Best-Kept SecretsInteriors

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces

by Sofia Tuovinen

Best-Kept Secrets | Design*Sponge

The largest home my family ever lived in was a 640-square-foot apartment, which I always considered quite spacious — and still do! In my own experience, what we perceive to be a small or large home (along with the requirements we set for it) are mostly opinions based on where and how we grew up and what we’re used to. The thing is, both the 200-square-foot studio that I once shared to the one-bedroom apartment I call home today have provided me with the same things: everything I could need to feel safe and comfortable on a daily basis. Adding square footage means more room to roam, but it doesn’t necessarily mean more freedom, convenience or comfort.

In fact, we’ve seen many amazing smaller homes here on Design*Sponge lately that I just adore for their creative solutions and clever use of space. The term “small home” is truly subjective and with a few tricks, even the tiniest one can look and feel more spacious and fit for its purpose than anything in the realm of “average-sized.” We reached out to people from some of our most popular small home tours and asked for their best-kept secrets to living grandly in close quarters. Scroll down for tried and tested tricks to thriving in a smaller space! — Sofia

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
Matt and Beau have carefully selected the materials and surface treatments for their small camper van to achieve a light and calming feel. Photos by Matt and Beau / Probably This


“Make sure you get the most out of whatever natural light is available by opting for bright, reflective colors and materials. In our 100-square-foot camper, we did this by sticking to white linen curtains for the windows, a creamy off-white paint for the walls, a glossy concrete overlay for the kitchen counter, and a beautifully reflective light-stained cypress for the flooring. The result was a home that felt small but not claustrophobic and offered plenty of calming light. Just make sure that any colors or materials used in the design will make the most of whatever natural light there is.”


Matt and Beau of Probably This / @probablythis
Before & After: A Vintage Camper’s Revamp


Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

In her Berlin apartment, Maggie has hung some of her favorite garments on the living room door. Interior photo by Klara Yoon


“I would recommend [to] only put things into [your home] that you absolutely love or really, really like, that way you don’t feel cramped in but cozier, feeling surrounded by your favorite things. If you don’t have enough wardrobe space, curate your clothes on walls and doors (the nice pieces only that fit the color palette or style) — that gives your home more of a gallery or studio vibe. Remove doors or keep them open  — that lets more light in, and you can hang textured fabric in [their] place. Don’t be afraid to use color!”


Maggie Coker / @ragandbonemanvintage & @thegreenhousementality
Vintage Appeal in A Botanical Stylist’s Berlin Apartment


Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
The Nun’s Room, the old tomato growers’ shack that Sarah calls home, is filled with “the crumbs” — memories and keepsakes that tell a story. Photos by Sarah Andrews


“Get your big and practical stuff in first. Rugs, couches, a bed, a table. Consider the comfort of each and every item. With a small space, you want to use all your stuff and all your areas. The next step is what I call ‘the crumbs.’ It’s the small things that go between the big stuff which give your space life and tell its story. Memories, collections, things you have found on bush walks, things gifted by loved ones. This step, I think, is as, or perhaps more important than the first.”


Sarah Andrews / @hellosarahandrews
The Nun’s Room, an Old Tomato Growers’ Shack in Western Australia
Captains Rest, a Secluded Waterfront Cottage on the Tasmanian Coast



Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
Image above: Dieuwke used different colors to distinguish the various areas of her 485-square-foot houseboat. Photos by Dieuwke Vos and Jakoba Havinga


“I would advise to utilize the room to its fullest by using all corners, make sure furniture is the right size and create something to see everywhere you look. But, avoid clutter! Avoid using too many decorations and make sure to group the decorations you do use so it doesn’t look messy. Creating pretty corners can also be done by using color. Don’t be afraid to use color — it can make a room look and feel bigger, and it helps to create a divide between different areas of the room. And if you don’t like the result, it is very easy to repaint it. The last important trick that makes a room feel spacious is to make sure that all of the furniture is standing on legs. The room seems bigger if you can still see the floor underneath the furniture.”


Dieuwke Vos / @my_floating_home
In the Netherlands, a Houseboat Offers Colorful Living on the Water


Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Jove carefully selected ideally sized furniture and must-have items for his bungalow. Photos by Chellise Michael Photography


“To get the most out of your small space I start by determining the functionality of the space, then I make a list of all furniture/items needed to use the space in that way. Once the list is complete I highlight the must-haves so I know what to focus on first. Once I know the space’s purpose and my must-have pieces I get to searching for specific size pieces to make the most of the small space. I also love finding items that serve dual purposes, like a couch that is also a bed, or a coffee table that is adjustable to become a dining table and a shelf that can hold useful items as well as decor. I find adding a standing mirror or mirror on a wall helps make the space feel larger and also brighter. I also avoid using very dark colors in cramped spaces as it can make them look even smaller, I stick with bright or light colors and keep the space clutter-free as well!”


Jove Meyer / @jovemeyer
An Event Planner’s Beachy Bungalow on New York’s Fire Island



Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Paula recently painted a small, poorly lit bedroom a dark charcoal paint color for added depth. Photos by Paula Guzman


“Instead of fighting the limited square footage, embrace the small size by creating a cozy nook. Paint the walls a saturated color and add luxe finishes and textures throughout. Committing to a dark paint color can seem intimidating, but it actually tricks the eye and creates the illusion of depth. Benjamin Moore’s ‘Iron Mountain’ is one of my favorite ‘almost-black’ paint colors. Next, add a gallery wall or large-scale artwork, and you’ll be amazed at the transformation!”


Paula Guzman / @paulaeguzmaninteriors
A Shared Space In Brooklyn Feels Like A Standalone Home


Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
Meaghan hung a large mirror above the couch in her 250-square-foot studio apartment. Photos by Anna Mathias


“- It really comes down to making your space as efficient as possible to your needs and how you live. But the best tip I can really give for maximizing space is to declutter. Decluttering is not only a good first impression but it contributes to your overall wellbeing.

– When making the most of a small or cramped space, I would focus on your lighting. Use sconces or wall lights rather than floor lamps and create moments with varying heights of lighting. If you live in a rental, you can try searching for plug-in wall lights, too.

– Always look for wasted space whether that is above cabinets or your closet rack. Try hanging floating shelves or nightstands for extra storage underneath. Mirrors are also an easy way to make the most of your space. I almost always do an oversized mirror above a couch in a small apartment.

– Choosing the right rug also makes a big difference. Skimping on size will drastically make your space feel even smaller. As a rule of thumb, I like to find a rug in which my furniture can sit on top at least a foot. Personally, I have fallen in love with a rug that is too small for my space. To keep a small rug you love, layering it over a great sisal or jute rug is a great solution. You can find affordable sisal or jute rugs on Overstock, Wayfair or even at your local Home Depot or Walmart.

– Lastly, I find that paint color can make a big difference, too. Typically small spaces are dull with diffused light. Choose paint colors that are brighter, warmer or neutral as dark colors tend to absorb light.”


Meaghan Shanley / @meaghanalisse
Colorful Layers and Creative Tricks in A 250-Square-Foot NYC Studio



Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge

Best-Kept Secrets: Thriving in Small Spaces | Design*Sponge
Whitney added personal style to a tight space by choosing a bright yellow table and storing small items in a decorative box on top. Photos by Britt Smith 


“Smart space planning is the best thing you can do for a small or cramped [area]. I love using furniture that can have multiple purposes and can be moved around a home. A small parson’s table can be used as an entry table, an office desk, or a sofa table, and house small ottomans underneath for extra seating. A storage ottoman is much better than a coffee table in a cramped space and can be used for storage, seating, and a hard surface by placing a tray on top. Decorative storage boxes are my favorite way to hide clutter in a small space and keep a room organized. I have many boxes all over my home that hide things like batteries, loose change, keys, matches, and even dish towels.”


Whitney Jones / @whitneyjdecor
Before & After: Making Maximalism Work in a Tight Space

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  • Love this! Our home is 1800 sqf, which is big for some and small for others, especially considering that we have three kids and a fourth on the way. It seems spacious to me compared with the doublewide I grew up in. When we home exchange we seem to almost always find exchange partners with more square footage, and I find myself walking and walking just to get to the next room!

  • Excellent ideas! I personally am big on pretty storage boxes. Our home isn’t tiny, but for this family of 5, it is on the small size. But, because it’s old, it has virtually no closet space at all! These tips all go a long way to help make this place look neater and more organized. Thanks!
    One of the things I love most about this post though, is the immense variety of the rooms featured. I love that what seems to be on trend right now is just decorating to your own taste and finding your own style. All of these rooms are so gorgeous, and so different! Love them and the creatives who designed them!

  • I need this article today as I struggle to make my small 400+ square foot space work for two people.

  • Thank you for this timely article,it certainly came in handy as I struggle to feel comfortable in my small space that I share with my husband- who has a lot of stuff!