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16 Small Space Design Hacks That Will Instantly Improve Your Life

Illustration: Ellie Schiltz/Getty Images

In order to pull off small space design, you have to dare to think big. By now, everyone should know that a room doesn’t need expansive square footage and soaring ceilings to look good. In fact, some of the most impressively designed spaces aren’t large at all—instead, they use their small size to their advantage by playing up overlooked features. Ceiling murals, custom millwork, and other uncommon touches can create valuable visual interest.

While living in a tiny home may have its challenges, there are myriad ways to up the wow factor. Ahead, find 16 small space design hacks that will improve your life at home.

Install crown molding—boldly

A centuries-old decorative element, crown molding can create the “cherry on top” effect in a room. Jersey City–based designer Shamika Lynch, owner of Maximizing Tiny Interiors, recommends adding crown molding to the ceiling’s perimeter in a contrasting color. She’s employed sage green molding with warm white walls, and bright green with light blue. “By drawing the eye up, you allow the eye to see the full height of the space and it doesn’t feel as small,” she says.

Hang up mirrors across from your windows

One surefire way to brighten up a room is with mirrors. Pro tip: Their placement is key for maximizing light. “Position mirrors opposite windows or bright, clutter-free areas to make a space look and feel larger,” says Kiva Brent, a Pittsburgh-based interior stylist. Not only will the mirror reflect sunlight streaming in from the outside, but it can frame a view of a favorite wall or corner.

Swap in new switch plates and outlet covers

Opting for new light switch plates and outlet covers is an easy way to add contrast. “Something with flat panels and no exposed hardware reduces the visual clutter, which is always helpful in small spaces,” says Mary Flo Ouellette, cofounder of Squarehouse Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts. “Changing outlets to models that include USB plugs are a great way to create useful zones in a space.”

Build shelves into blank spaces

Since 2022, Marco Zamora has been sharing all the projects that add personality to his Los Angeles home on his TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube channels. Among his favorite ways to punch up a small space? Building bookshelves around his doorway. Zamora says it creates visual impact, maximizes storage, gives the illusion of height, and frees up the floor space that a typical bookshelf would occupy.

Paint, of course

Breaking out the paintbrushes is never a bad idea. “Paint can always make a space feel more luxurious and inviting. Whether you do just a solid color or opt for something like Portola Paint’s Roman Clay, paint will always be the first thing I will tell friends and clients to do if they want an instant upgrade,” says David Ko, founder of Maison Ko. It’s a tried-and-true method for a reason.

“Rich saturated colors and finishes can help extend the walls and ceiling,” explains Steven Santosuosso, the other cofounder of Squarehouse Studios. Painting to delineate spaces, meanwhile, is an excellent way to carve out an entryway, Ouellette adds.

Don’t overlook overhead lighting

The builder-grade lights that come with rentals and new-construction homes often would not be a designer’s first pick in fixtures. “For overhead lighting that isn’t very nice, I try to install a decorative light fixture to give a statement in a space and help center the room,” explains Peti Lau, owner of Peti Lau Design. “I find lighting is the jewelry to the room. It can be dramatic or understated, but it makes an impact.”

Add more lighting, to boot

And if removing your home’s existing lights is a heavy lift, consider adding other types of lamps to compensate. “Don’t be afraid to use a plug-in pendant or sconce if there isn’t existing electrical for you to use,” Ko says. “There are amazing cord covers as well as cord options that make them almost disappear.”

Have your furniture do double-duty

To create a streamlined floor plan with small square footage, you’ll need to optimize flow and footpaths. One way to do this is buying furniture that serves multiple purposes, thus freeing up floor space. “Instead of a media cabinet and a buffet, for example, we’ll specify a sideboard under the television,” Lynch says. “The goal is to give our clients the utility they seek without the clutter they despise.” Ouellette also suggests investing in trunks or storage benches with upholstered cushions that provide both seating and storage.

Note the shape of your furniture too

Too many bulky items can make a room feel cluttered and closed-in. But keeping an eye toward shape and function can help with that. “Use C-shaped tables and lamps, so that the bases can be hidden under your sofas and chairs,” Brent says. “This reclaims floor space and helps to visually divide a room, saving you money on room dividers.”

Don’t lose sight of the ceiling

Before he moved into his current space, Santosuosso and his partner lived in a 400-square-foot one-bedroom apartment for six years. He utilized every inch of the place, including the ceiling. “Elements on the ceiling often make their spaces feel airier and larger,” he says. “In the kitchen we suspended a large model airplane from the ceiling (the wingspan almost covered the whole width). A glass prism hanging in the bedroom window would send a matrix of rainbows spinning through the room. A model ornithopter floated above the bed. Playing around with the scale and volume of a room can help keep everything in it aloft.”

In a small bedroom, spring for something custom

In her work, Lau often creates custom beds with dressers or other storage compartments to maximize every inch of a bedroom. “I typically will design an interesting headboard, and then at the platform of the bed, design drawers that pull out for extra storage,” she says. If space allows, she’ll insert a hidden door that lifts up to store suitcases.

Scope out the kid’s aisle for nightstands

You don’t need to forgo double nightstands just because you have a small bedroom. “Use kid’s dressers as opposed to conventional nightstands,” Brent recommends. They’re affordable and practical, since they offer more storage than your average nightstand. “This’ll eliminate your need to shove a dresser into a tight space while still establishing the symmetry you crave in the bedroom.”

Go big with curtains

There are plenty of visual tricks in a designer’s toolbox to make a room look larger than it is, and one of the best involves curtains. “If you want to max out a wall, even if the windows are not next to each other, running a drapery track on the ceiling from wall to wall can achieve this,” Ouellette says. “It also can create softness in a space and makes the wall feel larger. We like a more sheer material for the drapery and a roller shade or blind mounted inside the window.”

Create your own built-ins

Lynch advises putting your home’s nooks and crannies to good use. “In the case of the homes we work with, a lot of the bump-outs are hiding old ductwork or chimneys, which actually make the perfect space for built-ins,” she says. “With built-ins, you can make usable space out of unusable space by creating seating, storage, or both.”

Balance out your art with blankness

In Santosuosso’s 400-square-foot apartment, he didn’t shy away from lots of visual interest, like a gallery wall with an eclectic mix of frame styles and metal kitchen cabinets adorned in artwork, thanks to magnets. One unexpected touch that helped create balance? A blank wall. “We kept a single wall in our bedroom entirely bare and it always felt like a little breath after coming in from all that art.” It also came in handy for watching movies with a projector.

Inject something unexpected

“In smaller spaces, all the details are comparatively larger,” Santosuosso says. With that in mind, you should add an unexpected accessory to jazz things up. New door knobs and funky door stops are two easy options. “Wooden matchstick blinds introduce a material and texture change at a reasonably low cost,” Santosuosso adds.

Ko suggests changing out the mirror in your bathroom, while Brent recommends thinking on your feet. “Add fun legs to your existing furniture so that light can pass underneath, drawing your eyes upwards and making the space feel larger,” she says.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest