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9 Tips for Decorating a Small Space from Top Designers

Written by Carol J Alexander

Published on August 17, 2023


9 Tips for Decorating a Small Space from Top Designers

Top designers share their secrets for creating a spacious feeling in a relatively small space.

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Do you feel the pressure of living in cramped quarters? Finding a place for everything while maintaining a sense of style can be challenging. Applying basic design principles to your diminutive space makes it as functional and beautiful as one twice the size.

Therefore, we asked several top home designers their favorite ways to design a small space. So, whether you live in an efficiency apartment, dorm room, or just want to make your small house appear larger than it is, these tips will help you achieve the illusion of roominess you need.

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1. Elevate your furniture

Photo courtesy: Marge Carson Furniture

Elevating your furniture with visible legs opens up the space and makes it appear larger. “When choosing fabrics or furnishings, don’t always focus on dimensions,” says Janet Linly, CEO at Marge Carson Furniture. While length, height, and depth are important, so is scale. “For example, a wood cocktail table that’s 42 inches round with a solid base to the floor will appear visually heavier and larger than the same size cocktail table with glass or mirrored top on legs.”

Pro tip

Any furnishings you can see through or with reflective material will give an illusion of more space. Look for glass, lucite, and polished metal.

2. Keep the sectional

If you have a large piece of furniture you cherish, keep it. “Many think when decorating a smaller room they need smaller furniture pieces when in fact, the opposite is true,” says Linly. She explains that appropriately scaled pieces, even large ones, will create a vision of grandeur and a tailored look. If your large piece plays double-duty, like a hutch that functions as a dry bar and storage, all the better.

Pro tip

Pair your large selection with small to medium-sized pieces to balance the room.

3. Use multi-purpose furniture

“A small space doesn't mean it can't serve your needs in a big way,” says Artem Kropovinsky, founder and interior designer of Arsight in New York City. He explains that “multi-purpose furniture can transform a room based on the moment's requirement, maximizing utility without cramping your style.” So when choosing furniture, consider pieces like sleeper sofas, coffee tables with storage, and collapsible items.

Pro tip

A wall desk that folds up when not in use is a perfect space-saving piece for the student or WFH employee.

4. Create groupings

The temptation to line all the furniture up against the wall in a small space is real. But Mariya Snisar, head of interior design at Renowell, a home renovation company in the greater Toronto area, Canada, warns against it. “Rather, position your couches and side tables in quaint vignettes that feel intimate and stylish. This will open up the space and make it feel bigger,” she says.

Pro tip

Use area rugs to delineate the groupings to make them feel more grounded.

5. Layer the lighting

Photo courtesy: Arsight

Nothing’s worse than a room with a central overhead fixture as its only light source. “Lighting has the power to open up spaces, and in small rooms, it's a veritable game changer,” says Kropovinsky.

For optimal functionality, a room needs layers of lighting. The ceiling fixture is for times when you lost an earring or cleaning especially dusty areas. But, when you’re watching a movie or having a quiet conversation, ambient lighting from sconces or track lighting sets the tone. For close work like reading or writing, you want sufficient task lighting near your seat. Kropovinsky recommends mixing lighting options to “add depth and create an illusion of space.”

Pro tip

Use dimmer switches and smart bulbs to make your lighting choices more versatile.

6. Create zones

To maintain organization and prevent the feeling of clutter, Lauren Brantley, interior designer and owner of Lauren Ashley Design Studio, an online design service, suggests “creating designated zones within the small space to define different purposes.” Examples include a coffee bar area in the kitchen, a desk tucked in the bay window, or a shoe wall in the mudroom.

Pro tip

Hang a curtain to separate the sleeping area and the rest of the space in an efficiency apartment.


7. Paint in neutral colors

Photo courtesy: Renowell

“Small spaces can quickly feel overwhelming and claustrophobic if there is too much color, so painting your walls in an airy neutral will help the room feel more spacious,” says Snisar. And neutral doesn’t have to be a shade of white, she says. “Whether your neutral should be a cool gray or a warm brown depends on the climate and the amount of sun the room gets.”

Pro tip

When painting a room in neutrals, add pops of color using accessories like throw pillows, rugs, artwork, or lampshades.

8. Think vertically

“Think vertically when it comes to art and decor,” says Brantley. “Hanging artwork higher on the walls draws the gaze upward, making the room feel more spacious.” Also, the strategic use of wall space frees up the square footage for furniture and movement. Ideas include hanging shelves, adding built-in cabinets, mounting the television, and hanging plants.

Pro tip

Mount draperies above the window or door, from several inches above the window trim to the ceiling, to draw the eye upward and give the illusion of a larger space.

9. Use mirrors

Photo courtesy: Arsight

“One of my favorite tricks in the book is using mirrors,” says Kropovinsky. “They not only add a touch of sophistication but also magnify the sense of space by reflecting light and views.” Whether you hang mirrors on the wall or include a full-length leaning mirror on the floor, this addition will give your space a brighter atmosphere. “Just like magic, your room will feel brighter and larger,” says Kropovinsky.

Pro tip

To enhance the spaciousness mirrors bring, choose wall mirrors without frames. Particularly for your half-bath or powder room.

It’s a state of mind

The difference between a small and large living space is more than square footage. When you think about the numbers, you automatically limit your thoughts to what you can fit in the box. But Brantley gives a word of caution: “Remember, a small space doesn't have to feel limiting. With thoughtful design and creativity, you can transform it into a cozy and stylish sanctuary with thoughtful design and creativity.”

If you need help designing your small space, let us help you find a local interior designer to assist you in the process.

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Written by

Carol J Alexander Content Specialist and Subject Matter Expert

Carol J Alexander is a home remodeling industry expert for Fixr.com. For more than 15 years as a journalist and content marketer, her in-depth research, interviewing skills, and technical insight have ensured she provides the most accurate and current information on a given topic. Before joining the Fixr team, her personal clients included leaders in the building materials market like Behr Paint Company, CertainTeed, and Chicago Faucet, and national publications like This Old House and Real Homes.