It’s a common problem these days: renters or homeowners who want to live around a city or downsize to a smaller living space might have to compromise on surface area. Heidi Wells, owner of Silk Purse Design Group, helps stage houses to help them sell. She also managed to live in a 1,009-square-foot condo with her husband and four children for several years.
“Everything had more than one purpose—there couldn’t be any wasted space,” she explains. In other words, she’s an expert at doing a lot with a little—and making sure that small space doesn’t feel somehow smaller than it already is. And she has plenty of tips on how you can do the same.
You’re not using the best light
Especially during this time of year, where the sun can set very early, light might be one of the most important aspects of making a space look bigger. Wells explains that it’s not just the light, but levels of lighting—multiple sources of light and creative structuring.
Think of a floor lamp with an arc or a plug-in lamp as opposed to bulky light sources. We have a chandelier over our living room that adds a soft glow. Light makes a place feel warm and accessible, especially if the fixtures are cool and inviting.
Your furniture’s too big—or too small
Scale is key when working in a small space. Having a bulky dining table that seats six won’t work, but by the same token, a couple of mismatched foldout chairs aren’t going to suffice when you have guests over.
“You do have to make sacrifices to live efficiently in a small space, but it doesn’t have to look like a hodgepodge,” says Wells. Make sure your furniture fits the room. Measure carefully, and purchase pieces that work for your needs—don’t buy bulky items like a big couch just to take up space, but do have enough surfaces for people to sit comfortably.
You’re not using multipurpose pieces
Along the same lines, a piece of furniture shouldn’t serve just one function. Instead, use pieces that can multitask—excellent for moving around, reclining, and so forth.
Make use of stackable furniture and tables with leaves, so that you can expand and diminish as necessary. There are so many inventive solutions—shelves that turn into a table, for example—that stow away neatly when you’re not using them.
Usually, stuffiness and darkness are correlated: dark paneling and drab decor makes a space look more cramped. If you happen to already have a dark piece (I have a gorgeous chocolate leather couch), dress it up with light pillows and a throw blanket.
Lighten floors with a throw rug. Paint the walls a pale color and hang artwork to match. But make sure there’s a theme and complementary palette, so that the eye doesn’t have to process a ton at once.
You haven’t made use of vertical space
Use that mentality everywhere. Wells loves to make an entire bathroom wall a mirror, effectively doubling the space, and using medicine cabinets and shelves up the wall to allow for shallow vertical storage.
Your storage isn’t optimized
Again, think about storage that maximizes your ceiling space—store things above or below, not out. From a shallow armoire against the wall, to roll-out drawers under a raised bed, to baskets on shelves, think about graceful and architectural ways to hide extra goods.
Wells says to embrace creativity; don’t store empty luggage but pack them up with clothes you’re not using.
Your entryway is stuffed and cramped
Wells explains that a first impression is important when someone walks into your space. There’s no need to overstuff the entryway with coats on hooks, and piles of bags, shoes, and purses right by the door. Left unchecked, it becomes a hectic space. But using minimal hooks or a freestanding coat tree, and stowing things away, is more inviting to your guests.
In essence, think about streamlining your space and your life. “You have to be willing to part with things,” says Wells. “That’s part of the process—embracing the fact that you can’t have it all, but you can have the best version of this small space.”