Having lived in cosmopolitan centres all over the world, I am quite familiar with both the charm and challenges of living in small spaces. Small rooms can be cosy and efficient, but can also feel cramped and messy. Luckily there are many ways to make a space look bigger.
The key to successful small-space living
Scale it Down
Show some Leg
Keep a Low Profile
Emphasise the Lines
Clear a Path
Keep it Breezy
Create an Illusion
Keep it Light
Be Creative with Artificial Lighting
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Clean the Clutter
Choose Textures over Pattern
Create a Focal Point
Keep Calm & Colour Coordinate
The key to successful small-space living
The key to successful small-space living is observing and applying some of the basic interior design elements and principles. You may have read my blog on 'How to Create Harmony in your Home', explaining these elements and principles in a little more detail. If you haven't, you can find it here.
It all comes down to tricking the eye into perceiving more space, and making use of three simple general concepts: scale, light, and creating movement through lines. Get these three right, by implementing smart design choices, and you'll come a long way in making your interior seem much more spacious than it actually is.
Here are 15 clever ways to fool the eye and make your small room look and feel like a big space.
1. Scale it Down
Choose the Right Size Furniture that Suits the Space
Scale your furniture to fit the size of the room. Just because a large piece of furniture will 'just' fit, doesn't mean it should. Be sensible and choose your pieces carefully, obviously without sacrificing practicality. It is good to avoid large, heavy pieces of furniture. Not only do they use up too much space in a small room, but they also draw all the attention to that area.
If you put your furniture up against the walls, it will make the room appear smaller. By leaving some air between the walls and your furniture, you create a feeling of roominess.
The longest straight line in any room is the diagonal. When you place your furniture at an angle, it leads the eye along the longer wall. You might even get some useful additional storage space behind your furniture.
If you have tall pieces of furniture, place those against the wall to avoid breaking up the room.
2. Show some Leg
Opt for Furniture with Legs Showing
Besides the aesthetic appeal, choosing furniture with legs showing opens up a small space. Large furniture pieces that rest directly on the floor without legs showing, can appear too big and bulky for a small space. Furniture with legs showing draws the eye upward and creates the illusion of more light and space in a small room. Think of gorgeous mid century design statements - this style suits small space living very wel.
An alternative, and complementary suggestion is the use of clear furniture. A clear glass coffee table for example will add functionality (and style) without sacrificing perceived floor space.
3. Keep a Low Profile
Lower Furniture Creates a Sensation of Having Air to Breathe
Another way to make a room look bigger with furniture is to keep the furnishings lower to the ground. That also helps add more height to a low room be leaving more space above them.
4. Emphasise the Lines
Play around with Vertical and Horizontal Lines to Create a Sense of Movement
We've read in the blog 'How to Create Harmony in your Home' that lines define a space and create a sense of direction and feeling. There are three types of lines to consider; horizontal, vertical and dynamic (for example curved or diagonal). Horizontal lines are often found in tables, chairs and similar furnishings. Vertical lines are typically from doors, windows and tall structures like bookcases. Dynamic lines invite action or draw the eye into a certain direction, for example a staircase or a vaulted ceiling.
Whether it’s a tall shelf, a feature chimney or vertical wall treatment, employing one element that emphasises the vertical space in the room will increase the sense of height and openness. It also enhances the feeling of movement and flow.
Likewise, exaggerating the horizontal lines will widen the room, and make it appear bigger that way.
5. Clear a Path
Resist the Temptation to Fill the Space
When living in a small space, it's natural that you want to use it to the fullest. People often feel they maximise the space by pushing all the pieces to the edges. However, this often casus you to bump into things as stuff is scattered around and it can actually enhance a claustrophobic feel. Sometimes it is better to group the furniture on one side of the room and clear a path, so you can pass through unhindered.
Read here why it is important to zone your space.
6. Keep it Breezy
Embrace Sheer Window Treatments
Avoid window treatments that are bulky, heavy, and ornate. They may look pretty but drapes, valances, cornices, and curtains made of heavy material absorb too much natural light. Use the windows in a small room to bring light into every corner.
7. Create an Illusion
Make Windows Appear Bigger than they truly are
Hang curtains as high as possible. In order to make your windows and walls seem higher, put the rod as high above the window as possible. Attaching the rail close to the ceiling tricks the eye into believing the wall is bigger.
Tall curtains are the way to go; floor-to-ceiling drapery will provide an instant height boost to any room. Think of windows and curtains as a woman wearing high heels; they instantly look taller. Mid size curtains are always a no-no to me, but in the case of small spaces this is even more valid.
Another option is to eliminate curtains altogether for a completely minimalistic and clean look.
8. Keep it Light
Opt for a Light Colour Scheme
It's probably not a surprise to you that light paint colours make a room look bigger and brighter. Light and bright walls are more reflective, making a space feel open and airy, which helps maximise the effect of natural light. Dark shades tend to absorb light, making rooms feel smaller.
Adding an accent wall to make a room look bigger is another way to go. Accent walls can add colour or texture without being too overpowering.
Try painting your wall trim and mouldings in a lighter color than your walls. By doing so, the walls will appear farther back, making your living room seem even bigger. Alternatively, you can choose to paint absolutely everything the same light colour to open up a room, making it feel airy and light, calm and serene. This way you blur the boundaries between wall and ceiling, causing your eye to travel up, essentially making the ceiling seem higher.
Small rooms are not always square. Some may be narrow and long. When considering how to make a narrow room look wider with paint, keep in mind that light and cool colours recede and seem farther away. Warm, dark colours advance towards us.
For long narrow spaces, paint the opposing shorter walls a slightly darker (one or two shades) color than the two longer walls. That will make them feel closer, giving the image of a square shape. Conversely, you can also paint the longer walls a darker shade, emphasising the room’s length. It all depends on how you want to present the space.
Besides paint, choosing a light-coloured flooring can create the illusion of a larger space. If you don't have the option of replacing dark wood floors or carpet, use a light-coloured rug to cover as much of the area as possible.
9. Be Creative with Artificial Lighting
Add some Creative Effects using Light Fixtures.
Natural light opens up the interior of any room and makes it look larger. That’s great if you have natural light. If you don’t have that luxury, try adding some creative effects using lighting fixtures. You’ll be amazed at what appropriate lighting can do for a space.
10. Mirror mirror on the wall
Open up the space with a reflective mirror.
Mirrors are an excellent way to make a room look bigger as they help reflect and bounce light from the windows. Another benefit of hanging a mirror on the wall is that it reflects the view and tricks the eye into the perception of increased space.
11. Clean the Clutter
Clear the space, clear the mind.
Clutter is the enemy of small spaces. Too much clutter will make any room look smaller. If you're a maximalist in a small space, I'd consider changing design preferences or moving house. If you wonder how to make small rooms look bigger, getting rid of clutter is by far the easiest thing you can do. Find creative ways to store your cherished items out of sight if you cannot bear to part with them.
Minimalism also goes for your walls. Don’t cover your walls with a lot of pictures. One large painting works better than a group of small paintings when you’re thinking about how to make a room look bigger. If you insist on a huge painting in your room, make it the only art in the room. If you go for a wallpaper accent wall, then keep the rest of the room simple.
Small spaces are all about editing. The bottom line is you need to be strict with yourself and intentional about everything that goes into the room.
12. Clever Storage
Create multifunctional storage solutions that free up floor space.
Small spaces undoubtedly lack storage space. When there's no extra floor space, consider a built-in cabinet that utilises the open space within the walls.
Decorate with furniture that can serve a dual purpose such as a sofa with pullout storage space, an ottoman that opens for extra storage, or a trunk that can also double as a coffee or end table.
Furniture that can be downsized is a great way to create space, too. Think here about nesting tables, extendable dining tables, a sofa bed or replacing a full-size recliner with a medium-sized chair and footstool.
13. Choose Textures over Patterns
Too Much Pattern Can Overwhelm a Small Space.
Choose plain, solid-colour upholstery instead of pieces with busy patterns for how to make a small space look bigger and feel more open and less chaotic. Plain upholstery also preserves the clean lines of furniture pieces, making a room feel neat and orderly.
14. Create a Focal Point
Define the Aspect of the Room that the Eye is Going to Travel to First.
The focal point is one of the most fundamental elements in interior design. It's the star of the room. It's the first place viewers' eyes should land when they enter the room and it's the emphasis point around which you build the rest of your design.
Arrange the furniture so that focus is drawn to that area, and keep the styling in the rest of the room to a minimum (limit the number of accessories).
15. Keep Calm & Colour Coordinate
Place and Store Items with Similar Colours.
This helps to keep a small room looking organised and neat rather than cluttered. You can for example group books according to their colour. Sticking to a colour scheme is key. Try not to introduce too many colours in a small space ( I would go for three max, of which 2 mainly serve as accent colour); else you risk your space looking like a circus.
I hope this blog helps you find solutions for your small space. Feel free to share or comment below, I am always happy to hear from you.
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