26. In the Kitchen, Only Have One or Two of Everything
Most people assume that when you move into a new house or apartment, you need a full set of dinnerware. This could be used if guests come over, and you have backup dishes when others are dirty. However, let’s face it. You’re not inviting guests over in 2021. And if you live in a small studio apartment, you’ve probably never had dinner parties, anyway. You may have had one or two people over at once, max. Make your life easier and kitchen cabinets more organized by only keeping one or two of everything.
When I was in college I shared a studio with a roommate, and we only had a kitchenette. Since there wasn’t even a cabinet to put things away, We both only kept one bowl, one plate, one mug, and a set of cutlery for each of us. As soon as something got used, we had to clean it immediately, because we knew that we would need to use these objects again for our next meal. In modern times, we have become spoiled by dishwashers, or lazy by allowing massive amounts of dishes to add up over time. This trick saves space, but it also helps get you in a habit of doing dishes very quickly.
This next piece of advice might sound contradictory, since large art would take up a lot of space. However, most people associate giant works of art with massive mansions. By hanging a large piece of artwork in your apartment, people will be impressed and focus on that rather than looking at how small the rest of the room is. Big artwork doesn’t have to be expensive, either. In our Ikea Hacks article, we show how they attached pieces of fabric to a frame, and made a massive piece of art to serve as an oversized headboard behind a bed.
You can also find affordable big canvas artwork at places like HomeGoods and Marshalls in the $20 to $40 range. Even Family Dollar and Dollar General sells canvas art for $10 to $15. Alternately, consider having something printed or custom-made. In college, I once visited a frat house where a few of the young men worked at a movie theater. When the movies were no longer in theaters, they were allowed to take the giant banners home. So as soon as you walked into the living room, you saw a huge mural of The Hangover greeting you as you walked in. Somehow, it made the room feel bigger. And it sure was a conversation starter!
A lot of people make the mistake of purchasing curtains that fit their windows perfectly. This might help with giving you privacy and keeping out the sunlight when you’re trying to sleep, but it does nothing to help make the room bigger. If you use floor-length curtains, it will instantly make a space feel larger. It doesn’t matter if the window is significantly smaller than the curtain itself. This is an optical illusion that tricks the eye into believing that the windows are larger than they actually are. I have personally done this, and it works. In my bedroom, I have white floor-to-ceiling sheer curtain panels. When I take them off to clean them, my room looks like a completely different place.
I’ve also encouraged other people to use this tip, with positive results. A couple years ago, my older brother moved into a basement apartment. The only windows he had were very small, at the top of the ceiling. He asked me to come over for style advice, and wondered how he could find curtains that fit those tiny windows. I told him about this trick to create the illusion of space. At first, he didn’t want to try it, because he couldn’t imagine how that was possible. He thought that it might look strange. But I convinced him, and we purchased the floor length curtains. It did, in fact, make his room look a lot bigger. Now that he moved out, he’s taking those long curtains with him to the next space to repeat the same trick over again.
Now that you understand that longer curtains create the illusion of space, there are some interior designers to take this to the next level. If you have the ability to install your own curtain rod or hire a handyman to help, hang your curtain rod bar above the actual window frame. Some designers will go almost all the way to the ceiling. Then measure to get the length necessary to have curtains that go down to the floor.
Depending on the height of your ceilings, your local store might not even carry curtains that are long enough to accommodate this extra long style. You might actually have to pay for custom-made curtains. Do some measurements, and look at what’s available in your price range. Will hanging the curtains above the window frame make it bigger yes? But can everyone afford this? Not so much. In my personal opinion, I feel that if you’re renting an apartment, go for floor-length curtains and call it a day.
In very few specific cases, curtains might actually take away from the space or the light in your apartment. For example, in New York City, they have a lot of old brownstone buildings with big windows encased in brick. And in Philadelphia, you’ll have a lot of apartments made from converted industrial buildings. These apartments are also made of brick, and have huge windows that were meant to let in the light for factory workers over a hundred years ago. If you live in a unique architectural urban setting like this, it’s difficult to find curtains that fit the size of these windows. Honestly, if you covered the windows in this kind of apartment, it would take away from the much-needed sunlight. It would also cover up the gorgeous character and charm of the building that probably attracted you to move there in the first place.
The only obvious downside to skipping curtains is that you need to be prepared for neighbors to see inside. Use your better judgement, and always go with curtains in the bedroom. If your apartment is not architecturally unique, curtains are a must-have thing. In most other buildings in the United States, a room without curtains gives off the vibe that you don’t care very much about your space, and it makes people feel exposed and uncomfortable, even if they can’t put their finger on why. I once met a man who insisted on never hanging curtains in his living room, because he wanted the sunlight. When the time came to sell his apartment, no one wanted to buy it. Dozens of people saw the place, and it only sold once he finally caved and hung curtains. I promise that curtains will transform the room completely.
Light is incredibly important for making a space feel bigger. And if your apartment doesn’t get a lot of natural sunlight, it’s even more important for you to make sure each space of the home is lit properly. When a space feels too dark or yellow, it immediately feels smaller. Even the tone of a lightbulb can make a huge difference. Experiment with swapping out light bulbs from your light fixtures. And if at all possible, have a dimmer installed so that you can adjust the brightness.
As odd as it may sound, you can sometimes divide up space with light. Lamps and LED light strips can help to designate a space. In the photos, you can see how the pendant lamps above the kitchen counter, as well as the LED light strips underneath the shelving really give you a distinct eating and cooking and dining space, even though it’s right next to the sleeping area of the tiny studio apartment. Without that light, it would be a lot smaller and cramped.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.