Designing for Small Spaces

Beth Asaff
Small Bedroom

Whether your whole apartment is petite sized or you are researching ideas for a small bathroom, a grand assortment of tricks exists in designing for small spaces. If you have a small house or room, remember the benefits that these petite spaces provide; they are less wasteful and more cost effective. Since they require less heat, light and cleaning, a smaller space can actually be quite desirable.

Basic Design Strategy

Flexibility and versatility are the two main components in designing for small spaces. Think of the miniature interior of a car, boat or plane and imagine you are driving your smaller room. An undersized area needs to encompass a sense of control and order to enable it to maximize the best it has to offer. The ability to work and play in your space effectively is key, as a usable room feels less small.

Embrace the Smaller Space

Rather than fighting it, focus on the benefits of your smaller space. Maximize the favorable concepts found in all small spaces such as coziness, security, intimacy, charm and functionality. Find the natural character of the room you are designing and draw in the visitor. Look for extra space, such as under a sloping ceiling, and find ways to utilize these smaller treasures.

Think Ahead

Planning is always an important component in interior design, but it is particularly crucial in small spaces. Sit down with pencil and paper, not only drawing the layout of the room or floor plan, but also forming a list of the quarter's necessities.

  • Scrutinize the potential uses of the room.
  • Consider the furniture requirements.
  • Decide what storage is needed.
  • Figure out how your personal interests fit into your plan.

Design a budget, determining the financial means at your disposal, future changes in your life and the amount of time you plan to spend in your current home. Previewing this information before you start designing for your smaller space makes all the difference in your success.

Lighting

Maximizing light and airflow is the key to the feel of spaciousness in a room. Blanche Garcia, an interior designer from MTV's Cribs and HGTV's Design Star explains, "Lighting is extremely important, because in a small space shadows can make the room look even smaller. You want to use multiple sources of light. Things like sconces and floor lamps can illuminate a room from different angles to provide better lighting."

Reflective Light

Relatively simple changes can make a difference in enhancing light. Analyze the materials of both your furniture and decorations: metal, glass, polished wood and leather all reflect light improving the brightness of a room. Bring the outdoors in by drawing the visitor's eyes to windows. Exploit mirrors for their ability to enhance the feeling of space and reflect light. Place a large mirror opposite a window to reflect the outdoors on the opposing wall or frame a mirror in a windowless room to give a sense of a mock window.

Multiple Light Sources

Avoid single overhead lighting in small spaces as it has a tendency to draw the walls in. Instead, increase the number of your light sources, placing them near walls to reflect glow. To avoid glare common in a smaller space, conceal your sources of light creatively with lampshades, directed spotlights or recessed lighting.

Furniture and Storage

When designing for small spaces, keep the furniture appropriately compact. The size of the space needs to balance with the size of its belongings.

When selecting furniture, consider maximizing the utility of the piece. Garcia recommends, "Make your furniture work double-duty. Things like ottomans and end tables are available with storage space built in, or opt for a desk that's built in to the wall and place a storage cart underneath." For example, in a small dining room, benches around a table provide more seating than individual chairs and consume less floor space.

Attractive Displays

Garcia adds, "The other option is to create an attractive display. There are all kinds of different baskets and decorative storage containers out there that can hold your belongings so that they're visible but not unattractive. Place these in a grouping so that they look decorative and add to the room."

Be Creative

Storage is usually in high demand in small areas; therefore, creative storage options are always a plus. Clutter makes a room look smaller and quickly fills up an undersized space. Find ways to stash your clutter with baskets under coffee tables or tucked into storage benches.

Blanche Garcia
Designer Blanche Garcia

Painting and Color Design

When decorating your small space, always focus on simplicity. Visual unity among decorations enables the room to maintain a sense of class, without becoming cluttered and closed in. The details, furnishings and decorations should be simple and balance each other.

One method of balance is to make the surfaces of the room consistent. Another way is to balance your colors. According to Garcia, "A bolder color can work just as well in a small room, even navy blue or black. When you combine a bold color with good accent colors, the overall effect often gives the illusion of more space."

Paint and color easily achieve this consistency.

  • Use a higher gloss paint to reflect light.
  • Paint only one wall a rich color, leaving the rest neutral.
  • Paint insets, such as wall nooks, bookcase backs, and between shelves a richer color to draw the eye out of the middle of the room, creating a sense of space.
  • Most of the color palette of the room should be neutral, adding to the sense of space. Use darker and richer colors as accents.
  • Cool colors, like blue and green, are best for a smaller room, as they are distance colors.

Structural Elements

If the cost fits into your budget, some relatively simple structural changes can make a smaller home or room feel and behave larger.

  • Built ins - Nothing provides the utility of additional space better than a built in. By creating a bookcase within your wall or cabinets in your closet, the floor space is not compromised and the room offers more functionality.
  • Doors - Removing or replacing doors can enhance light and airflow within small rooms. For example, re-hang a door so it swings differently, make a pocket door, install a window door or simply remove it altogether.
  • Design a mid-level area - The half space in your room can be utilized to create instant square footage out of mid-air. Depending on the height of your ceiling, lofts, half walls or even hanging beds will create extra mid-space in a room.
  • Removing all or part of a wall - Cut out an internal window between rooms or take out the wall completely, like between a master bedroom with a smaller bath.
  • Maximize your closet space - The more effectively the space in your closets is utilized, the better it contains your clutter, freeing up space in the rest of your home.
  • Moveable walls - Contemplate creating a sliding wall - turning part of the family room into a guest room or office, balancing the need for privacy with the desire for openness.
  • Look up - The ceiling is the most underused "floor space" in a room. Consider hanging artistic pieces instead of cluttering the shelves or placing storage at the ceiling level with shelving or cabinets.

Achieve Comfort

Just because a space is small, it doesn't mean that it also has to be cramped or uncomfortable. Make the most out of any space, no matter how small, to find a place where relaxation and comfort are possible along with organization and flow-through.

Designing for Small Spaces