10 Smart Small-Space Tricks to Steal from Some of Our Best Before and Afters

published Mar 11, 2021
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Before: cluttered guest room with white dresser
Credit: Emily Neal

No matter how much square footage your home has, there are likely areas where you feel a little pressed for space. Maybe your closets are tiny, or your bathroom is cramped, or your kitchen has barely enough elbow room for meal prep. But just because space is tight doesn’t mean your only options are to live in discomfort or purge half your belongings. As long as you’re willing to get a little creative, there’s a middle ground.

For proof, scour the list below for 10 of the best tips and tricks we’ve learned from before and afters throughout the years.

1. Turn a closet into something completely unexpected.

At just 140 square feet, this shoebox-sized studio didn’t have room for much — not even a kitchen. To solve this conundrum, renter Lily Fuentez transformed a standard sliding door closet into a kitchenette using a storage cabinet from Home Depot and some creative shelving. To complete the “room,” she also added a bit of color: new red knobs on the cabinet and an adorable blue microwave.

2. Create a multifunctional headboard.

The best small-space furniture does double duty to help save square footage. Take this cool DIY floating headboard, which is made with strips of wood for a lattice effect and includes built-in floating shelves that serve as nightstands.

3. Use a moveable kitchen island.

A lot changed in this awkwardly shaped, 450-square-foot railroad-style apartment — but one thing that stayed the same was the moveable kitchen island. The generous size is great for adding prep space and providing a place to eat meals or a perch when socializing. And despite the fact that it’s equipped with wheels, this model has a luxe style that makes it look like built-in cabinetry.

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4. Get smart about storage.

A 330-square-foot studio doesn’t leave much space for extras like off-season clothes. But with a little creativity, you don’t have to purge or rent a separate storage space. Take a hint from this creative dweller, who hid a large storage trunk under her bed frame. Here’s the real draw: It also pulls out to double as a table for up to eight people.

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5. Transform a bare corner into an entertaining must-have.

Just because you live in a small space doesn’t mean you can’t have little luxuries like a home bar. For just $1,500, these homeowners transformed an empty, useless corner into a built-in bar, complete with plenty of storage space, open shelving, a wine fridge, and stylish details like a tile backsplash and a wooden countertop.

6. Opt for floor-to-ceiling cabinets.

You’d never recognize the former shell of this sophisticated black-and-white kitchen. But the new cabinets do way more than add to the style of the room — they go from floor to ceiling to add plenty of storage space and draw the eye up, creating the illusion of a larger space.

7. Configure a breakfast nook.

Rather than deal with a cramped eating space the two of them could hardly use comfortably, these homeowners reconfigured the space by adding a built-in banquette to create a cozy breakfast nook. The result was a much brighter, airier spot that felt roomy enough to have guests for dinner.

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8. Install built-ins.

You might think adding built-ins would take away from usable square footage, but they actually have the opposite effect. While it’s true you do lose some floor space, what you gain — plenty of extra storage and a high-end aesthetic — makes it totally worth it. Consider them for bedrooms, where they can store clothes and linens; living areas, where they can store books and other media; and in a home office, as shown in this stunning DIY renter-friendly redo.

9. Use color to your advantage.

This teeny tiny bathroom proves what a difference playing with color can make. To take the space from dungeon-y to bright and modern, the homeowners painted everything white and added brighter light fixtures to make everything feel airy and, thus, larger.

10. Remove a non-functional closet.

Sometimes it’s not about what you can add, but what you can remove. Here, these homeowners ripped out a closet that simply didn’t function the way they wanted it to in order to create a bigger, more practical entryway.