How to Decorate a Small Space for the Holidays
Ditch the Tree
Celebrating Christmas in a small space means you might not have room for the seven-foot pine of your dreams—but that doesn’t mean you can’t show off your favorite ornaments. Display your collection in a large glass or crystal bowl. “It still evokes the feeling of being 12 years old and helping your family decorate the tree,” says designer Heather Higgins.
If you’re hosting a large dinner without a dedicated dining room, take the time to decide how you’ll define your eating space. Designer Stephanie Sabbe recommends using low-profile benches and ottomans to divide the room instead of high-backed chairs. “It helps the group that isn’t sitting at the table from feeling like everyone’s back is turned to them,” she says.
Set the Mood
Candles are excellent lighting options for small spaces, which can be overwhelmed by overhead lights or oversized floor lamps. Their small footprint is a plus, too: “Candlelight is a great way to add a festive touch without forfeiting leg room,” says interior designer Kerrie Kelly. String lights hung from the walls and ceilings are another unobtrusive option—but whatever you do, pick warm-toned lights. “Fluorescent bulbs aren’t very festive,” Kelly says.
Recycle Your Decorations
No storage space for reusable decorations? Raid your local arts and crafts store for recyclable options, like a tablecloth or runner made from paper doilies. “When dinner is over, you can pop it straight in the bin,” says Sara Emslie, stylist and author of Beautifully Small: Style Solutions for Small Spaces.
Use Scent as Décor
During the holiday, your home’s aroma is as valuable as its tablescape (as long as you don’t go overboard). Higgins recommends filling small bowls with potpourri—or just oranges stuck with cloves. “It’s almost like background music,” she says. Looking for something subtler? Hang your wreath on the inside of your front door and enjoy the gentle pine fragrance.
Try Multi-Use Decorations
In small spaces, everything should have multiple uses—not just your furniture. “Get the most mileage out of your decor,” says Kelly. Look for beautiful items that aren’t holiday themed to substitute for tablecloths and runners, like plaid or cable knit throw blankets. The best items serve double-duty without much effort: Higgins transforms her Chinese garden stools from side tables to chairs (and back again) when she hosts holiday parties in her 500-square-foot New York apartment.
Keep Color in Check
The holidays don’t force you to go overboard with red and green and metallic. Plus, in a small space, it’s even more imperative to risk the urge to overload your home with color. “I keep my colors to a minimum,” says Emslie. “My home is all white, so I like to take inspiration from Scandinavian-style Christmas decorating, which is minimalist with hints of red and green.”
Create Simple Centerpieces
Your table centerpiece is the perfect place for holiday décor—but add too much, and you might crowd out the food. Higgins recommends swapping your tablecloth for a table runner, which “keeps the room feeling larger,” and setting out white or ivory candles down its center. “They can be all different types, heights, and sizes, which gives your room interest and texture,” she says.
With every inch of the floor occupied by people, chairs, or tables, there’s never a better opportunity to take advantage of your ceiling—a surprisingly good spot for holiday decor. “I once saw a party in a tiny Brooklyn apartment where they hung cutout letter garlands all over the ceilings with festive sayings,” Sabbe says. “I’m also a big balloons-with-curly-strings fan. Both totally change the space, and require zero floor area.”
Make Guests Move Around
With limited seating options, your party’s first arrivals might end up hogging the sofa and dining chairs the whole night, leaving everyone else tired. Instead of offering a sit-down meal, consider drinks and appetizers located in different spots around the space—like a dessert bar and a cheese-and-nuts table—which “encourage people to stand up,” Emslie says. Higgins agrees: “If you put all the food on the coffee table, people will stay there.”