Tricks for maximizing style, function, and, somehow, square footage.

Living room
Credit: Jeff McNamara

Meera Sundareson's living room and dining room sat on opposite sides of a boring white box that measured an awkward 23 feet long by 11 feet 9 inches wide. Cluttered with design books and travel guides, old photos and letters, the squat bookcases and the small table in the dining room were dwarfed by the hulking sofa opposite them; the small but busy shelves above the messy TV and stereo unit didn't help matters. By anchoring each end of the space with taller pieces (a bookcase in the dining room, a secretary-style desk and a media cabinet in the living area), Meera balanced the wobbly room and instantly created the storage she desperately needs. And with color saturating the walls and white paint highlighting the ceiling, the baseboards, and the door trim, her space looks much larger.

Living Room Solutions

  • Define and enlarge the spaces. Stripes are the optical illusion of choice when it comes to small spaces. Here, a striped rug elongates the living-room area (and also picks up the wall color―Benjamin Moore Potpourri green, No. 2029-50, Chairs that never fit before were retrieved from storage to delineate a seating area. Nantucket rug (9 by 12 feet), $385, Dash & Albert,, 800-442-8157 for store locations.
  • Use vertical space. Put your walls to work with tall furniture that offers plenty of storage but doesn't overpower the room. Behind the closed doors of this secretary, Meera, a commercial-space planner, stows sketches and photographs of her projects, along with office supplies and phone books. Alve solid-wood bureau, $319, Ikea,, 800-434-4532.
  • Keep it in scale. Meera's sectional sofa sleeper took up nearly the entire length of the room. By replacing the oversize sofa and its jutting chaise section with a narrower couch, she gained space without losing seating. Mitchell Gold Hudson sofa (with Bull Denim-White slipcover), (unfortunately, this item is no longer available).
  • Hide it. The TV, the stereo, and piles of CDs had been sitting out in the open until Meera housed them in a media cabinet. The doors fold back completely so the TV can be seen from anywhere in the room. Savannah entertainment center, $499, Pier 1 Imports, for store locations.
  • Look through it. Clear acrylic nesting tables disappear into their surroundings and, when stacked, take up little floor space. Plexi-Craft Nest of Tables, $299 for set of three,

Dining Room Solutions

  • Downplay the negative. A folding screen is an easy, inexpensive way to hide an eyesore―whether it's an air-conditioner, a radiator, or an unattractive view. Staple-gun a fabric you like to the edges of the screen to personalize the fix. Three-panel windowpane-style floor screen, $79, JCPenney, see for store locations. Fabric cover: Kendra linen in Ivy, $15 a yard, Silk Trading Co.,, 212-966-5464.
  • Create order. Even though boxes, notebooks, and papers were piled in a corner, Meera insisted on using the walls for display only. But with three 79 1/2-inch-tall white bookcases, she more than doubled her storage space. Arranging boxes and baskets symmetrically on the shelves signals order, which in turn makes small spaces feel larger. Billy bookcases, $60 each, Ikea,, 800-434-4532.
  • Paint it. The two-tone stain-and-paint finish on the table and chairs made the entire room look choppy and thrown together. Sanding the chairs and table, then painting them white, let them blend into the white shelving in the background, creating a spacious feel.