A (Seemingly) Counterintuitive Trick That’s a Must for Small Spaces

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

A common mistake when decorating a small space is to assume that everything in it should be equally tiny. But when the furniture, the wall art, and even the throw pillows are little, the whole room risks feeling itsy-bitsy. Time to think bigger: Introduce just one large-scale statement piece (like the seven stylish rooms that follow) to pull the room together and amp up its style.

Work a Big Rug

As soon as Amie, one of three college roommates who share this 500-square-foot apartment in Toronto, saw the large classic rug above, she knew she had to have it. “I saw it on the wall of an antique store and stood beside it for 10 minutes until an employee came around to get it down for me—I wasn’t letting it out of my sight,” she says. Her persistence paid off, because the rug, which now serves as a unifying piece in the shared living room, emphasizes how much floor space there actually is, and it visually separates the sitting area from the rest of the apartment.

Max Out Your Mirrors

Interior designer Felicity Sargent‘s 800-square-foot studio in Brooklyn Heights feels like a sprawling palace thanks to a towering 12-foot-tall mirror. A mirror is the perfect piece to supersize, because it hugs the wall, and if placed strategically, can bounce light around the room. When Felicity relocated the mirror to a spot across from the windows, she found that the whole room opened up. “Not only did it brighten the room and enlarge the space, but it also plays tricks on the eyes. The reflection of the brownstones from across the street creates the illusion that the room is part of a freestanding home,” she says.

Oversize Your Art

Kathryn Bacalis says that this dining nook is one of her favorite spots in her and her husband Perry’s 650-square-foot home, in part because of the original DIY art hanging above the table. Kathryn found the 50-inch framed canvas at Goodwill, which she then painted in a pattern inspired by a southwestern woven rug. Large-scale wall decor makes the space seem bigger than it is, without cutting into any of the available living area. If you doubt you can pull off DIY artwork as cool as Kathryn’s, these 7 larger-than-life wall art ideas will convince you otherwise.

Supersize Your Storage

Marissa’s Culinary-Chic Compact Studio (Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

If there’s one thing every small-space dweller wishes they had just a little more of, it’s storage. So why not work it right into your home’s design? Marissa Lippert takes it one step further by using a giant carved wooden armoire (a Craigslist score!) as the focal point of her 450-square-foot studio apartment. She uses the armoire to hide files, linens and knick-knacks, while the decorative doors add beauty to the sitting area. If you have room for one large piece of furniture, it may as well be one that delivers both storage and style.

Take Your Shelving Sky-High

Shelving is one thing you don’t have to be shy about in a small space. Wall-mounted varieties can climb all the way up to the ceiling, yet are narrow and typically jut out less than one foot. In Lyndsay and Fitzhugh’s Brooklyn home, open shelving takes up an entire wall in the kitchen, but like the armoire in the space previously shown, these functional and beautiful shelves are well worth the real estate. In the kitchen, fill them with appliances and dishes, and in the living room, use shelves to hold not just books, but collectibles and baskets, as well.

Make the Ceiling Stand Out

If you’re dreaming of a bold color or pattern that risks overwhelming your tiny space, consider popping it on the ceiling. Audrey Wrisley, the owner of the kitchen above, bravely wallpapered the ceiling with a palm frond print from Graham & Brown. “We lucked out with our small kitchen ceiling that is recessed, so while the jungle print wallpaper is a bold pattern, it doesn’t necessarily overwhelm the entire space,” she says. Try this with a standout pattern on a small section of ceiling, or pick a dramatic color—just avoid anything too dark that can make your space look even smaller.

Let Your Lighting Shine

Because pendant lights and chandeliers hang above your living area, they’re an ideal way to add some slightly out-of-the-way personality to your home. In Amandine and Amaury’s Paris apartment, an expansive, yet delicate fixture by Constance Guisset (available at Petite Friture) commands attention without sacrificing space. Amandine says the light is one of her favorite elements of her home, and Nancy Mitchell, who photographed the space, deems it the apartment’s “crowning glory.” “It immediately catches your eye upon walking in, and looks just a little bit different from every spot in the apartment,” she says. To find a shining star for your own home, browse these 15 stunning chandeliers.