It’s an age-old adage many know to be true: Sometimes the best ideas are born out of necessity. This is especially true when you’re a small-space dweller trying to figure out the best way to arrange your home. Often, the right setup can make all the difference, so you better believe there’s a lot of careful considering going on.
Having lived in New York City for ten years, I know that laying out a small space often feels like a game of Tetris. City apartments rarely afford enough room for a full-sized couch, let alone a coffee table or entertainment center. Even though I’ve since traded the city for the suburbs, I still love seeing how homeowners are making their square footage count — and still find myself stealing their tips and tricks. After all, have you ever heard anyone say, “Jeez, there’s just too much free space in this living room!” Yeah… me either.
Whether your home is tiny or just want some ideas for making the most of your space, check out the seven examples below from homeowners who gamed the system and made everything from a snug studio to a railroad-style apartment feel like palatial mansions.
Pick pieces that do double duty
Just like every inch counts in a small space, so does every piece of furniture or decor you bring in. Making the most of your layout can become a lot easier if you select items that do double (or even triple!) duty in your home. Case in point: the living room of this 750-square-foot apartment in Boston, which boasts ample seating, thanks to an oversized sectional.
To make up for the space lost to that furniture choice, renters Aly and Mitch used a small circular stool as a coffee table. The round shape and flat surface allow the piece to easily flex as a surface for drinks, candles, books, and more, but it can just as quickly transform into extra seating should the duo have company over. Small spaces are all about trade-offs, and this is one I’d be willing to make considering the results.
Pay attention to walkways
Small homes have a tendency to lack floor space, resulting in a cluttered maze you have to navigate your way around to walk from one room to another. This 260-square-foot studio apartment in New York City solves that issue by pushing nearly all the furniture against the walls, creating plenty of breezy walkways for making your way from one living area to the next.
While arranging furniture right against a wall is typically a design no-no, it works in a small space like this because it increases the airiness of the room while making the most of square footage that would otherwise go unused. So you heard it here: It’s okay to push your bed into a corner, and the perimeter of a room can be your furniture’s best friend.
Opt for small scale furniture
Hannah Ruskin’s California studio apartment feels much roomier than its 700 square feet, due in large part to her choice of furniture. Instead of cramming the living room with full-sized pieces like a massive armchair, she swapped in a more snug and streamlined dining chair for extra seating. The end result still provides her with a complete sitting area, but there’s also more room for decor like plenty of potted plants and a side table.
Choose an airy room divider
When renters Bronte and Jordan were looking for a way to divvy up their 1,200-square-foot California loft, they broke out the toolbox, eventually crafting a 12-foot-tall room divider for under $500. The piece serves multiple purposes, allowing the couple to both display collectibles and section off their living space into a distinct “room.” The best part is that this is accomplished without depriving their nearby bedroom of much-needed light.
If you’re not the DIY type, you can get this same look and effect with a hanging wall divider, a privacy screen that features a pattern with cut-outs, or even with a bookcase. In the case of the last option, just make sure you don’t add the backing, if your style has it, which will allow for maximum light flow.
Shrink your furniture to fit your space
If full-sized pieces are just too taxing for the square footage your living area boasts, try opting for smaller versions of those furniture classics instead. In this 370-square-foot Bay Area apartment, renter Naimah opted for a petite loveseat instead of a full-sized sofa in order to give herself more room for other necessary pieces (like a dresser/nightstand hybrid). Set opposite a cozy pink chair, the navy stunner still allows Naimah to create a cozy, welcoming sitting area without sacrificing all her floor space to a too-large piece of furniture.
When in doubt, deck it out!
There’s a common misconception that small spaces have to be minimal and streamlined in order to feel liveable, but that’s just not true. Such is the case in the living room of interior designer and artist Sophia E. Agiuñaga. She upped the ante in her 900-square-foot home with a main area that goes bold with color, furniture, accessories, and art. An L-shaped, lime-colored velvet sofa from Joybird catches the majority of the attention in the living room, while a glass coffee table and decorative accents (art, sculptural lighting, and even fishing traps!) fill the rest of the space to the brim. The room doesn’t feel cramped for it, and that’s probably because the walls are white, and the space gets a lot of light, so the overall look still reads as bright and airy.
The beauty of decorating with modular furniture is that you’re basically on a choose your own adventure exercise in laying out a space when using it. However, many modular pieces can be overtly modern or kind of clunky (though of course there are exceptions!). If you want the flexibility without the futuristic feel, do what renter Toan Lam did in his 1,170-square-foot San Francisco apartment. After anchoring the living room with a luxe Z Gallerie sofa, Lam accented the space with several pieces of flexible furniture that could be separated and moved about the room. A “coffee table” comprised of three nesting faux-bamboo tables can be dispersed throughout the space as drink tables when company comes by, while a trio of colorful poufs have the same appeal as a bench when clustered together but can be arranged throughout the space as needed. You don’t have to shop something strictly labeled as a modular set to fill your space with flexible furnishings.