6 Fresh Ideas for a Stylish Small Space—According to Designers Who Live in Small Spaces

published Sep 25, 2020
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Robert McKinley's Manhattan apartment

Short on square footage? Yeah, me too. Frustrated by hearing the same old tips time and time again, I reached out to a few designers to see what they do in their own tiny homes. If you want to live large in your own small space, try these decorating moves to make your tight quarters feel practically palatial.

Credit: Will Taylor

Try a paint trick

When design pro Will Taylor painted the bedroom of his Manhattan apartment in PPG’s Gray Frost, he wanted it to feel “cozy and cocoon-like” but not cramped. So he left a foot-high border of white around the top of each wall. “It made the low ceilings feel as though they soared much higher than they really did,” says the creator of the Bright Bazaar blog. “Plus, it just looked really cool.”

Transform your hallway into useable space 

Designer Angela Belt turned the five-foot-wide hall of her old row home in West Hartford, CT, into a functioning office space. “I had to design vertically, so I got an IKEA desk that attaches to the wall and a desk chair that slides under, so it doesn’t get in the way when someone passes through to go out the door,” she says. Belt also repurposed her bar cart into a supply station, stocking the top with office tools (magazine holders, sticky notes) and putting her printer on the bottom. “I wanted to hide the printer,” she says, “So I wrapped the bar cart with fabric and attached it with Velcro.” You could also transform a closet into a makeshift office or multipurpose space, too, as shown above.

Inject color in small but effective ways

In his one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, designer Robert McKinley chose quiet white or cream shades for all the big stuff—walls, sofa, curtains—to “create some airiness,” he says. Then, to keep things from getting boring, he brought in color with smaller details like wooden beads hung on the coat rack, a collection of magazines and books, and a graphic floor rug. You can still make a big impact with color, even if you use it on just a few select pieces. 

Pep up a tiny spot with a big, bold pattern

An unexpected zingy print in a confined space like a mudroom, powder room, or even a small bedroom, as shown above in McKinley’s apartment, actually can make that spot feel instantly more expansive.

Belt tried this out in her office area, lining the wall behind the desk with this graphic peel-and-stick wallpaper. A decorative wall treatment like this can also be transportive. “The fun design makes you feel like you’re somewhere else instead of just a workspace,” she says. 

Credit: Mel + Mario

Rethink typical furnishings

If your living room is small, why not skip the full-size sofa and go with a chaise instead? That’s the space-maximizing logic designer Vanessa De Vargas uses in her interiors projects. “If you place it in the corner and add large-scale pillows, it doubles as an extra bed for company,” she says. Same goes for a coffee table. “Swap out that bulky piece for two storage bins that hold linens and can also serve as seating.”

Turn walls into workhorses

Clearing all the surfaces you can is the key to an airy home, says De Vargas, whose own home in Venice, CA, is a 500-square-foot bungalow. “Any room that’s cluttered automatically feels smaller than it really is,” says De Vargas. She suggests getting everything you can off of counters and floors—and that doesn’t just mean putting away knickknacks but choosing room accents strategically, too. “Think sconces instead of floor lamps and floating shelves instead of bookshelves, which take up way too much room.”