How to Create the Illusion of Space in a Small Apartment

Shannon Quinn - January 20, 2021
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This custom-made platform elevates the bed and includes storage underneath. Credit: Shutterstock

20. Elevate Your Bed for Additional Storage Space

When you live in a tiny apartment, storage options are limited. If you’re lucky, you might have a closet in the hallway, but it’s usually not enough space to fit everything. This is especially true if you had to move to a new city that requires you to go on an airplane. Where are you going to put your luggage? The solution to the problem might be familiar to you if you have ever lived in a college dorm. Elevate your bed off of the floor by several inches. This can be accomplished with bed risers that you can buy online that will give you an additional 5 to 8 in of space underneath your bed. 

This bed is elevated high off the floor. Credit: Shutterstock

This might not sound like a lot of work just to get a few extra inches of space, but it can make the difference between putting your luggage underneath the bed versus having it taking up closet space. You can also take a lot of objects that were cluttering up your apartment and put everything under the bed in containers. If you want to hide this, simply have a long you have a cover or bed skirt to hide what’s going on underneath the bed.

Hanging your bike on the wall helps to save space when living in a city. Credit: Shutterstock

19. Hang Your Bike on the Wall

If you live in a city, driving a car can be a nightmare from parking to dealing with traffic. This is why a lot of people opt to use a bicycle to quickly do their errands or commute to work. However, a bike takes up a lot of floor space. The solution to the problem is to hang the bike on the wall with a bike rack. This keeps it up off the floor without taking up any floor space at all, and it also doubles as some cool wall art. 

This amazing apartment has a bike on top of the dresser. Credit: Shutterstock

However, if you do this, you need to make sure you’re distributing the weight of the bike on two hooks instead of just one. When it’s so heavy, it could fall down and create a hole in the wall. If you’re renting, you’ll need to hire a handyman to fix the wall so that it doesn’t come out of your security deposit. And if there’s an earthquake, it could fall and injure you, or break furniture. So if you choose to do this. Make sure it’s in a secure, strategic spot.

Having furniture in the middle of the room actually makes it look bigger. Credit: Shutterstock

18. Bring Furniture to the Middle of the Room

One of the most common mistakes people make when decorating is that they try to create space too literally. They think that by pushing their furniture up against the wall, it will take up the least amount of space. In theory, they might be correct, but this leaves space in the middle of the room. It might make it easier to walk across the room from one end to the other. However, it actually gives the impression that this was necessary, because the room is so small. It also usually looks awkward, and it’s difficult to design around.

This desk is in the middle of the room facing the window, but it still works. Credit: Shutterstock

A better strategy is to place your furniture in a good design, even if it means going in the middle of the room. For example, if you’re converting a second bedroom into a home office, you could put the desk in the middle of the room, and have the shelving against the wall. This gives the impression that you have plenty of space to pull off that design. And if the room truly is too small to put your furniture anywhere but the wall, try to work with the angles of the room. Even something as simple as a chair in the corner can give the space variety.

These shelves are above the kitchen sink for extra storage. Credit: Shutterstock

17. Use Vertical Space to Your Advantage

You can’t increase your square footage in a small apartment, but you can build upwards. Always try to take advantage of vertical space. Look around your apartment, and notice all of the empty space on the walls. Some people automatically want to use it for art walls. This is great, but it’s not exactly functional. Could you use floating shelves to store things on the wall, instead? Or maybe you could purchase a tall bookcase to store your items, instead of a short dresser. 

Art and plants can be put up on shelves. Credit: Shutterstock

Extra space that people commonly miss is above their kitchen cabinets, or the space between their TV and the ceiling. It might be possible for you to use vertical space in every single room of your apartment. For example, my parents created a shelf along the ceiling of our childhood nursery, and used it to store all of our books. Even 30 years later, those shelves are still sturdy, and nothing ever fell down. Try to think outside of the box in terms of where you can store your belongings.

The Marie Kondo method of folding clothes. Credit: Shutterstock

16. Experiment With Organization that Works For You

With TV shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and The Home Edit on Netflix, you might have seen a lot of different storage and organizational solutions already. However, once you go to the store, it all seems daunting. Everything is expensive, and you might be afraid of getting it wrong. Please keep in mind that there is no “right” way to organize your apartment. There are a lot of different products and methods out there for cleaning an organization, so it’s okay to experiment to see what works best for you. 

These drawer inserts help keep small items organized. Credit: Shutterstock

Don’t feel limited to the organizational tools just because the store has those items in a certain section. For example, something you might find in the bathroom section of the store might work perfectly in your living room. Or a makeup organizer could be used for art supplies. There have been plenty of times where I nearly missed an organizational item I was looking for simply because it was in a different aisle than I expected. Check all of the aisles to see your options before you settle in a product. And if it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t be afraid to start over and use your new product in a different room in the apartment. 

These large mirrors make the room larger. Credit: Shutterstock

15. Hang Large Mirrors on the Wall

Nearly everyone has experienced going into a restaurant with mirrors on the back wall. It’s a common tactic for business owners, because it reflects the seating and gives us the illusion of being a much larger venue. When people see that a restaurant is large or crowded, they are more likely to show up, because they don’t want to be the first, or only customer. Obviously, the same mirror trick will work in your apartment, so that it feels twice the size when you walk in. If you hang a large mirror on the wall, it will reflect the rest of the room and give you a sense of space. Mirror doors on the closet are also a great way to accomplish this in the bedroom. (Even if it’s bad Feng Shui.) 

Mirror closet doors help you get ready in the morning. Credit: Shutterstock

Obviously, large mirrors hung on your wall aren’t always practical. Some of them hang over the couch or another area where you’ll rarely see your own reflection. That’s why it’s a good idea to find a full body mirror to sit on the floor, leaning against the wall. This can give the illusion of having a larger space, but it also serves the practical purpose of checking out your outfit in the morning before you leave the house. The only downside to this is that large mirrors tend to be expensive and heavy. Do your best within your budget, and also keep in mind how difficult it may be to move into your next apartment.

A storage poof is both an ottoman and storage. Credit: Shutterstock

14. Furniture that Doubles as Storage

One of the most popular tricks people like to use in a small apartment is to buy furniture that doubles as storage. This extra storage clears out the clutter, which results in a cleaner and more open space. Storage ottomans are great for this. It’s a perfect space to store extra blankets, or your kid’s toys. You could use it as a coffee table, put your feet on it, and enjoy it in your living room. Some people also put these ottomans at the foot of the bed to hide their shoes or extra linens when they need to wash their sheets. 

This couch has hidden drawers underneath of it. Credit: Shutterstock

For nearly every piece of furniture out there, they make a more storage-friendly version of it. There are beds with built-in shelves and drawers, desks with a combined bookshelf, and so much more. Even if you’re on a thrift store budget, choose a coffee table or end table with drawers that can hold things. So many people will simply buy a console table that is purely decorative. But once you have that dual purpose, you can keep so much more hidden away. As an added bonus, these multi-use pieces of furniture tend to be so great, you’ll end up keeping them when you move from place to place.

This could be both a desk or a console table. Credit: Shutterstock

13. Furniture with Multiple Uses

In Tiny Homes Living and Van Life, one of the most popular ways to save space is by using furniture that is used for multiple purposes. Beds turn into kitchen tables. Desks turn into kitchen countertops. The entire space is meant to transform with every purpose you need for living. Obviously, these tiny homes and vans are built from the ground up, designed to be as functional as possible. Even if you can’t replicate this in an apartment, you can still find pieces of furniture that serve two purposes. 

Tiny homes are usually filled with multi-functional furniture. Credit: Shutterstock

For example, a high quality kitchen island can be used for prepping food, eating your meal, storing pots and pans, and working on your laptop. Some L-shaped couches have a pull-out function that turns the entire piece of furniture into a bed. There are also modern multi-functional pieces that can be purchased from a designer, if you have the money and motivation to buy them.

Light colors help to bounce light around the room. Credit: Shutterstock

12. Light Colors

As human beings, we perceive colors in a certain way that gives us the illusion of space. For example, dark colors make us think about something that is enclosed or cozy, maybe because it reminds us of a cave. White and other light colors as well as sunlight reminds us of the great outdoors. The color white can also reflect light off of it, so it bounces it through the room. So, obviously, if you’re trying to make a space feel larger, you need to do the opposite of being in a dark, cramped den by painting everything in a light color. 

Neutral colors help to make a space feel larger. Credit: Shutterstock

Some people out there don’t like the idea of having an apartment that is all white or cream. After all, many apartments come with this paint color as its default, and there’s not much design to that. Painting is fine, but you might want to consider only using color on one accent wall instead of the entire space. If you want a darker wall color, white furniture and blonde woods can also give the illusion of more space.

Plants help bring an apartment alive. Credit: Shutterstock

11. Keep your Space Alive With Plants

No matter what size apartment you have, plants make things better. It brings life to your space, as well as the color green. They also clean the air, and keep you company almost like having pets. Over time, you’ll feel happy to see your plants grow, almost like a proud parent.  Plants are also very trendy. For example, I bought a fiddle leaf fig a couple years ago after seeing them all over the place in home makeovers and house tours. I feel really happy to see its progress so far, even though it will take 10-15 years to grow to its full size. As it continues to grow, I’ll take it with me into my next home.

The green of the wall matches the plants. Credit: Shutterstock

Some of you out there might feel nervous to own plants, because you don’t have a green thumb. Admittedly, taking care of plants isn’t for everyone, and it takes some time, research, and money to keep them alive. If you travel a lot, you might need to buy fake plants so that they never die. This still gives you the pop of color and fills out the space just as well as a real plant would. However, real plants are actually cheaper, and they have those added benefits of clearing the air.

Mirrored furniture reflects the surrounding room. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Translucent and Mirror Furniture

A clever way to create more space in an apartment is to use furniture made of plexiglass. It gives the illusion that the furniture isn’t there at all. This is great for coffee tables, chairs, and side tables. Mirrored furniture is also great, since it reflects your space. Many coffee and kitchen tables also come with glass tops, which gives a similar effect. Instead of being an entirely solid piece of furniture, the glass helps to give an illusion of space. In my home, I choose small accessories that are translucent like magazine holders, office supplies, and storage containers.

This home office uses a clear chair and a glass table. Credit: Joss and Main

Instead of buying brand new pieces to fit this illusion, it’s possible to stick mirrors onto the side of a dresser. Both Etsy and Amazon have these stick-on mirror panels, so you can transform almost any piece of furniture into a mirrored dresser. The obvious downside to this is that this style of furniture doesn’t suit every style. It typically goes with a more glam Hollywood Regency vibe. And many parents would be afraid to have a glass-top table when their kids could accidentally break it. Try to see if you can incorporate this into your lifestyle somehow without it being a detriment to the space.

Ikea makes tiny desks and beds for children’s bedrooms. Credit: Ikea

9. Buy Smaller Furniture 

This advice might seem obvious to some people, but if you have a small apartment, you should buy small furniture. A lot of people keep the same furniture from their last place, inherit furniture from their parents, or buy something from a thrift store. But if you want to make your apartment appear bigger, always use a tape measure before purchasing something new. Make sure that you’re leaving some space around each piece of furniture, instead of having everything right next to each other.

Tiny console tables do the trick. Credit: Shutterstock

In their 2021 catalog, IKEA has come out with a new line of furniture to make it possible to have a home office in a small space. Specifically, their Micke desk is designed to fit inside of a closet. There has never been a better time to find small, affordable furniture. A lot of retailers are doing the same thing moving forward. Make a list of measurements, and find pieces that fit the space you have to work with.

This bathroom is small, but the impressive sink and wallpaper makes it look luxurious. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Accent Pieces 

Sometimes, a stunning accent piece can make a room feel bigger by essentially tricking your eye into focusing on that. If there is something attention-catching in the room, most would focus on the art instead of the size of the space.  For example, having a wallpaper accent wall, large piece of artwork, or chandelier can be the first thing you see when you walk into a room. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it just has to stand out. Just make sure it doesn’t take up too much space and interfere with the flow of the space. 

This boy’s bedroom has tons of accent pieces. Credit: Shutterstock

An accent feature can also be accomplished simply by painting something you already have. For example, a cramped front hallway and boot area can be instantly jazzed up if you paint your front door a bright color. Or you could paint the wall a bold color, and add some patterned molding onto the wall to give it a geometric shape. There are a lot of cute ideas out there on Pinterest, so the sky’s the limit as to what you could do.

This girl’s bedroom is painted a peachy pink from top to bottom. Credit: Crate and Barrel

7. Paint the Crown Molding, Door, Frame, and Trim the Same Color as the Wall

Crown molding and baseboards can add a sense of luxury to your home. Normally, molding is painted white to contrast the wall color. Sometimes, dark wood paneling is in an older house. But this dark color only serves to make the space feel more cozy, so it will actually make things feel smaller. A bold but effective suggestion to make a room feel bigger is to paint the paneling the same color as the wall. This also works really well if you paint the door and frame the same color as the wall, too.

This wall has matching trim, with furniture painted the same color. Credit: Shutterstock

This might seem counter-productive, because darker paneling normally makes things feel small, right? But this specific effect brings the eye upwards. People will be impressed and notice this feature right away, so they’ll be looking at your ceiling and colorful crown molding. Good design always wins over the size of the space. If you’re designing an apartment from scratch, you have a chance to plan out the color story. Pick the color pallet in the beginning, and stick with it. When everything looks cohesive, it helps to make everything look intentional. 

The longer the legs, the more it helps a small apartment. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Furniture with Long Legs

Some people love a cozy couch that’s flush with the floor, huge bean bag chairs, or poufs. Whether you realize it or not , this makes the space feel smaller. That object is taking up space on the floor, and it feels immovable, like you can never get that space back again. On the other hand, when you buy furniture with long legs, you allow the eye to see the space underneath, even if it’s just a few inches. It allows the air and energy to flow, and is much better Feng Shui. 

This entire living room has furniture with long legs. Credit: Shutterstock

Having furniture with long legs this helps show more of your floor and area rug, which gives the illusion of space. In a practical sense, it also makes it a lot easier for you to use a Swiffer or vacuum underneath the furniture to keep the space clean. Your dogs and cats will probably appreciate this space too, because it gives them a place to hide if they’re feeling nervous. If you feel like your legs aren’t long enough on your existing furniture, you can purchase leg risers to lift it off the ground.

The only thing separating the bedroom and living room of this apartment is the rug. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Use Larger Rugs

When you’re trying to make an apartment appear larger, always go with the biggest rug possible. Measure the room so that you have only a few inches left on each side. Or, use that rug to frame out a certain area of the room into a “zone”. For example, in my bedroom, I use a large rug to separate the “bedroom” area from the “office” area, since I have my desk set up to work from home. Even though it’s subtle, it feels like you’re moving into a different area once you cross the line made by the rug.

This studio has a large rug to designate the living room area. Credit: Shutterstock

Some of you out there may already have already made the mistake of buying a small rug, and it’s too late to return it. That’s okay! Don’t automatically assume you need to donate or throw it out. First, try to see if you can move the smaller rug to a different area of the house that needs floor covering, like your front hallway or kitchen. Next, consider layering rugs. A popular option is to place jute rugs underneath the patterned rug. This is very popular right now. However, make sure you don’t trip over your double rugs.

This clean apartment helps make the small apartment look better. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Keep Your Apartment Clean 

This might sound simple or obvious to most of you, but the easiest way to make life in a small apartment better is to keep it clean, and don’t allow clutter to pile up. Never allow clothes or Amazon boxes pile up on the floor. Do your laundry and dishes, plus put things away quickly. Once your apartment is clean, it can feel cozy, instead of cramped.Cleaning on a daily basis is really the key to keeping an apartment clutter-free. Just tidy up for a few minutes a day, instead of waiting until the weekend to do a bigger clean. 

When you have a tiny apartment, there is no room for mess. Credit: Shutterstock

Some of you out there might dread the idea of cleaning your apartment every single day, but it’s just a matter of changing your habits. Personally, I work from home as a writer, which requires me to stare at a screen, read, write, and do a lot of thinking. Getting up to clean for 10-15 minute spurts helps me to rest my eyes, get away from the computer screen, and allow my brain to stop thinking so hard. It gets my body moving, which brings back blood flow to my limbs. People always compliment me about how clean my space is, and yet I never feel like I’m doing a chore. I actually look forward to cleaning, because it gives me a break from working. Once you train yourself to think like this, it changes your life for the better.

This room is cute, but it looks a bit cluttered. Credit: Shutterstock

3. Eliminate Visual Clutter

Another form of “clutter” that a lot of people don’t think about is visual clutter. These are small things that you may not notice, and assume that it’s “clean”. But it creates a visual distraction, and makes it difficult to feel calm and relaxed. For example, I have a pile of books sitting on my dresser that were returned to me from family and friends, because I ran out of space on my bookshelf. Technically, this pile of books isn’t clutter, because it’s clean, tidy, and serves a purpose. But it’s definitely visual clutter. As soon as I figured out a place to put them away, it felt far more open and spacious.

By minimizing visual clutter, a space seems so much bigger. Credit: Shutterstock

Sometimes, organizational techniques can be used to get rid of the visual clutter. For example, most people would never consider boxes of cereal “clutter”. This is food, and it’s necessary for you to eat and get a quick breakfast in the morning. However, if you transfer that cereal to a clear container instead of keeping it bright, colorful, solid cardboard boxes, it is so much more visually appealing, and almost looks like part of the decor. Baskets and other containers can also be used to remove visual clutter.

Hanging a TV on the wall helps save space. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Mount Your TV on the Wall

An easy way to save space in a small apartment is to hang your tv on the wall. Somehow, your TV feels even bigger when it’s suspended, compared to keeping it sitting on a table. Just make sure it matches your eye level so that you aren’t craning your neck. If you’re interested in Feng Shui, they recommend not to keep a TV in your bedroom. Technology can interfere with the flow of qi, and it also serves as a “black mirror” to bounce energy off of it.

Hanging a TV can help to hide it, instead of making it the centerpiece of the room. Credit: Shutterstock

With that being said, TV’s in the living room look great on the wall. And if you have a Smart TV, all you need is the remote to get started. In a time when everything is digital on streaming services, there is no reason to keep media console furniture for a DVD player. Game consoles that require you to plug them into the TV, but this can be temporary. And there are HDMI cords that are up to 10 feet long, which should be plenty of room to plug your game system into a piece of furniture on the floor, or the other side room.

This Los Angeles apartment has a glass sliding door separating the bedroom and the kitchen. Credit: The Gem Goddess on YouTube

1. Hang Curtains or Sliding Doors

Many small studio apartments have an open concept floor plan. However, you might be in an older apartment that is split up into various rooms by walls and doorways. Obviously, doors between rooms can block off space. Sometimes, this can be a very good thing, especially if you’re trying to quarantine. However, it makes a space feel smaller. 

This small apartment has a loft bed with a curtain separating the space. Credit: Shutterstock

If at all possible, remove doors and replace them with a curtain or a sliding barn door. This way, you can slide the curtain or door closed when you want the area to be blocked off, and open it when you want to create the open concept again. Or, use a curtain to divide space instead of a piece of furniture or screen. 

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