrianne Hawthorne )

Another utilitarian option similar to the pegboard is a caged rack. You can also store pots this way, and purses, hats or ties would be great hanging from this kind of setup as well.

And if you’re handy or allowed to build, why not consider a lofted bed or sitting area? Sure, the vibe is a little dorm room and screams kiddie-friendly. But if you have super high ceilings, you’re just letting all that vertical space go to waste. There’s definitely a sophisticated way to do this. It’s all about your palette and pattern choices.

With so many ways to work your wall space, now you can see why this is the one thing the best-designed small spaces all have in common. Whether you live in a small space or not, what other ways have you taken advantage of your walls?