When you live in a small home, it can be tricky to figure out how to design it so that it balances style with function, but I'm here to tell you, you can have both! It's all about making the most of the space you have, choosing pieces that work smarter and harder, and leaving some breathing room (aka "white space").
My husband and I (along with our pup!) live in a 1200 square foot row house in Philadelphia, so I'm no stranger to figuring out how to design a small space well. I've learned a few tricks over the years and I want to share those with you today. If you have some of your own, I'd love to hear them too! Chime in on Instagram or in the comments below with your favorites.
And, if you find like this post, you may also want to check out my tips on making a small space feel larger. Head on over here for that!
1. Maximize your vertical space
Vertical space is often underutilized, but in a small home, it can be your secret weapon! Use those walls to your advantage by placing tall pieces of furniture against them or by hanging some wall shelves. It gives you extra storage without taking up too much space and it draws your eye up to the ceiling, which is another decorating trick to make a room feel bigger.
(I love the leaning ladder I added to the guest room I designed for the One Room Challenge.)
If you need something that takes up only a tiny amount of space, try a leaning ladder (this one has quickly become one of my favorite pieces - it's so functional and is beautifully designed. A new, wider version of it is coming out this fall, and it has a shelf!). These are great for blankets, magazine storage, etc., and if you add hooks, you can get even more creative with what you store on them!
Bookshelves are also wonderful at utilizing vertical space well. You can go with something with open storage like the Stairway bookshelf shown above (I have the 96" version in my office and love it), closed storage, or a combo of the two. In a small space, I typically recommend choosing a bookshelf with at least some sort of open storage (it can be glass doors too) so that it doesn't feel too big and imposing.
This modern wood etagere bookcase from in my Queen Village Dining Room project is a great example of a combo bookshelf that has open shelves along with drawers so you can hide a few of your "not so pretty" items.
2. Make the most of your closet space with a custom organization system
No matter the size of your closet, it can benefit from installing an organization system that's suited to your need and style! Say goodbye to the single shelf and rod and add drawers, shoe racks, and shelves that maximize every square inch.
IKEA also has a couple of awesome custom closet systems. The newest is the ELVARLI system (as seen installed as an open closet in my Mid-Century meets California Cool bedroom project above), and the tried and true ALGOT system. Or, if you don't have a closet at all and need a standalone wardrobe system, the PAX is a great one.
3. Pick multifunctional furniture over single purpose
This is an idea you've probably thought about before, but it can't hurt to hear a little reminder! There are some beautiful and thoughtfully-designed pieces out there that serve multiple purposes, which work really well in small homes.
via West Elm
For example, if you live in a small apartment without space for a dining room, you're probably used to using your coffee table as your de-facto dining table. If you're tired of leaning over to eat, a lift top coffee table like this one from West Elm can be a great solution. It offers storage as well, which makes it a very hard-working piece of furniture!
via Young House Love
If you need extra storage (and who doesn't?), a great way to add some is to use a dresser as a media cabinet in your living room. It pulls triple duty in that spot since it provides a ton of concealed storage, adds a nice big surface for decor or a drop zone, and it grounds the TV. (On a side note, I generally don't like when a wall-mounted TV doesn't have a piece of furniture under it - it just looks like it's floating. It needs an anchor!)
4. Bring in extra seating with ottomans and benches
Low profile pieces of furniture are fantastic to pull in when you have extra guests over and they don't take up a lot of room, which is key for a small space! They're easy to tuck away if needed, and can be used for other purposes when you don't need the extra seating.
via Pottery Barn
Stool ottomans are a prime example of this - you can store them under a console table, use two of them together as a coffee table/ottoman, or simply place them against the wall. If you have the space, you can also leave them in place like the living room above shows (I happen to love that look!). They come in a variety of styles and shapes, so you're sure to find one that fits in well with your home's look. These round ones with a brass base are eye-catching and I also love an x-base stool like these tufted leather ones.
Benches - whether upholstered, metal, or wood, also work well for this purpose. They can be used as your coffee table or an entryway bench in their "default state" and moved around for seating when and where you want it! For bonus points, choose one with storage to really make it work hard in your home.
If this idea strikes your fancy, here are three benches to get you started on your search:
5. Keep it simple
To wrap this up, I just want to share a general word about designing and decorating a small space: when in doubt, less is more. I know some folks might disagree with me on that (where are my maximalist friends at?), but I tend to think simple wins the day. Clear out the clutter, pick a few standout pieces to be the stars of the show, and leave white space so a room can breathe. Filling every nook and cranny of a small space tends to make it feel claustrophobic unless it's really well-thought out and you're rockstar at styling it all.
(Our living room with a simply styled coffee table. It's usually more empty than that on a day-to-day basis though!)
This doesn't mean you have to clear every surface and get rid of all your pretty accessories - it's more about striking a good balance. Everybody will have their own personal preferences on what this means in their homes, but taking the time to edit and fill your home with only things you love will help you create a space that reflects you, that's welcoming to others, and that makes you smile every time you walk in the front door.
So tell me - what small space design tips do you have to add? Let's get the conversation going!