The Secret to Small Space Design? Go Big!


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A small living room featuring unexpectedly large elements that work, visually and functionally. Image: Bhavin Taylor Design

Just because you have a tiny space doesn’t mean you should have tiny furniture. One of the biggest design mistakes for a room of any size is cluttering it with small pieces. But the secret to successful small space design is just the opposite: choose the largest pieces possible.

First, buy big

It may sound counterproductive, but, when shopping for small space furnishings and decor, buy your choice of the following items in the largest size that will fit:

  • Chandelier or pendant
  • Area rug
  • Wall art
  • Sofa or sectional
  • Ottoman (that can double as a coffee table)
  • Bed

You won’t be able to fit as many items into your room as you initially envisioned, but that’s good thing. Fewer pieces, in a larger scale, will make the space look bigger and feel more functional.

Next, hang a giant mirror

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A small galley kitchen looks twice as big, thanks to a mirror wall. Image: Domus Nova

A mirror works its magic in a small space by reflecting light and doubling the sense of space. Add the largest mirror you can fit. You can either stand a mirror on the floor and lean it against a wall, or create a mirrored wall, as in the kitchen pictured above.

Then, find the biggest bed you can fit through the door

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With a big bed as a centerpiece, a small bedroom appears larger than it actually is.
Image: Thorp

A bedroom is where you go for rest, so do you really need a desk, TV, sitting area, or even a dresser? Maybe not. Prioritize your furnishing with the most important element of the bedroom: a bed. If you have any space left, consider adding a nightstand or a wall-mounted shelf to double as nightstand. Don’t forget a lamp!

Another way to maximize space is by pushing the bed up against the wall, as shown below.

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Minimal furnishings are used in this bedroom. Notice the large art canvas on the wall, which expands the visual feel of the room. Image: Norden & Klingstedt

Forget about negative space and add build-ins

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A small dining nook with built-in banquettes, allowing up to 10 people to dine together. Image: Aflux Designs

Having space around your furnishings is nice — if you live in a large home or apartment. But all that nice negative space does nothing for you when you have guests over. Make best friends with your walls and add furnishings to the size and length of the space itself, such the custom banquette built-ins in this tiny dining room.

Lay down the biggest rug possible

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A small living room cuts the clutter. Add a large sectional, and a large, patterned rug that defines the space. Image: Entrance Makleri

One of the first things the eye notices is what’s on the floor. Want to make your tiny space look larger? Add the biggest rug you can fit. The best way to find a perfectly fitting rug is to measure the open area your buying your rug for, and purchasing a rug just 2-3 inches smaller, all around. That way, you create a visual border that doesn’t look like carpeting. Go with a bold pattern  — the larger-scale the pattern, the better.

Go big on decorative elements

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A small, narrow dining space is overshadowed by the stunning, large wall canvas and ceiling pendants. Image: Christopher Elliot Design

What’s the first thing you notice about the dining room pictured above? It’s probably not the impossibly narrow dimensions of the room. The large, dramatic pendant lamps and wall-to-wall canvas make this small, narrow space look far bigger (and way more awesome!).

Fill the living room with a sectional

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The sectional is the main (and most used) feature in this small London apartment. Image: Paul Craig

What do you use the living room most for? Sitting and lounging, with friends and family, or by yourself. Designate the majority of the space to seating, and skip the side tables and smaller sofas and chairs. A larger sectional, as shown in the image above, is extremely versatile. There are some great apartment sectionals similar to the one above, designed just for tiny living.

Use a big ottoman (or 2) instead of tables in the living room

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A small, contemporary living room is very functional (and modular) with just a single, arm-less sofa and 2 large ottomans. Image: Kelly Deck Design

There’s a good reason to skip the coffee table and go with a big ottoman: you’ll use it more! An extremely versatile piece, an ottoman works like a coffee table if you place a tray on top. Or, cozy it up to your sofa or sectional to create a large daybed or lounge. As yet another alternative, move it elsewhere, your dining area, for example, and use as a bench or spare dining seat.

If you’re planning to move the ottoman around, pick an ottoman with wheels to make your life easier. And go with a storage style that opens up to hold blankets, magazines and other items.

Now that you know the secret to expanding the feel of your small space, give it a shot. Start by de-cluttering and getting rid of excess furnishings. Reintroduce the most essential elements, in the largest size possible.  And enjoy!


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