There’s always at least one small room in every house. Whether you’re an apartment dweller and every room is small or you just happen to have an otherwise large home with two walls that converge into a weird shape, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to maximize the space you’ve got. But there are plenty of simple changes you can make to keep even the smallest space from feeling stifling, and turn even the most cramped of corners into a warm and cozy nook.
Repainting is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most dramatic changes you can make to expand a smallish room. Go with a light color, but not white or cream – a hint of color, whether it’s a warmer neutral or a pastel, makes a room immediately seem more inviting than one with plain, bare walls. If your room has a low ceiling, vertical stripes can give the illusion of height, and for a narrow room, or a room with one very short wall, horizontal stripes can make the room seem wider. The effect is easy to achieve – all you need is an extra smaller can of paint that’s one shade lighter or darker than what you’re using. Then, mask off thick stripes with painters tape and paint alternating lines all along the wall. For extra effect, use a slightly glossier paint for the stripes – just make sure to keep the colors close. Two very different colors, or two very different shades of the same color, can end up having the opposite effect and make the space even more claustrophobic.
More On Color
In a small space, light colors aren’t just for the walls – they should reign supreme throughout your room. The smaller the space, the more you want to stick with a light monochrome, keeping everything (paint, curtains, furniture, and accessories) in the same color family, with very close to the same shade. As you can see above, pulling the colors out of the rug and mimicking them throughout the room creates a warm, unified space. Sticking with a monochromatic scheme, especially in a lighter shade, makes your room seem wide and open, especially with a lot of:
The number one most important feature in a small room is the lighting. Pale, bright colors help create the impression of openness and light, but to really make them shine, you have to have some actual light to go with them. Now, if you happen to have huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows, so much the better. But chances are you don’t, and that makes it all the more imperative that you add LOTS of your own light. CFLS are better than incandescent bulbs, as they produce a brighter, whiter light, but the key is to mix and match types of lamps to maximize the amount of light you’re getting. Put standing lamps where you can, small lamps on your end tables, and wall sconces spaced evenly around the room – or at least framing a large picture or mirror.
Mirrors in general are good for small rooms, as they both increase apparent light and space (by doubling the room). Really huge mirrors might not be in vogue, but the bigger the better. For a stylish alternative, use multiple mirrors in a collage like the one above, or better yet install an Art Piece made of mirrors, or an array of several individual ones in different shapes and sizes.
This one can be a little touchy. For a small room, large artwork of any kind can make a great focal point. Pictures that extend deep into the background, like this Landscape Print, can help give the room depth, and scenic paintings or faux windows, especially when framed with real curtains, can create the illusion of space even beyond the walls.
The one big no-no in a small room is to use lots of small paintings scattered throughout the room. Busy walls can make a small room look cluttered and cramped, and can break up the flow of the room, compartmentalizing it into smaller pieces. If you want to have lots of small prints, make sure they’re similar in size and color scheme and preferably in matching frames, or part of a set, like this Study In Leaves. This will create a continuous, unifying theme throughout the room, or, if you hang them in a tight collage, it will give the spatial impression of a single picture.
This one should be a no brainer – the more furniture you try to stuff into an already small room, the more cramped it’s going to feel. But the solution is a little more elusive. Obviously, less and smaller furniture is better – between a sofa and a love seat, always pick the love seat. But there are subtler things you can do, too. Instead of a boxy, very Square Love Seat, or a super-stuffed, Puffy Chair with big arms and huge cushions, opt for something classic, with lots of loopy curves, but not a lot of padding. Victorian style chairs and love seats like this Italian Ivory Sofa add a little eclectic spunk, and are shapely enough to act as a focal point, but are still svelte enough to keep the room looking lean – just be sure not to overdo it on the pillows! And do try to keep your patterns very simple (solid colors are even better), and in the same scheme as the rest of the room. Complex or brightly colored patterns can draw too much attention in a small room and make it feel crowded.
When it comes to tables (or even sometimes chairs!) opt for glass or plastic rather than wood. A Glass Table and Acrylic Chairs give the impression of a (sort of) empty room, at least to the extent that being able to see through your furniture makes the room look a little bigger because you can see more of it, instead of having a solid something blocking the view.
You might not think that an area rug is a great fit for a small room, and in a lot of cases, you’d be right. Small Rope Rugs are a bad fit because there might not be enough floor space for one to be freestanding, and if there is, it makes the thoroughfare look crowded and splotchy. In the same vein, a dark Oriental Rug can really kill all that bright open feeling you worked so hard to put together. The only time a rug can really improve a small space is if you have very dark floors to start, and then you want to go with a very large, light rug with a simple pattern, like Gandia Blasco rug. It should be big enough to fit under at least one major piece of furniture, if not all of them, without anything hanging off the edges or overlapping. The color will do the same lightening/brightening that I’ve been talking about throughout the post, and, if properly placed, the frame of the rug will visually draw the furniture into a more compact space, making the surrounding room seem larger.
Whatever you do, just remember: a small space isn’t a kiss of death, and cozy doesn’t have to be a euphemism. Just keep the scale of the room in mind and try not to crowd it – I promise, you’ll be amazed how functional and beautiful a small space can be if you treat it right! What are your favorite tips to make a room look bigger than it is, and where are your worst problem spaces? Let me know in the comments!