5 Rental-Friendly Decorating Tricks to Make Your Whole Home Look Bigger

updated Jun 29, 2020
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Megan Leihgeber kitchen

Megan Leihgeber has been renting her Austin home since August 2017. The 650-square-foot 1970’s bungalow is a one-bedroom, but it’s just right size for the artist, her boyfriend, Ian, and their three large dogs. “I found this listing and called the listing number right when it popped up on Realtor.com,” she says. “We signed two days later.”

Previously, the couple had been living in a slightly smaller studio on the East Side, a place that felt a little dark and dingy, since it lacked natural light. They craved room for their dogs to play and hoped to carve out space for their creative endeavors—he likes to work on cars, and she’s a ceramicist who owns her own business, Maya Blu. A large kitchen, lots of windows, and quirky touches, like the bathroom’s black-and-white tile, made this new space that much more appealing. “Yes, we only gained 130 square feet, but it’s made a whole world of difference,” Leihgeber says. 

How exactly did Leihgeber capitalize on the floor plan, living what feels like large in less than 700 square feet? Well, she made a handful of smart decorating moves, and you can use some of these same strategies to maximize your space, too.

Choose oversized shades

The living room window above Leihgeber’s sofa is so small and awkward that it made the entire room feel off and a little closed in. To level out its scale and open up the space, she hung an oversized bamboo shade from Overstock.com that masks the actual dimensions of the wonky window. You’d never know it wasn’t the same size—or even larger—than the other windows in the space, and the shade adds a nice hit of texture above the sofa. You could also use a wall hanging or tapestry for something like this, but a standard bamboo shade is a much cheaper alternative. Another way to fake bigger windows and a taller, loftier room? By mounting draperies higher than windows, which Leihgeber did here as well.

Go vertical with furnishings

One simple way to make a home feel larger than it is is to maximize vertical space. In the bedroom, which has 8-foot ceilings, Leihgeber installed two hanging lamps, both Maya Blu originals, which immediately draw the eye up. 

In the bathroom, she went with a unique shower curtain choice, a grand cream-toned living room curtain from Restoration Hardware that dramatically hangs from a tension rod right at the ceiling line. “It makes the room feel bigger by having a large curtain, while the cream color warms everything up,” she says. She also made use of dead space above the toilet with a wall-mounted geometric shelving unit and a basket for towels placed on top of the toilet’s tank.

Find furniture that really fits your space

Just as Leihgeber thought about ways to emphasize the ceiling height in each of her spaces, she also used furniture that would underscore those efforts. In the living room, for example, that meant choosing CB2’s low slung Piazza White Armless Sofa to “make the room look like it extends in both directions,” she says. Because the piece has no arms or legs and the seat is about the size of a twin mattress, it’s visually sleek and can essentially double as a comfy guest bed. “I also included a lot of floor pillows,” she says of her living room setup. “It works well for the dogs and provides more seating when people can come over again.” You can see some of those extra cushions above, at the ready in a woven bin.

Keep your palette simple

Leihgeber kept everything plain and simple when it came to the whole home’s palette, filling her rooms with tonal neutrals and plenty of texture, thanks to accessories. “Patterns can make a home feel a bit claustrophobic,” she says. Shopping at places like Target, Marshalls, and Tuesday Morning, she was able to find tone-on-tone pieces like pillows, floor cushions, and textiles that add visual interest without the busyness that can come with more maximalist-leaning methods of pattern mixing. Case in point: her bedroom, which features stitched shams, a coverlet with ruched details, and a throw with a subtle stripe on it. To keep the room from feeling too ethereal, she used matte black side tables and lighting to add grounding elements to the space.

Lighten up with reflective, clear materials

If you want to keep a room looking bright, big, and airy, glassy and glossy materials are your best friends. Just take a look at Leihgeber’s kitchen. Not only do the glass-front cabinets put dishes and serving pieces on display, but they also lend the room a visually light quality along the sink wall that you wouldn’t get if all the cupboards had solid doors. If you can’t afford to replace your cabinet doors or your landlord won’t allow it, you can fake a similar feel by just taking the doors off of a few of your cupboards—anything that breaks up a wall of closed cabinetry will help. Simply put them back on before you move.