Luckily, there’s an easy fix for these common small space design mistakes.

By Amanda Lauren
May 31, 2019
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Decorating a small space can often lead to big problems. Anyone who has ever lived in an apartment, tried to cram a king size bed into a tiny bedroom (without blocking a window or bruising their shins), or simply had a furniture arrangement conundrum, knows that every single square foot counts.

Design mistakes can happen at any point, from the physical construction of the room to using the wrong paint color. Choosing furniture that is too big—or too small—for the room is also fairly common. These decorating misdeeds can make a small space feel even smaller.

Here, experts share the most common small space design mistakes, and the best ways to fix them.

1

For small spaces, less is more. According to interior designer Alexis Rodgers of Home With Alexis, too much furniture can overwhelm a small space, interrupt the flow, and make it difficult to walk around.

There are a few solutions to this problem. The first step is to really pare down the furniture you need. For example, if you have a sofa in a small living room, is a loveseat necessary? Perhaps an accent chair or maybe two placed strategically would provide more adequate seating. Or, invest in some folding chairs that can be stored out of the way and pulled out when needed.

Another option is to buy multi-purpose furniture pieces, such as storage ottomans and armoires with pull-down desks. Platform beds with storage drawers are another great choice.

2

On the opposite end of the spectrum is what Rodgers calls "dance hall syndrome," when there isn’t enough furniture and it’s all pushed against the perimeter of the walls, leaving a void in the center of the room.

The space ends up lacking depth and texture because it simply doesn’t have the elements that make a room come to life. “As a result, there is nothing to capture your attention other than the perceived size of the room,” Rodgers says.

Interior designer Anne Hepfer offers an easy solution to this problem. “Try floating furniture away from the walls. It may seem counterintuitive, but to make a living room look larger, don’t push furniture against the walls," she says. "Instead, float furniture away from the walls to create a better sense of balance in the space."

Filling out the space with carefully curated textiles, art, and accessories will make it feel more complete. “You stop noticing the size of the room and you just see how beautifully you can live in the space,” Rodgers says.

3

Many brands of furniture, especially sofas and coffee tables, are designed for large families or to fill out large rooms. The problem occurs when people try to use these pieces in apartments. “The spaces become overwhelmed because the furniture proportions are too large,” Rodgers says.

Fixing this mistake is incredibly easy. First, make sure the room is properly measured before buying anything. Don’t rely on floorplans, use a tape measure and do it yourself. Then before adding an item to your cart (or buying it in person), outline the dimensions of each piece with painters tape (so the floors aren’t damaged) in the room itself. This will give you the best visual of what will actually fit.   

Another solution to this problem is to change where you shop. Most of the pieces from CB2 and Urban Outfitters are specifically designed for apartment-scale living. World Market, Wayfair, West Elm, and Crate & Barrel also have dedicated lines of furniture for small spaces. 

Remember: no matter where you shop, there is no substitute for adequate measurements.

4

It’s not always easy to maximize the space in small kitchens. One major design mistake people make is leaving room between the upper cabinets and the ceiling. “It visually lowers the height of the room and becomes a dust collector on the top,” Hepfer says.

If you are building a new kitchen or renovating your current one, it’s best to choose cabinets that will reach all the way up to the ceiling. However, if you are unable to renovate your kitchen, “either add a top row of smaller cabinets or fill the space with a fascia,” she says.

5

When painting a small room, you want it to feel larger, not smaller. Or at the very least, paint shouldn’t draw attention to a room’s size. While many people choose to paint smaller rooms white, that isn’t necessarily the best choice. The wrong shade of white feels boring and uninspired.

A better alternative is to choose a neutral shade of paint that will make the room look bigger. Feel free to experiment with bold colors, such as shades of gray and navy blue. If you want a light color, a very light pink, or white with a pink undertone can really make a room feel larger and certainly more inviting. Be careful not to choose a color that is too bright—or worse, a shade of red (unless you really want to feel boxed in).

6

People with small spaces are often afraid to take design risks. Hepfer’s advice is to be adventurous. “Bold color and a layered boho look takes the eye away from the size,” she says. “Small spaces are perfect for lots of pattern, texture, and color.”