6 Brilliant Small-Space Decorating Tips from Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool NYC Designer Showcase

published Apr 27, 2022
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Dining room with multi-colored painted cube shelves, each holding a white object. Bright striped walls, orange dining chairs and colorful tableware
Credit: Rikki Snyder

If you’re looking to have big-time style and functionality in a small space, I have some great news for you. We challenged designers to creatively lay out and decorate 12 teeny (120-square-foot!) rooms for this year’s Small/Cool NYC event, which is now open to the public in the Soho neighborhood of New York City until May 15.

You better believe that every single one of the 12 designers delivered on eye-catching, space-saving ideas — so much so that I had to round up some of their very best tips and tricks for making small rooms seem palatial. Here, you’ll find their best fool-the-eye ideas as well as a few strategies for eking out every square inch in a teeny-tiny apartment or home.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Separate a small space into zones for distinct purposes

Even tiny rooms can benefit from a partition or two to separate a living area from a working area or a working area from a sleep area and so on. Whether you use a bookcase, room divider, or DIY something out of fabric or wood, choose a piece that offers storage or can be stashed away on the fly if that suits your needs better.

Dress your divider of choice up with artwork to make it look a little less utilitarian, just like designer and TikToker Sourya Venumbaka did in her “Bespoke Style” multi-purpose room that she designed in partnership with Toyota Corolla Cross. You can find a readymade piece or create something on your own and then pop it into a thrifted frame.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Let symmetry be your best friend

The human eye likes symmetry; it’s visually calming, and that’s why it can be a great strategy in a small space where you don’t want to overwhelm the senses with too many different silhouettes or items. Design in pairs like HGTV personality and designer Carmeon Hamilton did in her “Boho Beauty” bedroom — matching chairs, nightstands, lamps, or even artwork — for an interesting yet calming decorating scheme.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Remember that no room is too small for a built-in

If you measure carefully and choose small space-appropriate products, you can fit built-in storage in just about anywhere. Designer Jessica Davis used IKEA SEKTION cabinetry with Semihandmade doors — and her own Nest Studio hardware — to add closed storage to the back wall of her “Memphis-Deco” living room.

Having closed storage cuts down on clutter, which is key in small spaces. Because these cabinets aren’t that deep, there’s still more than enough room for a sofa, coffee table, and a set of swivel chairs in the space, too.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Find furniture that can do double duty

What’s the only thing better than a stylish sofa? A stylish sofa with a built-in side table, like the Lemieux et Cie Olivet Platform Sofa designer Christiane Lemieux used in her multi-purpose study. Look for designs that have multi-purpose functions so your furnishings are really earning the square footage they occupy in your rooms. You can also gravitate towards wall-mounted items as well, which will free up floor space and keep a design scheme airy and light.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Look for visually light furnishings

A great way to fool the eye in a small space is to use clear glass or acrylic furniture. These pieces are super-stylish, work with tons of aesthetics, and appear to take up no space at all in a room because they’re see-through.

Leggy designs also have the same effect. Chairs like the metal ones designer Miles Willis McDermott used in his “Wanderlust Fulfilled” room are not only low to the ground, enabling you to see his wallpaper and funky Greek key wall treatment, but the chairs’ legs are also streamlined, shiny, and metal. So again, they appear visually light in the context of a space.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Vertical patterns can make your ceilings appear taller

If you want to create the illusion of a loftier, airier space, work your walls with vertical patterns. Designer Jenna Pilant used 11 BEHR paint colors (and one BEHR spray paint) in her “Walls That Wow” room in partnership with BEHR® Paint to create these vertical stripes, and this paint treatment makes her walls seem like they go on for days. You can also do the same thing with vertical shiplap, as designer and blogger Kyle Ortiz did in his “California Cool” bedroom, or with a vertically-oriented wallpaper pattern.

Small/Cool NYC is a shoppable, in real life and digital home design showcase full of decorating tips and tricks from your favorite designers. Visit us from April 22 to May 15, 2022, on weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET at 515 Broadway in Soho, New York City. Check out our event schedule and the whole virtual experience online at and follow along on Instagram @apartmenttherapy. Thank you to our sponsors BEHR® Paint, Toyota Corolla Cross, Ashley, Yogi® Tea, and Chasing Paper for making this experience possible.