Designing for Small Spaces

by Cassandra McCullersMarch 15, 2017

In the last few years, America has been embracing the concept of “less is more” in home living, pursuing a simpler life in smaller spaces and with less clutter and maintenance. Whether you are driven by your financial situation, space limitations, or simply a desire to live a less hectic life, designing for smaller spaces has a great deal of appeal for many families. Smaller spaces generally cost less to own and operate, require less cleaning, are easier to maintain, and can compel you to live a more organized, clutter-free life.

designing for small spaces via Pinterest
via Pinterest

In terms of color, a light, airy palette for the walls and furniture against a darker floor opens up the room and prevents it from feeling claustrophobic. If your room gets plenty of sunlight, you can go with lightly colored walls contrasting against a dark ceiling. Full-body mirrors are another common trick to visually expand a space, as are large, tall windows with light curtains. It might sound counter-intuitive, but large pieces of wall art or wall hangings can also serve to make a room look effectively bigger.

via hgtv
via hgtv

Lightning, whether natural or artificial, is also extremely important to how open a room feels. Softer, brighter light that’s visually closer to daylight will open up a space more than harsh or overly dim lights. Installing several different light sources helps with making the light levels easily customizable, and light from multiple directions feels more natural than a single source. It can also provide more control in the amount of energy you use at any given point in the day.

Use smaller pieces of furniture to fit the small scale of the space, to avoid a single piece overwhelming the room. In the living room, small side tables make better use of space than larger coffee tables. They can also be moved around more easily, to customize the space for different uses. Some companies even make stackable or collapsible tables and chairs, which can provide even more flexibility with regards to use and storage. Prioritize tall, narrow furniture when possible, to use up as much vertical space for as little a footprint as possible.


via Pinterest

Pay attention to ways to reduce clutter. Clutter can quickly take over desk space especially, and it becomes a much more urgent problem when you have less space for it to consume. Cubbies, wall-hanging storage baskets, extra drawers, and furniture with built-in extra storage are all ways to expand on effective space. You can also install things like toe-kick drawers in your kitchen for that little bit of extra storage. Toe-kick drawers are shallow drawers in the space under your cabinets, perfect for things like dog bowls, pans, candles, and seasonal decorations. And don’t forget to go through your things once a year. If you haven’t touched it once in the last 12 months, it might be time to consider putting it in long term storage or giving it to another family.

Surfaces that can fold out of the way when needed are a common addition to small-scale living. Examples range from fold-down tables (often with shelves behind them) and seats, to fold-away or Murphy beds, to fully transformable furniture. Most fold away bed designs simply turn into a plain section of wood, usually as part of a larger piece that includes a desk and shelves, but some can serve other duties while folded up. For instance, an increasing number of designs have a fold-down desk on the underside, making a convenient space for setting up a laptop or spreading out papers. Fold-away furniture can be attached to the wall or more mobile, depending on the design and your needs.

Built-in and modular furniture can also help increase efficiency. For instance, rather than a freestanding desk, a chest of drawers, and a bookshelf, you can install a wall-to-wall or floor-to-ceiling piece that combines desk, drawers, and shelves. Many modular and built-in furniture designs combine well with fold-away furniture.

Pay attention to small, out of the way spaces that can be easily transformed. A tiny nook can easily become a workstation with the addition of a built-in desk and some shelves, for instance, or can be turned into a staging area for the dining room. A frequently overlooked space is the area beneath your stairs, which, depending on your staircase’s design, can work as anything from a place for extra shelves to a closet or even small room.

Keep in mind potential dual purposes of furniture pieces. Some pieces come with built-in expandability, while others require getting creative, especially if you’re building something yourself. For instance, a bench built into the wall can pull double duty as a shelf or as extra seating when guests arrive. Dual-purpose furniture can be either designed to transform, like a sofa bed, or to be used either way without being changed, like a banquette or a daybed that can serve as seating or as a guest bed. A well-designed storage bed can entirely obviate the need for a dresser or extra closet space.


via Woo Home

For reducing countertop clutter in the kitchen, dish-draining closets are a cross between a cabinet and a drying rack. The shelves are plastic-coated wire, and the cabinet is placed above the sink, with a hole so that water can drain into the sink. Wet dishes are placed in the cabinet and air-dry. They take up less counter space than a drying rack, and they’re less hassle than hand-drying.


via Elle Decor

If you have a small bathroom, consider alternate tub designs, like an ofuro, also called a soaking tub. An ofuro is a short, deep bathtub of Japanese design. Often made out of natural materials like stone or wood, typically they have straight sides and typically thick, well-insulated walls so they keep heat for longer than a standard American bathtub. Many are up to twice as deep as a non-soaking tub. Given their deep design, soaking tubs are usually designed for sitting in, not stretching out, and therefore don’t have as large a footprint with regards to floor space, making them great for smaller rooms.

Making small spaces work, whether it’s just for one room or your whole house, can significantly increase the functionality and livability of your living spaces, while possibly even reducing maintenance costs and cleaning time. Living a simpler life now can have substantial benefits down the road as your household matures, keeping clutter to a minimum and allowing you to focus on what really matters to your family. If possible, involve the whole family in making these decisions about how to use small spaces, given them a voice in how your home adjusts to everyone’s needs.


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About The Author
Cassandra McCullers
Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.

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