Real Estate

A Fresh Look

Creating more space in a small home

How do you create a spacious look if you live in a small apartment or cottage? Any space can feel roomier if you try these ideas.

Paint the walls a light color

A small flat will appear larger and have an increased sense of flow if you cover all the walls in a single light-reflecting color. If your possessions are in the warmer tones, select ivory, light beige or off-white; if your furnishings are in the cool tones, select light gray or white with a suggestion of blue or green in it. Painting each room a different color, or one wall in green and another in white creates a choppy feeling. Avoid dark paint colors and wallpapers as they tend to make the space look smaller.

Go monochromatic

Imagine a living room with a soft blue couch, matching love seat and a pastoral painting in blue tones poised over one of the couches. Now see the same room with a bolder, multihued color scheme: a red couch, a green love seat and a bright pink print of a race car over the couch. Which room appears more spacious? A room with one color will appear more peaceful and be perceived as a whole, giving the illusion of increased space.

Limit furnishings

Open up the space by using a few choice pieces, rather than cluttering it up with odds and ends of furniture. In the living room, skip the coffee table if a single end table will suffice. Or, if a coffee table is a must, use a glass topped one.

In the bedroom, use only one night stand. Mount swing arm lamps or wall sconces above the bed to open space on your nightstand. Move a dresser into your closet.

In a den or office, invest in modular pieces so that the work surface shares a continuous countertop, rather than a choppy line-up of mismatching cast-offs.

For a simpler look in the dining room, don't place your extra dining chairs to either side of the hutch or sideboard. Save money and space by buying only four chairs for the table (or six, if it's a large table), and bring in folding chairs (stored under a bed) on those occasions when additional seating is required.

Use double-duty furnishings

Use a three-drawer dresser as an end table or night stand. Use a chest as a coffee table. Put your TV and stereo in an armoire. Or, use any leftover space for storage of linens or out of season clothing.

Get clever with storage

Put roll-out boxes under your bed. Store posters and framed art behind bookshelves or couches. Skirt your sink and use the hidden space for hygiene items. Install hooks on the backs of all doors. And, add a shelf just below ceiling level to display a prized collection.

Don't use area rugs

Try this experiment: go into your bathroom and pick up the bath mat; stand back and notice how the room instantly appears simpler and larger. Area rugs do add coziness and warmth, but if you want to create more flow and expanded space, avoid them.

Skip window treatment

If privacy or sun-blocking is not an issue, save money and extend your visual space by skipping window coverings. Even the smallest of rooms is enhanced by a view to a garden or out over the valley.

In a bedroom or bath where window coverings are a must, select a fabric (or blinds) which blend with the wall color.

Use mirrors

An ornate gilt mirror in the entry reflects light and space. A mirror over a couch can reflect an outside view, adding another "window." Double the space in your dining room or powder room by mirroring an entire wall. Replace your old closet doors with mirrored ones.

Avoid clutter

Frank Lloyd Wright's concept "Less is more," really fits here. Too much visual distraction makes a space feel crowded. Cut down on the number of objects in view and the space will expand. Display only your choicest accessories and keep one or more surfaces object-free. Get rid of broken, seldom-used possessions that occupy valuable space. Get organized in your kitchen, bathroom and closet. Keep hygiene and cleaning items off the countertops by using plastic caddies stored under the sink.


Kit Davey, Allied Member A.S.I.D., is a Redwood City-based interior designer who uses what you already own to redecorate. Email her at or call her at 650-367-7370.

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