9 Space-Saving Design Ideas, According to Pros
These solutions are proof that you don't have to sacrifice style in small spaces.
Whether you’re living in a tiny studio apartment or charming cottage, small spaces don’t have to be cluttered and chaotic. In fact, settling into a smaller home challenges dwellers to get creative and consider every square inch. It also forces us to be intentional with our belongings. Getting rid of extra stuff and keeping only the functional and beloved is both liberating and leads to a stronger connection with our surroundings.
“We love to design small homes, they are both environmentally friendly and more functional when designed with a purpose,” says interior designer Lizzie McGraw. “They are also the most progressive and talked about architecture these days.”
:5 Space-Saving Décor Ideas Tiny Homes Have Inspired Us to Try
McGraw, the author of Creative Style and owner of design store Tumbleweed & Dandelion in Venice, Calif., speaks from experience. The designer's own home is a mere 900 square feet, yet, “everything has a place and it’s still comfortable, even when items don’t make it to their spaces,” she says.
But, how do you achieve this small space nirvana? We asked design experts for their best advice on maximizing space. Get ready to gain some extra square footage.
Say Goodbye to Extra “Stuff”
We can’t help but want to keep all the furniture, decor, clothes, and sentimental items we’ve ever owned. Naturally, this leads to seriously cramped quarters and stuffed cabinets. “The best thing to do is edit and pare back,” says Heather Goerzen, Havenly’s design editor. Sell or donate the stuff you don’t use so someone else can enjoy it. “It might require some tough decisions, but saying goodbye to pieces to free up room will ultimately result in a space that feels calmer, cozier, and more inviting,” she says.
Once you’ve pared down your belongings to the essentials, it’s time to find them a home. “Everything should have its place,” says interior designer Megan Crawley of Megan Crawley Designs. It might seem like a pain, but going through each drawer or cabinet and finding the right spot for items will make life easier in the long run (wouldn’t it be nice to not spend 10 minutes a day looking for your keys?). “Baskets, crates, trays, and boxes are all important for corralling items, [for] keeping items in a small space contained, and [for keeping] all usable spaces functional and calm,” says Crawley.
“My number one tip for my clients in Brooklyn with small spaces is to go vertical,” says Crawley. She likes installing tall bookcases, wall shelving, and using chests of drawers instead of wide dressers, which all have smaller footprints. Goerzen is also a big fan of this tried-and-true design trick, which leads the eyes up and creates the illusion of a bigger space. “From floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and statement lighting, to eye-catching artwork, going up elongates the room, adds extra storage, and makes the most of the space at your disposal,” she says.
Another great visual trick is to add mirrors to a small room. “Mirrors are key to opening up a space, especially if they can be placed directly across from a window to bounce light around,” says Crawley. This easy-to-do DIY makes a room feel airy and open.
:The Best Full-Length Mirrors for Every Style and Budget
A small space does not mean you need smaller furniture. “It might seem counterintuitive, but larger furniture and accent pieces can help maximize a smaller space, whereas more diminutive pieces can feel lost and incomplete,” says Goerzen. One good example of this rule is the rug. A larger area rug anchors an entire seating area and will feel more grounding. It also expands the room visually over a smaller counterpart that barely spans the sofa. “Another is artwork,” says Goerzen, who likes an oversized, statement piece of art versus a collection of miniature frames.
“But as you incorporate some of these large-scale pieces, pare back the little extras to create some breathing room in your space,” she says. “You want to establish distinct focal points for the eye to rest on. The result will feel intentional, collected, and calm.”
Play Double Duty
In a small home, almost every piece of furniture should be multifunctional. McGraw loves using trunks and vintage suitcases as side tables and coffee tables. Besides adding charm to the space, they're great for storing items like extra blankets and art supplies. She also recently designed a cottage bed that is, “a bench by daytime and a pull-out bed by night—or nap time.”
Interior designer Nicole Arruda of Nicole Alexandra Design Studio is also a big fan of beds with storage underneath to free up closet space. “If you don’t have a storage bed, you can always purchase pull out drawers and make the most out of that space,” she says. Another great example of multi-tasking with your furniture is to use a dining table as a desk and as extra prep space when cooking.
Get Creative with Your Layout
When it comes to decorating, people have a tendency to arrange their furniture close to the wall. “This creates a really boxy and cluttered perimeter, while simultaneously leaving precious real estate in the center of your room empty and bare,” explains Goerzen. Her advice: Be strategic with your layout, “even if it means floating furniture off the walls or creating a conversational seating moment,” she says. Just remember to carve out walkways to allow seamless flow through your space.
Use Lighting to Your Advantage
“Honestly, there’s nothing a gorgeous chandelier or a sculptural wall sconce can’t fix,” says Goerzen. Even if you’re in a rental, she recommends swapping out builder-grade light fixtures for something more eye-catching. “Invest in statement lighting to draw attention to your favorite areas, set the mood, and create intentional design moments in your home,” she says. An added bonus: Attractive lighting fixtures draw the eye up and distract from the lack of space.
Design for your lifestyle
When designing your home, create zones according to your lifestyle, says Arruda. To do this, get super-specific on how you intend to use each area. “Where are you lounging? Where are you sleeping? Where are you eating?,” she asks. “This will really help drive the layout and ensure you’re using every inch of your small space intentionally.”
Goerzen agrees that a functional assessment is key to the design process. “If you’re someone who loves to host, even in a small space, you might prioritize room for a larger table and smaller conversational nook,” she says. “However, if you are more likely to dine out with friends and want home to be a space for rest and relaxation, invest in a larger lounge-worthy sectional and small bistro seating. There’s no rulebook when it comes to small spaces; rather, it’s about how you want to live there.”
:5 Common Room Layout Mistakes to Avoid, According to Feng Shui
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