You can make the most of a small space without sacrificing character, colour and comfort, writes Tracey Strange.


As elementary as it seems, it's impossible to take every stick of furniture with you when downsizing to a smaller home. Pint-sized spaces need similarily scaled furniture. But there are a few exceptions. Two-and-half-seater sofas — or large two-seaters — are far more accommodating than a standard two-seater (unless your guests know each other well, they aren't going to want to sit that close). Side tables only big enough for a cup and not a cup and a book (and perhaps a small vase of flowers) are irritating. Ditch them in favour of a more generously sized coffee table or ensure that when they aren't in use they can be stored away under other furniture such as a hall table.

2: One of the biggest issues with small rooms is that it's all too easy to revert to arranging most of the furniture against the walls. This can make a living space feel spartan and characterless. Instead, consider placing a couch hard up against a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The floor space you lose will be more than made up for by the extra storage and the bookcase's bottom shelves can be devoted to things you don't often need. Similarly placing a low console behind a free-floating couch not only "grounds" the couch and stops the placement from looking random, it provides somewhere for books, flowers and other accessories.

3: Keep entryways clear. Tripping over a pouffe or having to fight a large plant just to sit down is annoying, not to mention unwelcoming. Plan the room so that there's clearance when you walk in, and an obvious pathway to the sofa. Similarly, don't be stingy with space around doors or drawers — they must be able to open properly.


4: Some of the easiest ways of adding space are purely optical. It's true that strategically placed mirrors will bounce light around a small space and in doing so make a room feel bigger. There are. however, many other ways. Open-ended sofas, glass coffee tables, couches with legs (so that you can see underneath), open-sided bookshelves, Perspex consoles and floating storage are just a few pieces that help to create the illusion of additional space.

5: Make every centimetre of space work. Apartment foyers, for example, are great to dump your keys or hang a coat but when space is really limited they can be a waste as they are not exactly places to hang out in. This is where stylish storage comes in. If it looks good and it's useful, it's working.

6: Round dining tables are great for small rooms — their lack of corners and generally smaller footprint creates more space to walk around. If space is truly limited buy a table that sits four (even if it's at a pinch) with four folding chairs. Display two chairs and store the remaining two away to bring out when you entertain.

7: Create an obvious seating area. The easiest way to do this is with an area rug but make sure the legs of your furniture are either all on the rug or, if they are half on and half off, they are secure. No wobbles.

8: Although buying new key pieces for your smaller living area is ideal, it's not always possible. Time to think outside the square. A large glass-fronted display cabinet for example might now be better in the kitchen, storing crockery, than in the lounge displaying favourite objects. Using furniture unexpectedly is a great way to add personality and character, something that tiny rooms can lack because they often don't have many architectural features.

9: Look up. High shelving can solve no end of problems, especially if it's customised around door frames or windows. Feature bookcases are a great way of adding texture without unnecessary clutter. At the opposite end of the scale, small nooks are perfect for narrow shelves, especially in the kitchen, where they are perfect for displaying cook books.

10: Wall colour is important. It is true that a small space can look stunning in a bold colour such navy, chocolate or even the deepest darkest grey. But be careful. Dark colours are better suited to smaller intimate spaces such as studies and media rooms, or even bedrooms and guest toilets. They can overwhelm small kitchens, living rooms and family bathrooms. But you don't have to paint everything white. Consider powdery shades of grey or pale blue with white trims. Better still consider painting skirtings, scotias, timber battens, ceilings and woodwork the same colour as the wall. This makes these features recede (a contrasting colour such as white can distract the eye), making the room feel taller and bigger. This trick is particularly effective in an area with multiple doors, such as a hallway, or in a room with built-in bookcases — painting the shelving out focuses the eye not on the bookcase but on what it's showcasing. Another way to make a small room feel taller is to paint the ceiling only in a contrasting colour (white walls, blue ceiling, for example). This draws the eye up, heightening the room's dimensions.

11: Using different patterns in small rooms can be tricky; if they are overwhelming, the room won't feel harmonious. A good option is to stick to one colour scheme. It doesn't have to be slavish. For example, combine patterned cream curtains, a patterned sofa and a patterned chair with plain dove grey walls. Cushions in moss green and fuchsia add brighter colour but won't jar.


12: Think strategically. Patterned or shaggy rugs, multiple prints on the wall and a sofa packed with cushions and throws might make you feel like you're adding texture and personality but are they really just clutter? To work it out, try removing most of them. Then stand back and replace one by one. It should be quite obvious. If you can't judge, ask yourself what makes you feel calmer — a stripped-back space or one that involves lots of colour and pattern. If the texture provides the required sense of equilibrium, go for it.

13: Consider minimising accessories in favour of creating interest with furniture. A bold coloured sofa in a luxe fabric such as velvet, for example, looks over-accessorised with too many cushions, so let the colour speak for itself. Similarly, a beautiful chair won't be properly shown off if side tables, throws and objects are allowed to obscure its lines. One of the best things about small spaces is that, since furniture is necessarily limited, they allow you to spend more on those "investment" pieces, which tend to look good in any setting. Focus the attention on the objects, not the small-space architecture.

14: Channel your inner stylist, and take the opportunity to make what space you have count. Create vignettes — groupings or arrangements of items usually on a shelf or table — wherever you can. Display your favourite things in a way that's ordered rather than chaotic — but the key is balance. For example, rather than spreading items on a shelf at equal distance from each other, group things together. This could involve placing a candle on a short stack of books with a vase of flowers, an anglepoise lamp (for height) and a framed print resting against a wall. It isn't essential that the items have an obvious link, such as colour. But they do work best if they include a natural element such as flowers or some other item from nature such seagrass baskets. The rule about odd numbers of objects working together better than even numbers is also a good one.

15: Overused it now may seem but the concept of hygge — or the art of creating intimacy — was tailormade for small spaces. Scandinavian interiors tend to be minimalist but they must be warm. Clutter is banned but that doesn't mean books can't be displayed on the floor or that rooms can't include a variety of textiles. Start with stripping the room to its bare architecture (including the floor, since carpet is generally banned) and paint it a soft neutral. Then add animal skin rugs, clean-lined neutral furniture and accents in natural materials such as leather, cotton, linen and seagrass — everything displayed with purposeful intent. Multiple pot plants and scented candles essential.