Making it work: How to decorate a small space

Whether you are downsizing into retirement or decorating a vacation condo, these moves tend to mean more excitement and definitely less square footage. In order to maximize your available space, so that every area looks spacious and comfortable, there are certain design and decorating rules that you should follow:


The key to designing in a small space is to make sure that the furniture and decor fit the room. While you may love your large L shaped sofa and matching lounge chair, it’s not going to fit in 400 square feet.

With less space, you have to be more creative. Sofa beds, instead of couches, turn into instant guest quarters. Nesting side tables instead of a big coffee table turn into instant extra space for putting down a martini. Benches with storage inside them do double duty as extra seating and a great way to hide a little clutter.


small space2Clutter only serves to make a small space look even smaller. Avoid it at all costs by making sure that everything in your home has its own home and don’t let piles of things drag in entryways or on chairs.

Storage benches, as mentioned in the previous point, are ideal in this capacity, as are storage baskets, hanging hooks and so on. Maximize any available dead space—under the stairs, for example—by turning it into usable storage space.

If there’s a way to get something off of flat surfaces, do it. Example? Knife blocks take up a lot of space on a countertop. But if you have the extra wall space in your kitchen, put up magnets and ‘hang’ your knives. Easy to reach and they are off the flat surface.


If you have a lot of natural light coming into your space, leverage it by using delicate, flowing window treatments and strategically positioned mirrors. These reflect the light and give the impression of a larger space, tricking the eye into thinking there is more depth than there actually is. Place a mirror next to a window or directly across from it to create the effect you want.


If you have a thing for wild and colorful prints, just keep in mind that too much of even a good thing can simply be too much. The ideal design, if you are going to use prints in your upholstery or throw cushions, is to keep some continuity in your color scheme and pick up a shade of your print in a wall accent. The colors will blend together without being overwhelming to the eye.


A smaller space tends to favor a more minimalist design, so having all of your collectible figurines on display on the shelves, side and console tables will bring the room in rather than opening it up. You can still have some of your collection out, but maybe pare it down to a select few.


Avoid darker shades of paint on the walls. You can definitely do an accent wall in a bolder color, but all four walls in navy blue will be oppressive. The same is true for ceiling colors: keep it light relative to the wall color, to give the impression of openness; even if the ceilings are low, it won’t feel dark and small. One great tip is to match your wall color to the larger pieces of furniture in the room; that way, the latter blend in more and seem smaller as a result.

For flooring, you should also keep it relatively neutral, with splashes of color in throw rugs, for example. And when it comes to furnishings, materials like glass and metal, which reflect light and feel more airy, give a great sense of space than dark, heavy wood pieces.

If you want to avoid heavy bookshelves, try floating shelves, anchored to the wall. They are a talking point for guests and a lot of fun to decorate with.


You can, once again, use color to give a sense of space: keep it light or neutral on the walls and the ceiling.

To furnish a small bedroom, the key is to avoid pieces that are too large and cumbersome. Skip the full head and foot board and try adding a wall panel at the head. They can add a pop of color that breaks up the neutral wall a little, making a visual focal point that delights.

If you don’t need two bedside tables, don’t use two. Balance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. nstead, install lighting on the wall for reading and keep a basket handy for books.

Streamline your linens so that colors and textures are uniform. You don’t want a red bedspread with orange pillows and faux fur throws, all mixed together, in a tiny space! It’s just too much for the eye to take in.


If you don’t have eat in space, don’t try and create it. A formal dining room or breakfast nook is a nice to have but if space doesn’t allow, try using stools at the breakfast bar or island to make best use of that area. If you still want a table and chairs, round tables conserve a little more space and visually seem to fit better.  

Don’t forget to minimize kitchen clutter, which can close in that space quickly. If you have tools and small appliances that you don’t use all the time, find somewhere to store them out of site. Less is more in the small kitchen setup.


While it might seem odd to add more to a small bathroom, storage is at the heart of keeping it a usable space, even if two people are in there getting ready in the morning. Decorative shelves and hooks for everything from bathrobes to towels, with soap and candles above, keep your necessities in reach and out of the way, at the same time.

Maximize your mirrors for that eye trick effect of creating space where there is none. Ditch the tiny medicine cabinet in favor of as large a piece that can fit over your sink. Mirrored accents and backsplashes can help with a similar effect.

Finally, if your shower has a rod and curtain, hang it as high as you can: this gives the illusion of higher ceilings and greater space. The curtain should be a simple print so as not to be overwhelming; in fact, all your colors should be from the same palette for that reason.

With all of these tips, you can take your small urban space and turn it into a cool loft minimalist oasis, with ease; a space you and your family, friends and guests can enjoy for years to come.