Having spent a good number of years living and working in New York City, there’s always one question that I’m bombarded with by friends, clients and strangers alike: How do I work with my tiny apartment to make it seem both chic and spacious?
Designing in small spaces is one of the ultimate challenges — why else would the design and building of tiny homes have spawned countless TV shows? As our cities, both domestic and worldwide, grow, we find ourselves forced into smaller and smaller spaces in exchange for our desired neighborhoods or living arrangements.
These small spaces all present their own individual challenges: perhaps they’re missing a key function (kitchen, storage, separate bedroom, full bathroom, etc.) or perhaps it’s an odd shape (long and narrow, full of strange angles or corners). There are a myriad of ways that living in a small space can be taxing for the occupant, even on top of the actual lack of square footage. I’ve lived in my share of small apartments and tiny houses, and they’ve all been unique in their own ways.
So here are my top 5 tips for living in, working with and designing a small space:
1. Proportion, proportion, proportion!
Oftentimes, I see this tantamount mistake being made — people want to add “more” of something, so they choose larger furniture pieces. Maybe you’re worried about having enough seating in your tiny living room, so you opt to squeeze in that three-seater sofa instead of going with the more humbly sized loveseat. Sure, you gained one extra seat, but putting large furniture in a small space does a room the disservice of making it seem even smaller.
One of the vital guidelines I stick to is this: Scale the furniture to the room. Sure, mixing up proportions, heights and sizes is good overall, but when it comes to the major pieces, like sofas and dining tables, keep it proportional to the size and limitations of your space.
2. Double-duty, all day long.
One of the smartest things you can do in a small apartment or home is invest in great pieces that can work double duty. Maybe it’s a storage ottoman with a top that can flip over to become a side table, or a set of nesting tables that can be arranged to be either a single compact side table or a multi-height coffee tables, or perhaps it’s a wall mounted cabinet that allows for storage while remaining a unique looking display shelf for plants or knickknacks. If you can cut down on the number of pieces, while still maintaining all of the desired function, your home will seem roomier and more efficient.
3. Put things in the last place you’d look.
Now I get why this might seem counterintuitive, but living in a small space requires some creative thinking, and I find that people often overlook all of their options for storage. We get pigeonholed into thinking that we need bookshelves or drawers or cabinets in order to store things — pieces that take up a ton of actual and visual space.
Instead, consider other places to stash your unused or seasonal items away. Maybe you opt for a taller bed frame in order to allow for usable storage underneath your bed, or you invest in some chic baskets to keep above the refrigerator to hold seldom used appliances and serveware. Not only will you free up your floor plan, but your creativity and organization will be noted by everyone who visits.
As humans, we all have the habit of accumulating and getting attached to things. Some of it is sentimental, some of it is not, but when you move into a small living space, one of the best things you can do is start editing out the pieces that no longer hold a place or importance for you.
Take a page from Marie Kondo and start considering all of the things you’ve dragged along into this stage of your life. Have you used it or worn it in the last year? Does it bring joy and beauty into your world?
I always say: if it’s not fully functional or fully beautiful, you don’t really need it.
Sentimental objects that you just can’t get rid of can be stored away, sure, but that decorative bird that someone gave you four years ago that you keep putting in the back of your bookshelf for no particular reason? Probably one to donate. And a pro tip: Do your editing before your move and keep your new small space clutter-free from the start.
5. Bring some of the outdoors in.
Nothing makes a space feel more homey, warm, inviting and open than plants. I try to put plants into every space that I both live in and design. They add instant color, visual texture, extra oxygen, and that simple touch of nature that we almost all inherently crave.
I’m not sure I can fully explain the magic that plants can bring to a room, but they’re always a part of my perfect finishing touch. You’ll breathe better, sleep better and exist better with plants around — and the best part is, there are plants of all shapes and sizes for homes of all shapes and sizes!
So if you’re planning on downsizing, or moving to a new city where space is at a premium, come up with a plan beforehand, and consider these helpful, simple suggestions. They’ll make the transition smoother and less stressful, and they’ll all enhance your new and exciting living situation.