Make Your Small Place Bigger - Without Adding On

Associated Expert

This Room Looks So Much Bigger!
How to create the illusion of more space

Small homes definitely have their advantages: less to clean, less to heat and cool, less furniture to buy. But at times, you're doubtless craving just a bit more space. Remodeling the house would be nice but before you take on major surgery (and the home improvement loan that probably comes with it), try these simple strategies to make your space feel bigger.

First, realize it's not all about physical size. How big your home feels is also a function of lighting, furniture placement, sight lines, and traffic flow. Master these principles and you may not even need that extra room.

1. Let There Be Light (and Flow)

The more light that flows through a space the bigger it will feel. Open up your shades as much as possible. Replace heavy drapes with linen or diaphanous curtains so that light can flood into your home (without giving up your privacy, of course.)

If you own your home consider installing a skylight or two, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom. Skylights have the power to instantly brighten and add dimension to any space. Sun Tunnel Skylights are a great way let natural light into a smaller space. Ranging in size from 10" to 14", they are round and resemble "can" lights in your ceiling.

Consider knocking down the wall between your kitchen and dining room or adding an indoor "window" between the two rooms so that the light (and sight lines) of the two rooms flow into each other. This will make it more pleasant when you entertain since you won't be trapped in the kitchen while your guests socialize without you.

Can any of your windows go bigger? Salvage yards sell windows much cheaper than retailers, and replacing small windows in your home with larger ones adds more light to your space. Glass brick is a good option too. It offers complete privacy but can create a beautiful indoor/outdoor affect that opens up a wall tremendously. Join our forum on installing new windows.

2. Too Much Furniture Is Not Good Furniture

Time for the tough question: do you really need all that furniture? Are there pieces that you don't use but are keeping for sentimental reasons? Too much furniture makes a room feel overcrowded, disrupts the impact of good lighting, and impedes the natural flow of foot traffic. As difficult as it may be, getting rid of furniture that doesn't work anymore can be a great way to open up a room.

Most charitable agencies like Goodwill or the Salvation Army have a pick-up service. Many people choose to sell their belongings on eBay or If you do opt for letting go of that sofa from college or your great-grandma's dresser, you may be shocked at how liberated you'll feel once it's gone. (There's a reason they say it's better to give than receive.)

Once you've reduced your furniture there may be a few odds and ends you need. Let accessories or occasional pieces replace those behemoths that were hogging the room. As you rearrange pieces see if any of your furniture blocks the "flow" from one end of the room to another. Remember what we're trying to do with light and sight lines and do the same thing with your chairs, couches, tables, etc.

Also, during this process review as many design books and decorating magazines as possible. Feast your eyes on rooms you love; if you see something you love, copy it and make it your own!

3. Walls Do Talk

Artwork and mirrors are fantastic tools for adding dimension to any space. For instance, if you want a particular corner for cozy conversations, why not hang a painting or photograph of two people engaged in an intimate moment? Want to make a big, bold statement about yourself? Hang a striking painting or photograph over the fireplace (generally the first thing a visitor notices in a room.) The more distinct your walls, the bigger a room will feel.

Finding art for the walls should be fun and it needn't be expensive. Keep your eyes open at local restaurants, small galleries, and studios to spot up and coming artists. Remember that almost every successful artist had a period in which his or her work sold for very little money. Somebody has to spot the next Hockney or Rothko—why not you? Focus on pieces that speak to you, that fit the size of the space you've got, and that help reinforce the mood of the room where they will live. Being a patron of the arts will make you feel rich, but you can find plenty of quality artwork for under $1000.

Now if your budget is a bit restrained you can always find a nice quality photographic print for under a hundred dollars. Framing stores and big box retailers usually have the best selection, but you can also find terrific bargains at online auction sites as well as flea markets.

The cheapest and perhaps most fun way to create dimension in your space is to get some adhesive-backed cutouts that stick to your wall. A recent design phenomenon, they come in all shapes, colors and sizes, from large flowers to Chinese vases and abstract shapes. You can decorate an entire wall with these forms and create a fantastic distraction from what might otherwise be a dull, windowless backdrop. carries a nice array of vinyl cutouts, which are also reasonably priced.

And never forget that mirrors are the ultimate way to expand a room, not only because they create the illusion of a bigger space but because they help create more light. Before electricity people hung mirrors behind candles to reflect light and brighten a room. Apply this theory to our Let There Be Light rule and you can imagine how mirrors will enhance your home. Hang mirrors opposite each other so that your guests' reflections march off into infinity and bounce even more light around the room. Renovate your bathroom with a new mirror. Entryways and dining rooms are especially good places for mirrors. This way, your guests get to sneak a peek at themselves before they join a party or sit down for a meal.

4. Paint is Power

A nice trick to use in a smaller space is to paint rooms different colors or just paint one wall so it stands out. Painting one wall will make it pop, thereby adding dimension to the space you've chosen to embellish. Apply this technique to a couple of rooms so that people will experience each color and space differently.

If you do paint rooms, work in an overall color scheme to unify your home at the same time you're creating distinctive atmospheres within it. Avoid high contrast and clashing colors in connecting or adjacent rooms of your home; for instance, if you paint your living room a soft wheat color avoid bright red in the neighboring bedroom, as the result could be jarring. Colors should flow from room to room, just as the light should flow throughout your space.

Choosing bold colors can be a bit scary but you can put those fears to rest by testing the colors without committing to them. Buy the smallest container available of the colors you're interested in (some paint manufacturers even make 2 ounce cans for just this purpose). Paint a 2 foot by 2 foot section of cardboard or foam-core board, wait for it to dry and then look at it in place. Be sure to evaluate it during the day and night, so you can see how the colors respond to different types of light. Click here for other tips about selecting color for your walls.

5. Clutter is the Enemy

The final step in expanding your space is getting rid of clutter. Are books, cards, knick-knacks and memorabilia stacked everywhere? Is every end table, sill, and mantel crammed with whatnots? Are you living with a pack rat?

A well placed set of shelves or bookcases can make a room feel 50 percent bigger by finding a home for the odds and ends we all accumulate. Shelving may help you actually regain a table or floor space. Separate shelves can also become wall decorations themselves, housing photo collections, books, collectibles—anything you don't want blocking the flow of your living space. Yes, to get a spacious, clean effect you'll most likely have to toss a few items on the sacrificial altar of your former life. Don't fret, it's good for you—and you can always put things in storage.

No room should be immune from saving space. Though rarely seen by guests, your closets can actually be of significant help in making your home seem bigger. By finding a home for more of your things in your closets, it'll free you from the burden of storing them in your rooms. Briefcases, bathrobes, shoes, printers, small appliances that are seldom used—everything's potentially got a place out of view, if you can find the space.

Most big home improvement stores offer do-it-yourself systems that offer far less expensive alternatives to calling a professional to install a walk-in closet. You can buy and install a walk-in closet yourself for one tenth of the price and they'll help you stay just as organized as a professionally installed unit. Take the same approach to other clutter-prone rooms like the kitchen, pantry, garage—any place where there's the potential for you to have too much stuff and not enough surface area. Think about investing in systems to help you cut the clutter in your cupboards and drawers.

Less is always more and it's usually just a question of re-orienting yourself away from the past with an eye towards an uncluttered future. Letting go is tough, but the reward is a bigger place--bigger because you've brought some openness into your home and into your life!

See also:
Find the Hidden Space in Your Kitchen
Great Outdoor Spaces for Small Places
Spacemaker: Install a Potrack

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