Making the Most of Your Small Place

Decorating small rental spaces presents unique decorating challenges. With a little creativity, you can put your personal stamp on your place without spending a lot of money.  A few decorating tricks will help you make your space look larger than it really is. Careful planning will unify your walls, ceiling, windows, floors, furnishings, and accessories to get the look you want. You can even find ways to add storage to make space more functional.


  • Create an entry where none exists. Add coat hooks to the back and sides of a tall bookcase for hanging coats, leashes, or umbrellas. Add baskets, boxes, and drawers for storing essentials. Install a magnetic memo bar along the top edge to organize reminders. Include a comfortable chair for removing shoes. Or, try a narrow console table topped with a flower arrangement and tray; hang a mirror and wall sconces above.
  • Use a palate of neutral or muted colors with a few bursts of color to visually enlarge your space.
  • Choose colors that go with the colors visible through the windows—greens, blues, browns.
  • Use mirrors to reflect light and make a space feel larger. Hang a mirror across from windows in a dining space, living room, or bedroom to reflect natural light back into the room. Use an oversize mirror to create a dramatic effect.
  • Invest in lamps to offer task lighting and illuminate dark corners. Place lamps on end tables, night stands, and side tables. Consider adding under-cabinet lighting to make food preparation tasks easier. Add battery operated lights to closets.
  • Make a small room feel taller with vertical lines. Add a tall bookcase or étagère that leads the eye from floor to ceiling. Another decorating trick is to arrange a collection of art on a wall so that it leads the eye vertically toward the ceiling.
  • Use horizontal lines to expand a small room.  Paint wide horizontal stripes in light tones to add interest to plain walls.
  • Create ceiling interest to draw the eye up. Adding crown molding or a ceiling medallion can create this effect.
  • Avoid a choppy appearance by downplaying contrasts in a small space. Use cohesive colors for walls, architectural focal points, and furnishings to blend to make the area seem more open and spacious.
  • Limit the number and size of patterns. Too many patterns make a small room feel busy. Choose small, subtle patterns that fit the scale of the room.
  • Arrange furniture around the edges of the room to avoid taking up precious floor space.
  • Keep traffic paths clear. Arrange furniture to direct traffic around the conversation area and not through it.
  • Avoid furniture that blocks the view from one area to another. Light, airy pieces give comfort and utility without making the room feel congested. Choose open-backed bookcases, glass-topped tables, and clear chairs.
  • Avoid a cluttered look. Use only a few well-chosen and well-placed accessories for a pulled together look.

Walls and Windows

  • Choose white, a neutral, or a soft, muted color to visually push back the walls.
  • Add interest with temporary wallpaper or wall decals that remove easily when you move. These options make it possible to cover the wall, add a pattern such stripes or chevrons, or create a border or frame. You can also attach fabric temporarily to a wall using spray starch. If you are renting, add a stenciled design on one wall or a band of color to expand and personalize your space. Just be sure to find out the original color and brand of paint so you can repaint before you move out.
  • Avoid breaking up wall space by choosing window treatments that match walls.
  • Uncover windows to draw attention beyond the wall to the view outside. Leave windows bare or install simple shades or blinds you can open during the day.
  • Keep window treatments simple. Avoid blocking the light with heavy, layered looks.
  • Create the look of a window or enlarge an existing one by covering blank walls with curtains or draperies.
  • Emphasize vertical space by using floor-to-ceiling draperies hung just below the ceiling.


  • Find a rug you love to personalize and ground the space. Or, try FLOR carpet tiles in different ways to fit your style and in whatever size you need.
  • Add an area rug to camouflage unattractive carpet. Choose a rug that fits the scale of the room.
  • Avoid covering too much floor space with furnishings.
  • Make the room seem larger by leaving plenty of open floor space. Try floating the sofa in the middle of the room. Use the space on the other side of the sofa to create office space or a dining area. Place a console behind the sofa to use for storage in both areas.


  • Look for inexpensive furnishings at used furniture stores, thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales. Ask family and friends to let you take a look at any furniture they no longer need. Look for wood pieces with clean lines and minor defects that you can paint or re-finish. Consider upholstered pieces in a shape you like that you can update using a slip-cover.
  • Coordinate other colors in the room with the wall color. If you can’t repaint the walls, choose a print that includes both your main color and the existing wall color to tie the colors together. For example, if the wall color is yellow-green, choose a print with several shades of green, blue, and coral. Add blue and coral accessories.
  • Use small-scale furnishings to make space visibly larger. Look for upholstered pieces with tightly upholstered backs, with slender legs, and with thin, open arms or no arms.  Also, look for tables with slender legs and a bed with a simple headboard.
  • Pay attention to the visual weight of furniture. Light-color furniture or pieces with legs seem lighter-weight than dark or boxy furnishings. Because they don’t obstruct views or the floor, the space feels larger and more open.
  • Use white and light-colored furnishings to create a unified, cohesive space. Don’t be afraid to paint your furniture to create the look you want.
  • Use a few large pieces to simplify a room. A large ottoman doubles as a coffee table when you add trays. Include an oversized chair to accommodate people who need more space.
  • Repurpose furniture to meet your needs. Add both storage and display space by using a dining room sideboard in the living room. Pair a vanity table with a small bench or stool to create a compact desk.
  • Choose furniture that fills more than one purpose. A day bed with a solid back, tailored cover, and bolster pillows doubles as a sofa in a living area. A pair of small tables or a narrow bench used in place of a coffee table move aside to make room for guests.
  • Keep furnishings flexible. Include small, portable pieces of furniture that you can easily stored, rearrange, or move from room to room.
  • Look for furniture with built-in storage. Choose tables with drawers or shelves and ottomans with hidden space for storage. Use a trunk as a coffee table or a stack of books or old luggage as an end table.
  • Add curved elements to soften a small, square room. Look for tables and chests with softly rounded corners. Choose chairs with curved backs and arms or an oval-shaped table for an organic feel.
  • Bring the outdoors in by using garden stools as coffee or end tables or as bedside tables.


  • Use one oversize piece of art to create a strong focal point. Keep the rest of the room neutral and subdued.
  • Frame several pictures or prints using large mats and inexpensive frames to add interest to boring walls.
  • Frame a printed fabric or staple fabric to a large art canvas to hang on the wall.
  • Use floating shelves to show off collections of decorative objects. Stagger shelves for a unique look.
  • Hang the TV on the wall.  Hang artwork panels behind the TV or framed art around it for a decorative surround. Place a console beneath the TV to ground it and to add storage and display space.
  • Use fabric to add color, pattern and texture to a room. Hang bold curtains on a window and  add a sofa that really pops. Add coordinating pillows to finish the look.
  • Use decorative pillows to add pizzaz to a bland space. If you buy pillow forms and covers separately, you can change the covers seasonally for a new look. Pillow covers need only a small space to store.
  • Use plants to add life, color, and warmth. If light levels are low, look for plants that will thrive without a lot of light. Also, look for low-maintenance plants to save time.
  • Swap out the hardware on doors and drawers to suit your taste. You can always put back the originals before you move out. Just remember where you’ve stored them.
  • Consider swapping dated light fixtures for current ones that show your taste. Just be sure to store the landlord’s fixtures carefully and reinstall them properly before moving out.


  • Add character and function with a bank of shelves or cabinets. Combine open spaces with ones that have doors or hold baskets for storage to make a room feel lighter.
  • Create the look of built-ins by flanking a doorway with matching bookcases that reach almost to the ceiling. Install molding around the tops of the shelves to finish the look.
  • Use open shelving to add extra storage in the kitchen. Add baskets or other containers to corral kitchen staples.
  • Create a closet or storage space in a small nook using curtains to hide the space.
  • Use a skirted table in a bedroom or living room to hide media equipment, sports equipment, or seasonal items.
  • Place furniture in corners of rooms at an angle and use the space behind to stash baskets of extra linens, supplies, and other items.
  • Add furniture to a small bathroom to improve function and storage. Add a tall bookcase to store towels and other essentials. Use a slender table with a drawer for grooming supplies. Add a skirt around a sink using adhesive-backed hook-and-loop to hide unsightly plumbing and cleaning supplies.

With a little effort you will soon feel at home in your place and be ready to invite friends and family to see the results. Can you think of other ways to creatively stretch a small space or camouflage its flaws?

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