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What You Need To Know When Decorating A Small Space

Whether you live in a studio apartment or a first home that’s lacking in square footage, my motto is simple: It’s not about the space itself, but how you use it.

Earlier this month we asked for all your pressing small space questions because well, I get asked all the time, “How do you decorate a small space?” If you missed that post click through here, but today’s post is all about a few of the key rules that work when designing a small space. While there are a ton of ways to optimize a space for both efficiency and style, you don’t need to spend big to get the most out of your small space. Instead, focus on a few key elements in the room while adhering to some rules that will not only make the room more aesthetically pleasing, but also seriously maximize the space you have. Scroll down to see a few of my go-to tips on decorating a small space and click through here for the original article that I worked on earlier this month with Hunker.

Design: Ann Stephenson

Keep it open

With studios especially, the instinct is often to cut a main room into separate sections to create the illusion of a larger room — but what you’re actually doing is cluttering up the space and making it appear much smaller. Instead of dividing the room up, think of it as one cohesive space and incorporate complementary colors, textures, and patterns throughout to create a sense of harmony. For example, if you use a blue throw on your bed, bring that color to the other side of the room to keep the color moving throughout the space and aesthetically keep it cohesive.

Design: Ann Stephenson

Go light

Contrary to popular belief, stark white doesn’t make a room instantly appear larger — in fact, it can often create a cold and lifeless space (which no one wants to live in). Instead, opt for a tone with a little bit of warmth in it and employ a warm, neutral palette throughout the space. I like to keep the foundational elements in neutral colors and then bring in interest through a layering of textiles in the same tonal palette. To finish it off, I always add a few pops of a graphic black or metallic to help modernize the space and keep it feeling fresh.

Take A Moment for reflection

This is one of my favorite tips for small spaces: add mirrors. You don’t need one on every wall, but an oversized floor mirror or decorative hanging mirror in place of art will trick your eye into thinking that there is double the amount of space.

Photo: Trnk NYC

Double-Duty Furniture

In a small space, everything has to do double duty. These days there are so many stylish options for coffee tables, beds, and ottomans that double as storage, but also think about ways that you can utilize everyday pieces in different ways. Use stools as side tables for your couch that can double as extra seating when entertaining guests. Or pick dining chairs that can easily slide underneath the table after dinner, so you don’t have to deal with extra bulk in your dining room. Finding ways to maximize a furniture’s utility will make your home as efficient as it is stylish.

Let there be light

Every room needs good lighting, and the right lighting scheme is key to having a well-lit room. In every room, especially a small one, I like to have three different types of lighting. They typically will consist of “overhead lighting,” which will come from the overhead fixtures you have, “diffused lighting” which can come in through a fabric lamp shade or opaque glass shade, and task lighting. Once all three are in a room, they not only will illuminate the space to seem lighter and brighter, but will add multiple focal points to your room to keep eyes bouncing around so it appears much bigger than it is.

Design: Maca Huneeus

Raise the roof

Whether you live in a space with standard ceiling heights or massive vaulted ceilings, it’s always important to capitalize on that vertical real estate. Placing shelves at eye level, using vertical space for storage, and hanging curtains at ceiling height instead of window height will open up your space and increase the overall appearance of your square footage.

Marie Kondo knows best

Even if you aren’t drinking the Marie Kondo Kool-Aid yet, everyone can learn from her technique. Go through everything you have and assess it individually — Does it serve a function? Does it make you happy? If not, toss it. You’ll feel lighter and your space will benefit from a full purge of all of your clutter. If it doesn’t “spark joy,” then it might be time to let go of it and fill the space with something that does make you happy. At the end of the day, your space should be filled with the items that make you happy.

  1. Great tips, Bobby! I’m working on a plan to “divide” my kids (boy 11, girl 8) room. Or make them each a bit of a nook that is their own. I realize the first thing you write in this article is not to divide, but out of necessity, we must. Any ideas on how to make it work well? The room has a 12′ ceiling, exposed brick chimney and is about 15×20.

  2. Hi,
    Do you recommend live plants when adding finishing touches to spaces? I don’t love the look of faux plants but I’m not good at taking care of live.
    Love love loooooove your work and collaborations! Thanks!

    1. I’d love to know this as well! With a little kid and a cat, I’m intimidated by all the dos and do nots of live plants. I also do not have a stellar green thumb, either. But I associate faux plants with my mom’s decor in the 90s.

      Is there a specific place you generally like to shop or source your faux plants from? Or any specific tips for keeping faux plants from coming across as cheap or tacky?

      Great work, Bobby! You’re doing amazing things, and this blog is yet another incredible way that you’re reaching and helping others!! Thank you for all the inspiration!

    2. I’m terrible at keeping plants alive normally but I’ve been doing pretty well in my new place. Ask at the nursery for guidance, tell them your lighting situation. Don’t buy delicate, fussy plants if that doesn’t work for you. It’s ok to not be an orchid grower, there are lots of more easy-going plants you can grow and be satisfied with. Also, invest in the right planters and buy a moisture meter, they’re super cheap and really useful if you’re a chronic over-or-under waterer.

    3. Thanks for the tips! We are moving from a 1,500 sq ft house to a 693 sq ft soon and I have been trying to find the best way to make the space feel “roomy”

  3. I love your sense of style. It’s never sterile or overbearing. Shame on your former employer that said you would never amount to anything.

  4. Hey Bobby, love your style and think you are an amazing talent.
    I live in basement apartment that’s paneled and I hate the paneling. I’ve incorporated tons of other colors and artwork on the walls but I still see the paneling and I would love to transform it somehow but it is an apartment so there are limits to what I can do. Any suggestions?

  5. Major thanks for this!! My house is pretty small in terms of the way the space is utilized (wall placement, etc.) so, from a design perspective in the sense of furniture, furniture placement, decor, etc. I have an incredibly difficult time making it not FEEL small! I can’t wait to utilize some of these tools when I start redoing things next month!!

    Thanks! <3

  6. Thank you for all the tips and tricks to making a small room seem more expansive, I’ll definitely be incorporating them into my humble abode! Food for thought for a potential next post that I’d love to see if possible, is how to decorate one’s bed to make it seem more welcoming/tie in with the general theme of the room!

  7. Hey Bobby,
    great article! I’m currently moving to a smaller space and will definetly keep your tips & tricks in mind. However, I have a question about interior design in particular: Is it possible to match white, rustic furniture with (alt)-rosé, powder colored walls, without it looking tacky or to girly?

  8. hi bobby, I’ve been a real fan of your work since I started watching queer eye and your architectural style makes me wanna work with you so bad! I’m an architect by degree and also an aspiring visual artist/painter. I didn’t join an architecture firm after college because I didn’t wanna get stuck with the system and not explore my design and artistic side of me! I hope you could guide me on how to go about my work and style of work. it’ll be a dream come true! thank you <3

  9. Love these ideas, but I would’ve loved to see a photo with the bed in the main space like in a studio. It’s hard to conceptualize how to make the room work with a bed which is not a focal point.

  10. Love these ideas, but I would’ve loved to see a photo with a whole bed in the main space like in a studio. It’s hard to conceptualize how to make the room work with a bed which is not a focal point.

  11. Thank you for explaining about double duty furniture. I’ve been thinking about how to help my daughter with her new studio apartment and the layout she’ll need to use. I’ll be sure to share this with her, since I think it will really help her to utilize the space available to her.

    1. Thanks so much for reading! Hope your daughter found the tips helpful in her new apartment. xx -B