30 Small Space Design Tips from the Pros

Supersize the style of small spaces—experts tell us how.

Updated on September 15, 2017 10:09 am

Samantha Echavez

There are so many ways to jazz up a small space, create the illusion that it is bigger than it appears, and turn it into a cosy and relaxing sanctuary. Here are 30 tips from experts who believe that styling a small space guarantees big and beautiful results:

1. Think small = think positive. "The first step in thinking 'small' is to think positive. The high market value of space has a tendency to reinforce the view that a small area is necessarily substandard, second best. This, in turn, tends to obscure the many advantages, both practical and psychological, that small spaces can offer. Practically speaking, small spaces are generally more cost-effective to run and maintain in terms of heating, lighting, and cleaning," says Terence Conran, author of Small Spaces: Inspiring Ideas.

2. Know your home. Says Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Small Spaces: Maximizing Limited Spaces: "First things first: know your home. Small space living means every centimetre counts. An essential part of the planning process is working out exactly how much space you have and how it is arranged so you can think about ways of improving it. Good small space design is holistic, not piecemeal. To help yourself get grip on the big picture, it is worth taking detailed measurements of every area and making a sketch plan, marking on details and features such as windows and where power points are located."

3. Set your priorities. "The next step is to work out where your priorities lie," adds Wilhide. "What is more important to you—having a garden or entertaining, a generous kitchen or a home office?"

4. Open up the interior as far as possible to enhance the quality of space...but know if the walls to be hacked away are load-bearing or not. "If you knock down a wall or two, you won't win much in the way of floor area per se, but the effect will be immediately expansive. The complexity (and expense) of the work will be determined by whether or not the wall or walls in question are load-bearing. A load-bearing wall plays an integral role in the structure of a building—remove it and you will have to put a compensatory element in its place, such as a steel joist. Partition walls, which are simply spatial dividers, can be taken down with impunity. If you are in any doubt about which walls are structural and which are not, consult a surveyor, engineer or architect," says Wilhide. Renovating an HDB flat? Check out the HDB Wall Hacking Dos and Dont's first.

In Cody and Rae's apartment, the walls of the single bedroom were hacked away and replaced with sliding glass doors.

5. Double the purpose of a room. Wilhide goes on to explain that "where floor area is limited, there may be the need for a certain amount of doubling up, which often means building in flexibility so that different activities can be accommodated within the same multipurpose area."

6. Plan your layout. "Layouts are as simple as measuring your room and all of your furniture, recording this information on a piece of paper, and moving the furniture around until you have the most effective positioning," says Libby Langdon, author of Libby Langdon's Small Scale Solutions.

7. Go for light coloured carpentry works. "The colours of the carpentry works shouldn’t be too dark coloured. Glossy laminate will be a better choice as it will further enhance the natural light reflection of the room," says Danielle Teo, senior designer from Rezt & Relax Interior.

8. Skip short shelving and cabinetry. According to Langdon, "Using full-scale shelves and cabinets that go all the way up to the ceiling visually draw the eye upward, making the ceiling seem higher and space larger."

Photo from 100 Decorating Ideas: Big Style for Small Rooms

9. Colour your walls. White walls are known for enlarging a space but "they lack personality. Spice up your space, have a little fun, and paint some colour on your walls," adds Langdon.

10. Go back to your floor plan and "place the largest pieces of furniture first to signify the premier activity centre of the room's focal point: a great view or a television," says Kimberley Seldon, author of 500 Ideas for Small Spaces.

11. For bedrooms, consider sliding doors. "A sliding door is the perfect way of providing a tiny bedroom with the necessary intimacy and sense of seclusion but without the door taking up valuable floor space on opening," explains Sara Emslie, author of Beautifully Small: Style Solutions for Small Spaces.

12. Keep the bathroom open and breezy. "Overly compartmentalised rooms appear smaller, while open spaces create the illusion of size. To maintain an open view, trade in a traditional shower curtain for clear-glass doors. Continue the bath flooring into the shower to amplify the effect," says Samantha S. Thorpe of 100 Decorating Ideas: Big Style for Small Rooms.

13. "Don't assume that all the furniture has to be pushed up against a wall, because that usually leaves an enormous open area in the middle of the room," says Langdon.

14. "Try moving furniture around—a new position frequently brings a new perspective," says Seldon.

15. Multipurpose furniture is a must. "Customise carpentry work that [have] dual usage. For example, incorporating a pull-out seat in a shoe cabinet so that owner can pull out the seat when there is a need to. A display/storage TV cabinet can have a flipdown table for laptop using whenever it is required," says Teo. Adds Langdon, "In a small home every piece of furniture needs to serve more than one purpose. Too much furniture not only hogs the space but also makes it look even smaller than it is."

Ottoman that also functions as a storage trunk

16. Refrain from using all wood furniture. "It makes a room feel clunky and bottom heavy but by mixing in glass-topped tables with wood pieces you give your room a lighter, airier, and more open feel," explains Langdon.

17. Don't be afraid of large furniture. Says Thorpe: "It may sound counterintuitive but a few oversize furnishings can make a small space appear larger, while too many small pieces can create a claustrophobic feeling." When it comes to buying sofa, remember this tip from Seldon: "It's preferable to choose an ample two-seat sofa rather than a small three-seat sofa. The slightly smaller sofa allows room for an end table."

18. Appliances should also serve more than one purpose. "Make your appliances multi-task! The hand mixer that does double-duty as a blender and the can opener that also works as a knife sharpener are valuable kitchen space-savers," says Tara McLellan, author of Small Spaces, Beautiful Kitchens. "The key word to remember when buying appliances or weeding out old ones? Edit, edit, edit."

19. "Small space living doesn't have to be short on style," reminds Wilhide. "A Venetian mirror and marble worktop and backsplash add a touch of glamour to a tiny kitchen and bathroom."

20. "Keep styling simple and focused," says Mike Tan, designer and owner of furniture and home accessories store, Egg 3. "Less is more as the general rule of thumb."

21. Capitalise on mirrors to "create 'larger' and 'brighter' space," says Tan.

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22. Think: solid fabrics and simple patterns. "To create comfort in a small living room, choose solid fabrics and use simple patterns for accent pieces. This provides the space with 'breathing room' reducing visual chaos," says Seldon.

23. "Avoid using too many colours (maximum should be two colours) or textured patterns when designing small spaces so to provide more 'air' space for visual comfort," adds Tan.

24. Don't keep things boring. "Neutral furnishings and walls reflect light, making a small space seem larger. But going neutral doesn't have to equal safe and boring. Add a few colourful accessories, such as a painted table and boldly embroidered pillows, for a pop of personality," says Thorpe.


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25. Skip small-scale accessories. "Large lamps, artwork, candles, vases, and accessories create the appearance of greater space and more height," says Langdon.

26. Say goodbye to clutter. According to Langdon, "holding onto too much stuff and not throwing away clutter can make even a space feel small, so when in doubt, throw it out."

27. Match the draperies with the hues of the walls. Thorpe advises, "To make the boundaries of a room disappear, flank windows with draperies that match the hue of the walls."

28. Don't use small area rugs. "A small area rug can look like a postage stamp and make your room feel cramped but using a large rug creates an extended visual line and gives the illusion of more square footage," says Langdon.

29. Stick to stripes. "Stretch the visual height of a room with vertical stripes. Bold black stripes on the draperies of a living room draw all eyes upward," says Thorpe.

Photo from 100 Decorating Ideas: Big Style for Small Rooms

30. Be generous with lights. Langdon says that "not lighting your space effectively makes it look smaller. Capitalising on natural light and bringing in artificial light is imperative." You can even add a chandelier, "which is large in proportion to the space it illuminates, [thus making] a dramatic statement," says Thorpe.


Got any small space design tip to share? Email us at hello@cromly.com.

Cover photo courtesy of Lind Hesse

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