26 Small-Space Dos and Don'ts That Can Make or Break a Design

living room pink couch cream armchairs
Photo: Laurey Glenn

Small spaces can be difficult to decorate, but they pack a lot of potential. You might be surprised by how much style and function you can fit into a small home with the right strategies. Start with these dos and don'ts to learn how to make the most of small rooms.

01 of 26

Do: Design Around Your Needs

mid century modern room piano
Kim Cornelison

Every small room comes with distinct challenges and assets. And when it comes to outfitting a home, each person will have unique ideas about how the space should look and function. So tune into your home's attributes and proceed wisely, discerning what will work for you and how you can adapt small space decorating ideas to suit your needs.

02 of 26

Don't: Push All the Furniture Against the Walls

neutral Scandinavian style living rom gray curtains leather ottoman
Edmund Barr

Leaving an open space in the middle of your living room can actually make a small space feel closed in. Arranging furniture in the center of the room ups the coziness and makes carrying on a conversation easier. Pulling furniture away from the walls (even just a few inches for a floor lamp or sofa table) creates an illusion of greater depth and more space.

03 of 26

Do: Use Small-Space Furniture

living room slipcovered sofa floral curtains window seat cushions
John Bessler

Choose small-space furniture that will help you maximize limited square footage. Here are a few types to look for when shopping:

  • Love seat: A short sofa made for two. Pullout models accommodate overnight guests so your living room can pull double-duty.
  • Armoire: A tall cabinet originally used as a wardrobe; it can also hide a bar or games and books.
  • Sofa table: Also called a console table, it's narrow and slightly lower than the sofa back. This makes it a good spot for a reading lamp.
  • Parsons chair: A slim, armless, upholstered piece that can adapt to different rooms and styles.
  • End or side table: About chair-arm height, it stands beside seating to hold a lamp, beverage, and other necessities.
04 of 26

Don't: Be Afraid to Put Your Bed in Front of a Window

Liz Strong home mixed patterns in bedroom
David Tsay

In small bedrooms, placing your bed in front of a window is sometimes the only option if you want to also squeeze in dressers and nightstands. And it's not always a furniture-arranging mistake. Situating your bed underneath a window can create a strong focal point that distinguishes the room.

05 of 26

Don't: Overdress Windows

windows yellow breakfast nook tulip table bench
Richard Leo Johnson

Simpler window treatments are often better in small rooms. Blinds or Roman shades offer an unfussy solution, providing privacy and light control during the day without appearing visually heavy. Simple drapery panels can also soften the architecture of the room without crowding the space.

06 of 26

Don't: Overwhelm with Color

living room pink couch cream armchairs
Laurey Glenn

Living room color schemes don't have to be wild and crazy to be impactful. Subdued colors and patterns, like in this living room, are often more effective in making a small room feel larger. Start with a neutral foundation, and bring in muted shades through rugs, wall art, throw pillows, and other accessories.

07 of 26

Do: Make Arrangements

The right furniture arrangement can make a small room feel so much larger. Bedrooms often contain a lot of bulky furniture, so placing it all correctly is especially important. Watch and see the smart strategies for getting a perfect furniture arrangement in a small bedroom.

08 of 26

Do: Use Window Treatments to Your Advantage

den with patterned curtains and wall art
Nick Johnson

A few easy tricks can make your window treatments work to your advantage in a small room. Hanging curtains just below the ceiling, for example, can make windows appear taller. To widen windows visually, extend draperies beyond the window frame.

09 of 26

Don't: Rule Out Certain Colors

nightstand black white bedroom
David A Land

Dark colors have a reputation for making small rooms feel smaller. But if cozy is the mood you're going for, such as in a bedroom, deep, saturated shades make a great choice. To avoid a cave-like effect, pair a dark wall color with crisp white trim.

10 of 26

Do: Consider Open Shelving

small white kitchen with open shelves on gold brackets
David Tsay

Without the visually heavy doors, open shelving can make even a tiny kitchen feel larger. Plus, you can easily convert existing cabinets to open shelves by removing the doors. If you're still not sold on open shelving, cabinet doors with glass fronts have a similar effect.

11 of 26

Do: Embrace Sconces

bathroom vanity with 4 drawers in light wood
David A Land

Wall sconces are a smart lighting idea for small spaces because they bring a lot of style without taking up much space. In a bathroom, light from sconces can soften cold, hard surfaces and provide extra illumination where you need it most. Mount one on either side of the vanity mirror for even, flattering lighting.

12 of 26

Do: Create an Entryway

living room entry farmhouse black door wood tones
Nathan Schroder

Does your front door skip the entryway and head straight for the living room? Add a console table or cabinet and layer in artwork and accessories. The vignette will create a pause between the doorway and the living room space, giving the illusion of an entryway while providing an opportunity for extra storage.

13 of 26

Don't: Ignore Awkward Spaces

bedroom windows pattern treatment
Edmund Barr

Small homes require you to make the most of every space, even the awkward-shaped areas that can be difficult to decorate. Consider updating a bump-out or bay window area, for example, with a built-in window seat and comfy pillows. For a less permanent solution, simply slide a bench or chair into the nook to create a cozy seating area.

14 of 26

Do: Use Large-Scale Patterns

Living room with couches and patterned rug
Robert Brinson

Large-scale patterns can make a big statement in small-space designs. Just use them on or near the floor to soften the impact. A boldly patterned rug, for example, is below eye level so it won't overwhelm the room.

15 of 26

Do: Connect with Color

living room with dining area
Edmund Barr

A consistent color scheme is often the simplest and most effective unifying thread in a small home. That doesn't mean all your walls have to be the same shade, but when physical distance between spaces is minimal, subtle and gradual color changes usually work best to maintain openness. If you do opt for multiple wall colors, keep moldings and trim the same color.

16 of 26

Don't: Forget About Mirrors

living room with white fireplace and chihuahua on chair
David Tsay

Mirrors are a simple small-space design trick that you can use in nearly any room. They reflect light to give the illusion of more space while adding a bit of sparkle. Lean a mirror against a wall for an easy alternative to hanging that's perfect for renters.

17 of 26

Do: Use Solid Colors

navy painted wall bookshelf black couch
Annie Schlechter

Large planes of solid color give you the freedom to use pattern in smaller splashes without going overboard. Choose solid-color fabrics for large furniture pieces like sofas, and opt for simple painted walls over busy wallpaper. Then bring in patterns more subtly through accent furniture, throw pillows, and other accessories.

18 of 26

Don't: Resign Hope

Even the smallest of bedrooms can maintain a sense of style, comfort, and function. The one in this tiny apartment is no exception. Watch to learn small-space design tricks you can use to re-create the look.

19 of 26

Don't: Ignore Vertical Bathroom Space

bathroom dark wood cabinets on countertop
Jay Wilde

Use vertical space to your advantage in small bathrooms. Tall freestanding units can add much-needed storage. If you're remodeling, consider a cabinet that sits on the countertop and won't take up floor space.

20 of 26

Don't: Forget the Headboard

tall grey tufted headboard
Annie Schlechter

Headboards take up so little room but have such a big visual impact. In small bedrooms, taller headboards introduce a vertical element that can help enlarge the sense of space. Choose a design that complements your wall color so the large scale doesn't appear jarring.

21 of 26

Do: Include Multiple Light Sources

blue bedroom large windows square chandelier
Kim Cornelison

Rooms larger than 6 square feet benefit from multiple light sources. Kick off your lighting with an overhead fixture (ideally, one with multiple bulbs). Illuminate dark areas with additional wall-mount and tabletop fixtures. To maximize lighting in small spaces, place fixtures diagonally in a room to cancel shadows and make it feel brighter overall.

22 of 26

Don't: Stick to Just Solid Furniture

living room built-in desk
Michael Partenio

Dark, heavy furniture can visually weigh down a small room. Opt for more lightweight options that won't block sightlines or light. Leggy furniture pieces, glass tabletops, and see-through furnishings will make a room seem less full.

23 of 26

Do: Scale Down Furniture

family room stone wall 2 loveseats
Kim Cornelison

If faced with the option of one bulky sectional or two smaller loveseats, two trumps one almost every time. A pair of loveseats can provide just as much seating as a clunky sofa and take up less visual space. Plus, this small-space idea might give you more arranging options to play with.

24 of 26

Don't: Rule Out Built-Ins

built-in shelves over loveseat
Alise O'Brien

Adding built-ins can be a smart storage option, even if your space is small. Think about your needs and design accordingly. Here, shelves add storage, but space for a small settee creates seating space.

25 of 26

Do: Go Armless

armless wicker chairs dining room
Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

For a small dining room, choose low-profile seating that offers comfort without bulk. For example, armless chairs that can slide under the dining room table will offer more floor space. Backless stools at a kitchen island or countertop follow the same principle.

26 of 26

Don't: Say No to an Island

white kitchen stainless steel island
Kim Cornelison

Small kitchens might not have room for a built-in island, but an open cart might be your answer to more storage and workspace. Be sure to measure your kitchen and choose a size that still leaves plenty of walkway space. For added flexibility, look for a cart on wheels that can be moved around as needed.

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