Housing is expensive. So it totally makes sense that young people are living in tight quarters. But if you're curious how to open up your space without upsetting your landlord by knocking down a wall, it can be helpful to know some design principles to get started. There are easy ways to make a room look bigger that are pretty much foolproof.
Interior design can feel like a far-fetched, unattainable world. But you don't need to hire someone to make your space look like it came out of an aspirational Instagram feed. What you need is to take advice from some of the greats, streamlining your space and tapping into it's full potential.
Working with light and color doesn't have to mean getting rid of your stuff, either. Experts agree that making your room look bigger has more to do with where you put things than what you actually fill the room with.
Making a small space seem bigger is a practice in minimalism. It may seem contradictory, but less really is more in this case. So get out your paintbrush, dig out your toolkit, and see where the design inspiration takes you. It'll feel good when guests arrive and are immediately impressed with the place. First, you just have to cut down on the things that are getting in your way.
Here are 13 things you didn't realize are making your space look smaller.
1. Not Getting Creative With Lighting
When you think about decorating your room to make it look bigger, you likely immediately think about furniture and wall color. Those two are important, yes, but you may be surprised that your lighting choices might be one of the biggest obstacles you're facing to having your place look as spacey as possible.
"The ambiance is everything when enlarging the perspective of a smaller space, and light is at the very core of that," Shawn Breyer, Owner of Breyer Home Buyers, tells Bustle. "If artificial lights are needed to compensate for lack of lighting, work in layers in varying heights. Ceiling lamps, table lamps, and floor lamps should give you the light that you need, especially when combined with natural lighting." Of course, natural light is optimal, but playing with levels and types of indoor lighting can help open up your room in a multi-dimensional way.
2. Being Too Cluttered
You may love all those little tchotchkes and fun decor items you pick up from thrift stores and clearance sales, but more isn't merrier when it comes to opening up the space in your home.
You may not realize it, but design flourishes can become visual clutter. "Cluttered surfaces makes spaces seem smaller because it takes some of the focus off the space itself and onto the stuff that is filling it up," Annie Draddy, professional organizer and co-founder of Henry & Higby, tells Bustle. Being more choosy about what items you decorate your home with, and organizing the essentials so that they aren't in plain view, can help make your room feel all that much larger.
3. Not Utilizing Vertical Space
Just like making sure your lighting is of varying height, you should be making sure your decor is using vertical space effectively as well. You may not realize that keeping everything at eye level is creating an illusion of a smaller space, however, no matter how low your ceilings are.
First, move things off the floor if possible. "Not utilizing vertical space can make your space seem smaller because it weighs everything down," Draddy says. "Try getting books, bikes and other items up and off the floor to give the illusion of more space." Next, move your wallhangings up an inch or two. "Shelves, decorations, all that stuff, hang it higher than normal," interior and furniture designer John Linden tells Bustle. "This helps to draw the eye upward toward the ceiling. In a way, it also literally adds more space." You can't add inches to your ceiling, but you can pull things up and away from the average heigh to create the illusion of a bigger room.
4. Painting Your Room A Dark Color
If your walls are a dark color, the space is likely immediately closed up. You may be achieving a cozy feeling, but you likely aren't letting your room achieve the potential of looking as big as possible.
"When you're trying to make a room look bigger than it really is, the best thing you can do is to paint the room a light color," Linden says. "White paint will make your room look way bigger." If you live in a rental or cannot paint your walls, removable wallpapers like the ones you can buy from Chasing Paper are a great option for opening up your space in just one step.
5. Not Using Mirrors Strategically
For a lot of people, a mirror is a practical thing, not necessarily a design element. But keeping your mirrors in the corner or away from light may be closing up your room.
"I use mirrors and shiny metal accessories that reflect and bounce light further into a space," Rachel Preston Prinz, founding director of Archinia and Architecture for EveryBody, tells Bustle. A great hack for making the room seem bigger is putting a mirror across from a window. If that's not possible, putting different mirrors on opposing sides of the room can help.
6. Hanging Your Curtains At The Wrong Height
It's possible you've never thought about how your curtains make your room look before, but curtains are a major component when it comes to making your room look larger, experts say. If you have your curtains too low, everything looks smaller.
"Curtains can make a space feel smaller when hung the wrong way," Beckee Wheelock, designer and owner of The Indigo Tribe, a freelance design and custom textile store, tells Bustle. "To open up a tiny room, hang curtains all the way up to the top of the ceiling (not just above the window line) and extend them out on each side of the window to create width." The mirror across from the window trick comes in handy here too, reflecting light and creating depth and balance.
7. Having Too Many Colors In One Room
Having a bunch of colors can add a splash of personality, but it can also be a design element making your room seem way smaller than it is. If you want to open things up, having a coordinated color scheme can help.
"Small rooms can get overwhelming and busy very quickly, so doing a very monochromatic look from paint to furnishings to accents and art can help create a cohesion to the space that allows the eyes to settle," Wheelock says. Another option, if you can't control the overall color scheme, is adding a solid color to the ceiling to create depth. "Adding color or even wallpaper on the ceiling makes your eyes go up and not settle on the busy real estate at lower eye level," Kim Gordon, designer and founder of Kim Gordon Designs, tells Bustle. If you have the option, though, you likely want to keep things as monochromatic as possible.
8. Having Too Many Small Pieces Of Furniture
You may be inclined to think that a small room calls for small furniture. Design experts say that's the wrong idea. You should go for fewer, bigger pieces, rather than a bunch of small ones.
"When a space is tiny, the instinct is often to buy smaller furnishings to match, however often the opposite is true," Wheelock says. "Instead of filling a small living room with a few small chairs, opt for a large sofa that fills the space and keep other furnishings and decor to a minimum." Larger pieces may seem counterintuitive, but they'll help open up your space. This is an important concept for your wall hangings, too. "Same goes for art," Gordon says. "Choose a large statement artwork on your long walls — save the gallery for a hallway." A big sofa is just as good for seating as multiple small chairs, and a large piece of art is as eye-catching as a bunch of small photos.
9. Having A Clashing Rug
Rugs can be super cute, and they're even convenient foot warmers when the winter months creep in, but if you're looking to open up your room, having too many rugs, or multicolored rugs, might be an issue.
"Floors often get overlooked but using the same floor material throughout the entire space and having as much off the floor as possible will always look larger," Gordon says. "[...] Rugs make us all happy as they delineate a space, but if it’s off your color scheme or the wrong scale it can close up a room." Keeping things as simple as possible, visually, will open things up more.
10. Putting Too Much Furniture In Your Traffic Areas
You may not realize it, but any furniture or clutter in the spaces that you and your guests are trying to walk through is immediately going to close up your space.
To counter this, try to keep in mind your traffic areas. "Keep those areas clear so you don’t have to hip surf around furniture to get to the door," Gordon says. "Blocking the traffic zone will not only annoy you but will block the eye as soon as you walk in." Even if your living space is small, opening up a walking area will make the space both more accessible and more visually appealing.
11. Chairs And Couches Where You Can't See The Legs
Buying furniture in terms of cost and convenience makes sense. But your couches and chairs with coverings that touch the ground may actually be closing up your room visually.
"Furniture should generally have a low back and you should see the legs (not an over stuffed chair or couch that has a slipcover so it looks like a block)," Gordon says. Being able to see the legs of your furniture can help make less of your room look cluttered, and leaves a bit more open space.
12. Putting Your Furniture Against The Wall
If you've been trying to maximize the amount of space in your room, you may have pushed all your furniture towards the wall to leave as much open area as possible. This, however, isn't as good idea as it seems, according to experts.
"Resist the urge to push the furniture against a wall," Gordon says. "Try to give space around every piece so light and air creates [space]." Moving your furniture even just an inch or two from the wall is helpful in making sure that your design pieces interact with the space in the most visually effective way.
13. Having Too Many Open Bookcases
Storage is a major issue to overcome when you're designing a living space with small square-footage. Even bookcases, however, can become an issue when it comes to closing up your space aesthetically. Your guests don't need to see every book you've read, and covering at least some of them can draw the eye back towards open space, rather than clutter.
"Open bookcases will look busy and crowded," Gordon says. "Try a piece that has doors so you can hide all your busy junk." You can still read all your favorite books, but keeping them in a case that works with your room's color scheme and keeps things from being too busy visually will help make your room seem much bigger.
Transforming your space so that it looks bigger does not mean having to do a total home makeover. Learning what things you didn't realize are making your space look smaller can help you, instead, make little changes that will affect how you feel in a room. No matter your living situation, you deserve to not feel cramped in the space you call home.