How to Make Your Tiny Place Feel Huge

Tricks and tips from the experts on maximizing a small space

In partnership with Surex

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

There’s an old saying that goes: “Your home is your castle.” But these days? We’re more likely to be queen of a 500 sq. ft. studio apartment—and that’s if we’re lucky enough to have our own roommate-free pad at all.

Enter that *other* old saying: Good things come in small packages. It can totally apply to making a home out of a small space. You can burn a single candle and the scent will fill the whole space, so your bougie bougies will last way longer. You can get out of hosting your weird cousins from out of town because, sorry, you don’t have the space. Heck, you’ll even save money on something like home insurance, which, fun fact, takes into account square footage when your rate is being calculated.

Still, we get it: It can be hard to know how to make the most of your space when it feels like you’re constantly playing an overwhelming game of Stuff Jenga. That’s why we’ve tapped a dream team of experts—from an organization guru to interior designers and a millennial who’s living it RN—who know exactly how to think outside of the (miniscule) box when it comes to maximizing a small space living situation.

1. Make use of all available real estate—and that includes the vertical kind

Kayeon Lee lives with her mom in a three-bedroom house, but her personal space (AKA her room) is only about 12 sq ft. An avid art collector, she’s amassed a collection of prints, stained glass, paintings and textiles—and she needs somewhere to put them. Not only does hanging your decor maximize floor area, “getting some verticality going draws the eye up to make the space seem much bigger,” Lee says.

2. Consider your lighting scheme

You’d be forgiven for overlooking your light sources in a smaller space. I mean, one lamp does a fine job when you’re trying to illuminate a glorified closet, right? Think again, says Gillian Segal, an interior designer who often works on condos as small as 400 sq ft. “Regardless of size or budget, thoughtfully lighting a space affects the vibe dramatically,” she says. Her rule of thumb is lighting at different levels: Think of mixing a table lamp with a decorative ceiling fixture. “It helps the eye move around the space to make things feel more spacious,” Segal explains. She’s also a big fan of sconces, since they don’t take up floor space.

3. Ask yourself (all together now): “Does this spark joy?”

Fun fact: The KonMari Method (where you declutter by only keeping things that “spark joy”) was actually made with small spaces in mind, because the founder Marie Kondo is from Japan, where most people live in very mignon quarters. “The philosophy is beneficial for small space living because you change your shopping behaviour,” explains certified KonMari and organization consultant Michele Delory. “You really take control of what you choose to have in your home and make sure it serves you for your life today.”

4. Make sure your furniture is on the same scale as your place

The number-one mistake interior designer Tara Ballantyne sees people making in small spaces? Furniture that’s too large. “We all love a great big sofa,” she says, “but in a small space you have to make sure the items are going to fit well.” When you’re shopping, it’s worth remembering that a lot of stuff is made for much bigger rooms than you’re working with, so it’s essential to take a measuring tape to the store. “Then, try using painter’s tape to map out the item on the floor to make sure you’re getting the best use out of your square footage,” recommends Ballantyne.

5. Every piece should serve more than one purpose

When you’re tight on space, it’s essential that every item pull its weight—and then some. Delory recommends multi-tasking furniture, like a dresser that can be used as a TV stand, or dining table that doubles as a desk, or a clothing rack for coats that does overtime as a room divider. That said: Don’t turn your surfaces into dumping grounds, like the classic “kitchen counter is also an informal mail room” trick. “Deal with incoming papers right away,” she says. “Remove items from shopping bags immediately and find places for those things to live.”

6. Utilize common spaces in unexpected ways

Sure, you might not have room for a home office in your one bed apartment—but do you have a closet? If so, this might be your chance to make some creative use of space. “Consider removing a closet door and adding a desktop inside the closet for an instant work area that you can close up behind a door at the end of the workday,” suggests Ballantyne.

7. Embrace the ~metaphorical~ space

At the end of the day, so much of maximizing small space living is embracing it. As Delory puts it, “When you have a bigger home you tend to fill it up with more things that you don’t really need, which means more time wasted on cleaning, tidying and taking care of more things. Having a small space can bring joy because you are really forced to simplify things; you only live with what you need and love, and then you have more space to enjoy life.”