How to Decorate a Small Living Space?
Less is more, but don’t make it a bore!
When I was a student – almost a lifetime ago – I used to rent a roof converted loft apartment in a semi-detached house in North London. It was a really small space with a low ceiling, but once I decorated it, it turned out exceptional, despite the fact that my budget was even smaller than my rental’s square footage. Thankfully it never screamed “dorm-style.” It was definitely warm and cozy, but it never looked cramped, because I simply followed some basic principles that I’m about to share with you. So here’s how you too can pull it off, based on my tips from both a designer’s and a tenant’s point of view.
My approach was simple and very straight-forward: ‘less is more, but don’t make it a bore.’
The first and most important thing is to decorate with intention – to create a “clean” style with a distinct personalized theme. The size of your space should not hamper your style, but (almost) everything still needs to fit in. Thus, tip number one is to choose furniture AND DÉCOR with scale in mind. Invest in your theme, based on the bare essentials required, but without sizing down their actual size (unless they are massive to begin with).
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #1 On furniture and décor
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes is to go for either massive bulky furniture, or very petite almost miniscule. Neither kind is any good and worse: the result almost always looks quite ridiculous. It gives off that Alice in Wonderland vibe. To this extent, you really have to measure your space and then decide on pieces that will fit in just right, allowing for enough room to walk around them. A layout sketch before committing will definitely too. The bottom line is that you must not stumble upon your furniture; if you do then you’ve done something wrong.
Furthermore, leggy pieces just like transparent ones lend views of the floor under them, creating the illusion of a bigger space. Thus, it’s best for a small space to opt for coffee and/or side tables with tall legs that feel and look lighter. Solid plinth type of tables will not cut it. Moreover, round and curvy furniture like a round or oval coffee table will aid the design flow in your small space. However, don’t go for too small for that could throw off your sofa, especially if it’s a bulky one. (My recommendation is anywhere between 80 to 100cm max).
Modular furniture and floating desks are another ingenious approach when decorating a small space, especially nowadays that there’s a much wider pool of choice. I think they are worth the investment, particularly if you move homes frequently.
As for your décor, invest in good size statement pieces. There’s no need to go for petite ornaments that will only create a visual clutter and an unclear look of little aesthetic value. On this note, adding some metal accents can really help make things pop. With that said don’t go overboard with them. Too much of a thing is a bad thing.
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #2 Artwork and mirrors in a small living space
Many people in their effort to create a warm and cozy vibe in their small living space set out to create an art gallery or a feature wall. They forget though, that the small size of their space will almost automatically send out a warm and cozy vibe. Even when decorated with just the bare essentials.
Therefore, my recommendation is to stir away from any visual clutter including small knick knacks, too much greenery, high impact gallery walls (meaning a cluster of three images and higher) and in many cases, feature walls too. Instead, create a single strong focal point via an oversized piece of artwork and let the rest of the negative space do its magic. Honestly, a large print over your sofa can do wonders even in the smallest of spaces, drawing your gaze upwards.
Of course, you can always opt for a statement mirror instead. They reflect back light and add depth. However, do note that it is best to employ an elaborate frame i.e. gilded vintage, as opposed to a minimal one or one with no frame. That is because an elaborate frame can interpolate that sense of depth in comparison.
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #3 Solid colors and patterns
Similarly, when decorating a small space, it’s best to stick to a cohesive color palette with solid colors. It also helps enormously to keep patterns to a minimum. Personally, I employed a flower pattern, because I was going for “… but not a bore” vibe I mentioned earlier. But I made sure that I created a theme out of that flower pattern drawing out its colors for that well-polished, cohesive look I aimed for. And it really worked, for I had no feature walls or any particular architectural features – just plain white walls. Thus, my flower pattern stood out. It actually spiced things up enough to create a tad bit more eclectic vibe.
In any case, the point is that I did not pile on other patterns. It’s important not go overboard with patterns, while having enough solid colors as a backdrop too. Choose one as your hero pattern-piece and work with it. Having said that, do say yes to window treatments and/or rug, but always try to keep things balanced.
Remember that too many textiles with loud patterns, just because it’s the trendy thing to do, can have an adverse effect in a small footage area. Consequently, they don’t usually deliver the expected outcome in a small living space, even if you are into a bohemian interior style. Generally, they will simply make your space feel too crowded or worse, unsettling and messy.
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #4 Lighting
Now, lighting is one of your big tools in your arsenal, starting with a statement luminaire; simple enough. Undoubtedly, a floor and/or a table lamp can also go a really go a long way here. But what if you can’t fit/afford one? Well, I couldn’t afford any of the ones I liked. So instead, I bought some really cheap, small table lamps and used them for backlighting my TV – media console and the back of my sofa that was almost against the wall. I hid them both behind, so no one could see them, but everyone took note how that this narrow space of mine looked bigger and brighter.
So don’t underestimate backlighting as a powerful and effective way to make your small living space appear bigger. It works like a charm!
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #5 Storage and Shelves
Obviously, one of the issues that need addressing in a small living space is storage. And most designers will argue to go for shelves; especially floating ones. But that may not work if your ceiling was as low as mine. As an alternative, use some low height bookcases that will allow for some negative space above for the eyes to rest. (Negative space in a small space is one of the most significant things to watch for). Also, their top shelf could house a few of your favorite plants too.
Another storage space to consider is the area under your bed. Ideally, it’s best to opt for a bed with built-in storage. Otherwise, an up-cycled antique trunk at the bottom end of your bed or as a side table could double serve for storage.
How to Decorate a Small Living Space #6 Paint colors
An off-white wall paint color is probably the easiest go-to color. Soft tones of neutral tans, light grays, and rich blue-green hues can also make your space appear larger. Also, when painting the trims, keep it within the color family. No need to get adventurous with that. On the other hand, if you do go for a richer color, then counter-balance its light absorption properties by introducing more light sources.
Lastly, I would like to finish off with my favorite tip. Mix and match. Vintage with modern, minimal with a maximalist upbeat, traditional with contemporary e.t.c. As long as you have a clear decorating intention and theme, then you can make an aesthetic commitment, even in the smallest living space.
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