Tiny rooms don’t have to skimp on style, but they do need a bit of creative problem solving to make them functional and still have enough breathing room to be comfortable. That’s why I’m laying out these twelve tips to show you how decorating small spaces isn’t as hard as it seems!
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #1: Determine the Rooms Function Before Anything Else
Regardless of size, a room has to function!
Do you need a king size bed to be comfortable? Then get one! Nightstands aren’t an absolute necessity, but getting a good night’s sleep is, even if that means compromising on a bit of walkway.
Do you host a lot of dinner parties? Then get a table that expands so you aren’t taking up that space all the time, along with some chairs that either fold-up or stack for storage.
Need an extra bedroom to function as both an office and a guest room? Get a sleeper sofa and put the desk in the closet- or have it built-in, like I did. Your guests can use a cute roller hanger or one that folds up for temporary use.
So before you read all of the remaining tips, just remember the function. That may mean that you have to get a bit creative or compromise on a bit of walkway space. But function beats everything!
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #2: Try a Subtle Color Scheme
This one is totally debatable in the design world. Here’s my take.
Color helps establish the mood of the room, which leads back to function.
So if you want a room to be more peaceful, you’ll have softer colors, while bolder, brighter colors will add energy and deeper hues will add drama or make a room feel cozy.
From personal experience, I have noticed that when I design rooms with minimal contrast, the room feels larger.
My living room is shades or cream, gold, pink, and oxblood. Minimal contrast. Yes touches of black are spread throughout, but the room feels bigger.
On the other hand, my office is a color explosion: chartreuse, navy, aqua, orchid, black. This room does not feel nearly as big.
But here’s the important part.
My living is designed to be peaceful and serene (thus the subtle color scheme) and my office is designed to be energetic and productive (so there’s a lot of invigorating colors).
What does this all come back to?
Like I said in tip number one, when your decorating small spaces, function is still the most important part.
So if you want a room to be peaceful, and it’s small, a subtle color palette will aid in making the room feel larger.
But if you need a small space to be energetic and motivating, brighter colors with more contrast serve that function. This doesn’t mean that the room will automatically feel small, however. It just means that you need to incorporate some of the remaining tips to help maximize the space and add some breathing room.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #3: Remove Visual Clutter
Visual clutter kills any home, but when decorating small spaces, there simply isn’t any room for it. And any bit of clutter will be far more noticeable.
I strongly urge you to do a deep decluttering of your home, regardless of size (you can read my thoughts on the matter here) but in the meantime, focus on unsightly bits now by finding clever ways to get them out of sight.
For instance, my home is extremely tech heavy. Our remote controls go in pretty boxes in our living room, and all of my office tech, such as my web cam, mic cord, and headphones, are housed in a sleek lacquered box.
Large items, such as speakers and foot massagers (yes, this one is my husband’s) can be hidden behind larger pieces of furniture.
While some rooms may serve a double-function in smaller spaces, often- used items can also be stored in stylish floor baskets. No more kids’ toys or exercise equipment all over the house!
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #4: Pay Attention to Proportions
Large sofa in a small space. Yeah, I’ve totally been there. It took up way too much space, and both my husband didn’t use it- only I did. And I didn’t nearly need all of that space.
If you are seriously strapped for space, try getting a settee instead of a full-sized sofa. This worked beautifully for me and my husband- vintage leather recliner for him (that folds out when needed, taking up less space most of the time) and a settee for me and the pups.
If you absolutely must have a larger dining area, but don’t have much space, opt for lead chairs that aren’t too large and bulky.
And while you’re furniture shopping, don’t go for anything too curvy. Chairs and sofas with rolled arms and backs take up precious inches, inches that are much better put to use fitting in a coffee or side table.
And always, always make sure the furniture will actually fit in your space before purchasing. Online suppliers will give you the dimensions (if they don’t, swim away fast). If purchasing furniture in-store, bring a measuring tape. IKEA has them already there for you, and I always carry a little paper one in my purse.
Nothing is worse than falling in love with a coffee table, getting your heart set on it, and then realizing that it’s 36” wide and you need something more like 30”. Check the measurements first before you fall in love!
Pro Tip: Always check to see if accessories will fit as well. Don’t come home to disappointment and realize your new art print is too tall for your bookshelf.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #5: Hang Drapes Higher
Dinky drapes are a small space’s nemesis.
Get those drapes hung as high as possible and have them just kiss the floor (I tell all of my clients to get them ½” above).
This strong vertical line will make the room appear taller.
You can also hang them wider than the window if you want the window area to appear larger.
And while we’re on the subject of drapes, do yourself a favor. Go double-width!
By double-width, I mean, have your drapery panel’s width be at least double the width of your window area. If you really want a lush look, go triple the width. (I rarely do this with my client’s drapes, as we typically go for a modern look).
Drapes that aren’t full look cheap. And while I know this article is about decorating small spaces, I thought I’d throw it out there. Dinky drapes = a dinky room.
So to summarize, hang ‘em high, kiss the floor, and have at least double the fullness needed to cover the window.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #6: Use Lines
Lines are a small space’s best friend!
Vertical lines will make a room taller (like the drapes!) but you can also hang a wallpaper that has some verticality in it, like the trees in my home, use a tall floor mirror in a corner, or use a pattern with vertical lines in your drapes.
The same goes with horizontal lines- they’ll make a room appear wider.
In my living room, I have a very linear settee (nothing with curves), as well as an area rug with a linear pattern, both making a very small space appear much wider.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #7: Choose Art and Wallpaper with Depth
If you pick the right pattern, wallpaper can add instant depth to a room and can be the perfect solution for decorating small spaces.
Look for wallpaper with scenes. Scenes where there is a foreground, middle ground, and background.
The trees in my living space do just this. The room looks like a vast forest, but in reality, it’s just a little room.
For this method, the larger the overall pattern repeat, the better, so you can really add some dimension into the space.
And if you’re not willing to hang wallpaper, try large pieces or art with the same premise- foreground, middle ground, and background. And go big! A lot of smaller pieces won’t make the room feel larger, and one small piece with depth, while pretty, probably won’t do anything to fool the eye into thinking the room is bigger.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #8: Maintain Walkways
Nothing is worse than tripping over furniture!
Maintaining walkways in your home is key for both functionality and for having a feeling of open space.
There are two numbers I always keep in mind when designing: 18 and 30.
If a space isn’t meant for walking, such as the space between a coffee table and chair or sofa (I call this scooter space) I make sure there is an 18” clearance- you need to be able to both reach the table and not feel trapped while sitting.
In other cases, I try to maintain at least a 30” clearance from one piece of furniture to another for walking. This goes for the dining table to the wall, the seating area to a desk in an office, the wall to the side of the bed in bedrooms, and the foot of the bed to a dresser or console.
But I am also incredibly aware that in some small spaces, the 30” is really hard. That’s where finding furniture that is proportional is key.
But in the end, I need a king sized bed, and I’m just short of the 30” clearance in my own bedroom. And it works, mostly because it is a private space with light traffic, and the room’s function allows for it to be more cozy.
So while these measurements are a good reference, if the room doesn’t have heavy traffic as part of it’s function, there’s some wiggle room. Just be aware that the space will feel more enclosed if these measurements aren’t maintained.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #9: Select Clear Furniture
Really want to take decorating a small space to the next level?
I’m talking acrylic and glass!
If you can’t see the material, is it really there?
Okay, enough with the philosophical ponderings, but seriously. Clear furniture takes up much less visual space than anything more solid.
Glass table tops, acrylic legs, ghost chairs (not the most comfy- so get pillows).
I have a client with a tight eat-in kitchen area, and she has acrylic bar stools, which work perfectly because they aren’t frequently used, so they don’t need to be super comfy.
Another client of mine wanted to keep her large living room furniture from her previous home. And while proportionally they were on the large size, we compensated for it by adding in a 24” wide coffee table (proportionally small) made of acrylic, freeing up the middle of her living area and leaving the space some room to breathe.
I use acrylic and glass in my home everywhere!
I have a little area right before my hallway that always needed something, but a chair would have been too bulky. In came the acrylic bar cart!
My office has a seating area, but I didn’t want anything bulky- in came an acrylic and glass coffee table.
Clear is where it’s at!
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #10: Get Rid of Visually Heavy Pieces
When decorating small spaces, you want the room to appear as light as possible, nothing too clunky.
So when deciding upon your major furniture pieces, go for items that have clearance underneath.
Coffee tables with open bottoms, sofas and chairs with legs that lift them off the ground.
Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule for EVERY furniture piece, but the more your can see underneath the furniture, the less visual space is taken up, giving you more of that ever-so-sought-after breathing room.
Let’s take my living room as an example. While my husband’s chair and side table do go all the way to the floor (and are curvaceous), our coffee table and my settee are raised.
This combined with a subtle color scheme, dimensional wallpaper with vertical elements, a linear area rug, and drapes that are hung high and kiss the floor, an otherwise small space appears much larger.
So what I’m getting at is my living room doesn’t check all the boxes. Yes, there is a bulky chair with a lot of curves. Yes, there is a side table that doesn’t have breathing room underneath.
You don’t have to use all of these tips, but the more you do choose, the more room you have to play around with breaking some of these tips!
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #11: Choose Multi-Purpose Furniture
Oh, do I know the struggles of not having enough storage space!
And while my current house has plenty of cabinets, my apartments never did, and not all of my clients’ homes do either.
So when deciding upon some new furniture pieces for a small space, try to add at least a piece or two that pulls double duty.
This can be an ottoman with storage built in or accessories that hold office supplies or other functional pieces (like remote controls).
I personally have a small ottoman in my walk-in closet that also functions as a hamper.
And since my living and dining areas are so small, I just move my lead dining chairs into my living room when company is over.
So think about finding some furniture with storage and how you can easily move furniture in your house when more seating is needed.
Decorating Small Spaces Tip #12: Mirrors! Mirror!
Now I’m not talking about 80’s mirror walls to double your space! But a well placed mirror will definitely add the illusion of more room.
And just like art, the bigger, the better.
A dinky little mirror will not make your room feel more grand, but a full-length floor mirror or a large-scale beauty behind a dining table or above a dresser will reflect your space.
Another thing I love about mirrors? They reflect light! So if a space if dark, add a mirror and the light will reflect. Another beautiful perk of mirrors!
I hope your biggest takeaways are that function trumps everything else, and that a few of these tips here and there will go a long way when decorating small spaces. So throw some lines in there, hang those drapes high, get the clutter out of the house, and start living large (even if your house is tiny!)
What’s your favorite way to decorate small spaces? Let me know in the comments!