Tue. May 28th, 2024

Living in a place with small rooms—whether it’s a cramped studio apartment, tiny house, or century-old manor with a closed floor plan—presents a decorating challenge. But you don’t need to sacrifice good design when things are extra tight.

Peruse these clever small apartment decorating ideas that make small rooms seem more spacious. You may just find what you need to transform your home from cramped to comfy.

Embrace Neutral Artwork

Photo Courtesy of Casa de Suna 


“Embracing light and neutral colors is a design secret that can transform a cramped space into an open oasis,” says Andrea Wells, co-founder of Casa de Sana. She suggests soft whites, calming beiges, and gentle grays that will reflect natural light, creating an airy ambiance. “By sticking to this palette not only for the walls, ceilings, and floors, but also artwork and decorative touches you’ll instantly open up the room and make it feel more spacious,” she says. “Neutrals allow visual breathing room, making every corner feel inviting and expansive.”

Reconfigure Your Bedroom

Photo by Sandra Geroux for TALD designer Tami Wassong


“If you don’t have room for a bed and nightstands combine headboard and floating nightstands to utilize space and free up the floor to make the room feel more spacious,” says TALD designer Tami Wassong, of Tami Wassong Interiors. “Bed lighting can also be on the wall to free up the top of the nightstand.”

Use Light Paint Colors

Use light colors on the walls and floor because softer hues make a small apartment feel bigger and brighter. The reflective nature of light colors gives space an open, airy feel and maximizes the effect of natural light. Conversely, dark colors absorb light, making a room look smaller.

Hang a Mirror

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida


When you place a mirror opposite a window, it bounces natural light around the room, making the space feel airier. The bigger the mirror, the better. At night, a mirror doubles the soft, warm glow given off by the room’s lighting fixtures, making this one of the most effective space-enhancing, small-room tricks.

Consider a Murphy Bed

Photo by Reid Rolls.

For rooms with multiple functions, explore all-in-one furniture pieces, says Sarah Tract of Sarah Tract Interiors . “For a guest bedroom that doubles as a home office, a Murphy bed and desk unit fits the bill,” she says. “When the bed is down, the room feels cozy and inviting, and when tucked away and of sight, it becomes all business. Not only is this a necessary space saver, but it can help create separation from work, enhancing work/life balance.” 

Let the Light In

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Loads of natural light make a room feel airy and less claustrophobic, but in a small space, abundant natural light is often an advantage you haven’t been dealt. Nevertheless, maximize the light you have by keeping windows open and clear of furniture that is taller than the sill.

Perhaps the view out your window is not worth viewing—say, a brick wall or your neighbor’s window—or you prefer the public not have a front-row seat into your window. In these cases, let the light in while blocking the view by going with sheers instead of heavy drapery, or look into shades that provide privacy while letting light filter through.

Sprinkle in Some Metallics

Jessica Nelson Design


A shimmery lamp, light fixture, or other metallic object can brighten up a space, similar to the way a mirror does. Try these tips for making a space seem bigger using metallics:

  • Avoid using too many different metal types and colors, which can leave a room looking messy and visually unpleasant.
  • Besides fixtures and tchotchkes, consider incorporating metallic paint on your walls, metallic screens as room dividers, and furniture with metallic accents.

Add Mirrors to Cabinetry

Image by Margaret Rajic Photography, Photo Stylist: Brandi Devers.

Susan Klimala of TKS Design Group suggests replacing the center portion of existing kitchen cabinetry doors with mirrors, as seen here, to create the illusion of depth.

Install Floating Shelves

Farmhouse with Open Shelves.
Getty / Mint Images Helen Norman

Floating shelves and nightstands offer storage space without the bulkiness of chests, bookcases, and armoires. They also keep the floor clear of obstacles, making the room seem less cluttered.

Use this trick for lighting, too. Instead of floor lamps, opt for wall-mounted and hanging lights.

Go Custom

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto


“When working within small spaces, every inch matters!” says Alexis Pew of Kaminski + Pew. “Built-in elements can maximize usable space and make a world of difference. Custom desks, bookshelves, storage cabinets, or banquette seating can all help make the best of awkward conditions and limited square footage.”

Think Vertically

KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

If your room is too small, just look up. Chances are you’re underutilizing the upper half of your room. Start with these ideas:

  • Add vertical storage, such as a vintage ladder for storing a throw blanket, towels, placemats, or quilts.
  • Use the tops of bookcases, hutches, and doorways to lean frames, add lighting, or display treasures.
  • Enlist a palm tree into your décor that draws the eye upward.

Make Use of Corners

William Abranowicz

This often-overlooked area can be a great spot to squeeze in an extra accent chair or a corner bookshelf, making a studio apartment or small room more livable. Consider these other ideas:

  • Tuck a cozy chair with a throw blanket in a corner to create an instant reading nook.
  • Add a plant and grow light to a dark corner to make the space come alive, literally.
  • Install an eye-catching floor lamp or dramatic hanging lamp that doubles as a piece of art.

Fake Bigger Windows

Neutral window treatments help to open up smaller rooms.
Getty Images

Installing curtain rods a few inches below the ceiling (instead of right above the window frame) draws the eye upward to make windows seem taller. The same trick works to visually expand a window’s width if you hang the rods a few inches beyond the sides of the panes. To make this trick work best, choose curtains that are about twice the width of the windows.

Match Your Curtain Color to Your Walls

RUNSTUDIO/Getty Images

Hanging curtains that blend with the walls creates an unbroken line, which makes a room feel larger. But don’t stop there:

  • Opt for a curtain material that lets the sunshine in, especially if the curtains are usually kept closed.
  • Choose curtains with a vertical pattern or weave to make the room seem taller.
  • Avoid mid-length or window-sized curtains that chop up the look of a room and accentuate space limitations.
  • Install a decorative curtain rod to draw the eye upward.

Choose Scaled-Down Furniture

Jonny Valiant

For a cramped apartment, opt for furniture that suits a smaller space, like a petite table. Even traditionally bulky pieces—such as upholstered club chairs—come in narrower widths these days, so you can get the same look without cramming your furnishings.

Go Big With a Chandelier

Evergreen Chandelier.
Curious Details

Don’t be afraid to go big with your small room lighting choice. A chandelier or oversized pendant lighting is a surprising option for small spaces. It offers a focal point that draws the eye up, providing vertical interest and balance to a small room.

If you decide to go with big lighting, make sure the rest of the room’s décor is muted so the room doesn’t feel crowded. The other rule to consider is the light’s height: It should hang no lower than 7 feet from the floor.

Leave Space for Walking

Tessa Neustadt

Amy Mobley and Katie Norrid of City Hill Design say that another critical element to consider when laying out your furniture in a small space is ensuring that you have proper walk spaces. “We recommend leaving 18 inches between a chair or sofa and a coffee table, and 3 feet for walk spaces between furniture pieces. Proper scale and walk spaces can easily make a space feel larger than it is!”

Opt for Airy Pieces

The Spacious Living Room of the 2016 Dream Home.
Image (c) 2016 Scripps Networks, LLC, Used with Permission

Furniture selection goes a long way in determining how spacious or cramped a room looks:

  • In general, streamlined pieces with sleek, straight silhouettes look cleaner and fit into small spaces more easily than those with curves. 
  • Instead of a solid-wood coffee table, which can weigh down a space, choose a see-through acrylic one or a table with an open metal base.
  • When choosing a sofa or chair for a small space, look for armless pieces, which don’t take up as much space.

Decorate With Double-Duty Finds

Sarah Maingot

When shopping for furniture for a small space, you can’t afford for a piece to serve only one purpose. Look for items that have more than one function, such as these:

  • A garden stool that serves as an end table and a spot to perch
  • An ottoman with a tray to hold your TV remote that transforms into extra seating
  • A bench that displays books when not used for seating
  • A light fixture that doubles as a piece of art

Texture, Texture, Texture!

Photo by Nick Glimenakis for TALD designer Kate Spiro


“Using texture in your home helps to break up a flat space and prevent it from feeling one-dimensional,” says TALD designer Kate Spiro of Kate Spiro Interiors.A space that lacks depth feels smaller and more confined. Layering in textures like soft nubby fabrics, natural elements, and incorporating mixed materials all add visual interest and depth.” 

Sneak in Some Storage

Jessica Morris, White Picket Farmhouse

An easy way to keep a small room from becoming cluttered is to choose furniture with space to store objects, like these:

  • A double-tiered coffee table
  • A bench with bins underneath
  • An ottoman with a removable top and empty space inside

Overcome a Low Ceiling

real-simple-home-2022-florida-Living-Room-143.

Christopher Testani


A low ceiling can make a small room feel even smaller, and it’s usually something we’re stuck with, but never fear. You can overcome a low ceiling with these styling tricks:

  • Vertical stripes or patterns on the walls or drapes can make a low ceiling feel higher.
  • Install a bold rug to draw your attention away from the ceiling.
  • Mount artwork on a wall at different levels, to create a perception of height.
  • Incorporate lighting that blends into the ceiling, like glass or monochromatic fixtures.

Make Your Furniture Mobile

Courtesy of Urban Outfitters


Buying furniture on casters (or outfitting it with casters yourself) allows you to easily rearrange pieces as needed. You can push a chair, table, plant, or kitchen island out of the way, or roll a futon into position to comfortably set up for overnight guests.

To free up even more floor space, consider selecting furniture you can fold up when not in use. Look for a folding desk, table and chairs, or room-dividing screens.

Use Clustered Lighting

Photography by Jaka Vinšek / Styling by Liz Chancey

Darkness makes a room feel small, so the more lighting a room has, the more spacious it feels. With this in mind, instead of a large lamp, try clustering a few small ones to add impact to a corner desk or mantelpiece. By the same token, positioning a handful of small pendant lampshades over a coffee table makes a bigger visual effect—and more light—than just one. 

Keep Sight Lines Clear

Photo by Cate Black for TALD designer Audrey Scheck, of Audrey Scheck Design


TALD designer Audrey Scheck, of Audrey Scheck Design says to arrange furniture in a way that allows for clear sightlines from one end of the room to the other: “This can help the space feel more open and spacious,” she says. “Additionally, choosing minimal decor can help prevent visual clutter. Instead, opt for a few statement pieces that complement the overall aesthetic of the room without overwhelming it.”

Bring in a Plant

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Greenery makes even the smallest space feel fresher and lighter. An indoor tree adds vertical interest to a room and attracts attention upward. If you don’t have room on the floor, place a houseplant atop a high bookcase or shelf, or try a hanging one.

Control Clutter

Helpful tips for appealing to newlywed buyers.
Getty Images

Getting rid of clutter is great advice for any sized room, but it is even more important for small ones. A minimalistic approach to décor makes a small room seem bigger, lighter, and airier. Easier said than done? Yes, so start small, one corner at a time.

Use Walls as Displays

Vtwonen

Turn your prized collection—or just everyday objects—into wall art:

  • To clear out valuable drawer space in the bedroom, hang up your jewelry and put it on display.
  • In the kitchen, make a wall display out of pretty cutting boards, trivets, or cookware.
  • Bring fancy hats out of the closet to hang proudly as a gallery wall.

Pull Furniture Away From the Walls

William Waldron

When air and space visually circulate around furniture, it makes a small room or studio apartment seem bigger. Move a couch a few inches away from the wall, for example, to make the living room look more open. This tactic avoids leaving a weird, wasted space in the middle of a room.

Incorporate Some Black Paint

Justin Salem Meyer


It seems counterintuitive but, when used correctly, black can work wonders for elongating a space. Using black for a ceiling and walls creates a visual void, tricking the eye into believing there’s more space. The key to pulling off this look is lots of natural light, which prevents a small room from seeming closed off and dark.

Go Bigger!

Photography by Vivian Johnson for Shira Gill

“When you’re working with a small space, think BIG!” Says Lauren Meichtry of Elsie Home  “Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, and many people think they should choose smaller-scale pieces in small spaces. But just the opposite is true. Larger furniture in a small room makes the room feel larger.”

Add More to Your Walls

Photo by Public 311 Design.

Meichtry also says that adding more to your walls can actually help your small space. “We love using wallpaper for small spaces, as it creates dimension without taking up square footage. Wallpaper all four walls or even the ceiling! I promise you, your space will come to life.”

Mirrors and Color

Photo by Emily Hart Photo for Kelsey Leigh Design Co.


“We’ve recently completed a little jewel box of a wine room – crafted out of a former coat closet for a client outside of Charlotte,” explains Ryann Swan Hackett of Ryann Swan Design. “While there was no way to make the room ever feel large, we utilized antique mirror glass along the back wall and wrapped the ceiling and walls in wallcovering that matched the same paint used on the millwork. The mirror did the obvious in helping the space feel larger but enveloping the room in one color made a huge impact on allowing the space to feel larger,” And don’t shy away from color, she says. Just because a room is small doesn’t mean it needs to be all white but bolder hues are more successful when the entire room—walls and ceiling— are enveloped in the same hue.

Install Roman Shades

Image by Margaret Rajic Photography, Photo Stylist: Brandi Devers.

“Install a Roman shade with a semi-opaque fabric that brings in just enough sun to light up a space while still providing privacy,” says Susan Klimala of TKS Design Group. “Select a linen, cotton blend fabric in a light color to achieve this look.”

Balance Colors

Photo by Kaila Edwards.

Shaolin Low of Studio Shaolin  says that she’s found that the best thing you can do to make a space feel bigger is to balance your color choices. “If you have a navy blue sofa, then the rest of the space should feel lighter and brighter. Also, don’t be scared to take up space—use up the entire wall that your bed and nightstands go on!”

Bring in Art

Photo by Laura Saur for TALD Designer Spruce Interior


TALD designer Susan Galvani of Spruce Interior suggests bringing in artwork with depth to suggest space beyond the walls. “Photography works really well here when you use a piece like Kate Holstein’s “Poolside St. Barth” (pictured here),” says Galvani.


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