In a recent survey, 80% of home owners had at least one major regret about their home. Among the most common regrets—nearly 16% said their home was too small. But Maxwell Ryan, CEO and founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, says you can make a small home look and feel bigger. Here’s how….
Go for Light
It’s not the size of a room that gives a sense of space but how your eyes travel through it. The eye is drawn to light and open space, so use both to make your small space feel bigger.
Use curtain rods that are wider than your window. Install rods that extend a few inches beyond the window so that, when the curtains are open, the entire window is exposed. You’ll have more light, and your windows will seem larger.
Use at least three light sources, of varying heights, in every room. One light source should be low and indirect (such as a table lamp). A second could be a standing floor lamp, which is space-efficient and great for reading. Your third source could be a pendant, which both illuminates and adds visual depth to a space.
Put dimmers on all the lights. Being able to adjust light intensity to suit the time of day and occasion can make a small room more inviting. Dimmers make your home feel cozy.
Clean windows twice a year so you’ll have more natural light. Few people do this, but it makes a huge difference. It is one of the easiest, most powerful things you can do. Shiny, clean windows bring in tons of natural, beautiful sunlight while inviting the eye to travel beyond the boundaries of your home to the outdoors.
Place light outside your windows. With nice clean windows, adding some lighting outside your windows (in the yard, on the deck or on the windowsill) will draw the eye out the window and provide the visual feeling of more space. Simply being able to see something outside will feel very expansive. I like to put votives in lanterns outside my windows at night when giving dinner parties. This is particularly stunning in the snow!
Install lighting in closets. Closets can be one of the darkest and most cluttered areas of the home, but they are improved dramatically when there is light inside of them. You can find things more easily and organize the space much more effectively. In the old days, all closets had light fixtures, but today you often have to add them. It’s not expensive to do and even a battery-operated light makes a difference.
Consider Walls and Floors
To keep the walls from feeling like they are closing in, try these tricks…
Use mirrors. Mirrors enlarge a space by making walls melt as your eye travels through them while also brightening up a room by multiplying light. Hanging a big mirror on a wall facing a window doubles its light, brightens the entire space and allows you to enjoy the view from more than one place. A mirror also can be fabulous in a dining room at night, with candlelight.
Paint walls bright, light colors—but choose whites with care. Painting walls with light, bright colors expands your space. Avoid pure white or “photographer’s” white (cold!). Instead, choose whites that have a hint of color. My favorites are China White in flat for the wall and White Dove in semigloss for the trim—both by Benjamin Moore. For the ceiling, use a pure “ceiling white” to draw the eye upward by providing contrast.
Use paint as camouflage. Paint things that you’d rather not accentuate, such as radiators and shelves, the same color as the wall. They’ll disappear into the wall.
Opt for dark floors. With light walls, a dark floor makes your walls feel brighter by contrast and gives a warm, grounded feeling to a room (dark-stained floors are very warm in their effect…blond floors are colder). Dark floors also have a more earthy feeling underfoot and seem to disappear beneath you as you enter a room. This will make your walls seem taller.
Get rid of interior doors that you don’t need. Removing unnecessary doors—such as a door between the dining room and living room—lets the eye travel without interruption. Leave doors for bedrooms and bathrooms. Remove all the other doors.
Clear Out Clutter
Most people can easily get rid of a quarter to half of their stuff. Keep necessities and things that enhance your life—lose the rest. Also…
Create a “welcome home” landing strip. Every home benefits from a hospitable entry that conveys calm and order while also keeping unwanted and unnecessary stuff from creating disarray in your home. Your “foyer” should include the following…
Doormat for wiping shoes (and I suggest taking them off).
Coat hook or tree to hang outerwear, bag, umbrellas, dog leash, etc.
A flat surface (I call it a “landing strip”) where you can lay down your wallet and keys and sort the mail. This can be a small table or bookshelf. If space is very limited, look for a shelf or photo ledge to mount directly on the wall.
Basket for recycling. This makes it easy to dump unwanted mail at the door.
Plan your empty space, too. This may sound counterintuitive, but don’t use every nook and cranny for storage—you’ll just keep more stuff! Allow open space for the eye to rest by keeping at least 10% of your space (walls, doors, tabletops, shelves) empty. Visual breathing room makes rooms feel spacious.
Try long, lean shelving. A bookshelf (but just one!) that goes all the way up the wall draws the eye to the ceiling and creates an illusion of a bigger space. Or go long and low with console-style shelves for a smart use of otherwise wasted space, such as underneath windows.
Use shelving inside your closet. To maximize your closet space and keep it more organized, install hanging shelving (such as Elfa, available at The Container Store) in at least one section of your closet. Instead of trying to get a dresser in your closet or simply giving it all over to hanging clothing, a number of solid shelves that run from the floor up to the top of the closet will give you a great new useful space with easy access for clothes, shoes or accessories.
Choose Furniture Carefully
Get rid of furniture that you rarely use. For example, if there is a chair that no one sits in because it is uncomfortable, give it away. Then…
Go big. It’s a common misconception that small spaces can’t handle large furnishings. A great sectional that accommodates all seating in one swoop actually can make a small room feel more gracious. It multitasks by defining space, providing space to stretch out for a nap and accommodating guests with plenty of seating for everyone. To keep the space open, choose small nesting tables instead of a big coffee table.
Embrace multifunctionality. Try to use pieces that serve two or three purposes. The more multifunctional a piece is, the less you’ll have to buy or bring in to your home. Examples: Storage bed…dining table/office desk…sleeper sofa…trunk/coffee table…ottoman/storage unit.
Look for legs. When choosing furniture, it will help to keep the room visually light if your sofa, chair or even bed is lifted up off the floor on legs that you can see. This idea works particularly well in small spaces because air (or “negative space”) provides the visual illusion of spaciousness.
Be crystal clear. Create a feeling of spaciousness by choosing glass or acrylic tables instead of wood, which blocks your view of the space.