You don’t need to let a small space—or a small budget—hold you back from turning your home into a beautifully designed haven. Decorating is all about following some simple design principles and making choices that reflect you. “If a space is well-designed, it feels like a great dress or suit on your body—it flows,” says Gail Green, founder and principal of Gail Green Interiors in New York City and author of An Insider’s Guide to Interior Design for Small Spaces.
Here’s how to give your apartment that great fit—without spending a lot of money.
1. Make A Budget
The first step in setting a budget is to think big picture, says Green. Is your apartment a temporary space, or do you intend to stay there for years? If the latter, it may make sense to invest more up front. Also, consider spending money on a one-hour consultation with a designer or architect; a pro can quickly give you a list of ideas that will meet your budget. It will also likely get you a better end result, even if you think you have a good eye. “Good taste has nothing to do with good design,” says Green.
2. Embrace Paint
Painting is the most visually effective thing you can do when you have a limited budget, says Green. Paint adds personality and can even make the space feel bigger. Make the walls and ceiling the same light color; the ceiling will blend with the rest of the room, making the space feel more open and airy. And don’t skimp on materials. A higher-quality paint offers better coverage and can keep you from having to apply multiple coats, which can save you money (and time, if you’re doing the job yourself).
3. Scale Your Furniture
Avoid bulky or oversize furniture in a small apartment, says Green, as it will eat up your space. Also, stay away from furniture with skirts; visible legs keep the space more open by giving the impression of air floating under and over the furniture.
4. Get Creative With Furnishings
Small mobile cube ottomans are very versatile, says Libby Langdon, an interior designer and president of New York City-based Libby Langdon Interiors. Use them to prop up your feet or for extra seating, or add a tray on top to make a small side table. You could also push a few together with a tray to create a big serving space. In the bedroom, she says, you can save money on a headboard by creating one visually. Use painter’s tape to create an outline of a headboard shape, and then paint the rest of the wall. When you peel the tape off, the unpainted lines suggest a headboard in whatever shape you’ve chosen. She also recommends painting used furniture as a way of inexpensively refurbishing it.
5. Copy A Layout
“A good layout can visually quadruple the size of a space,” says Langdon, though she admits that this is one of toughest things about decorating a small space. So don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Langdon recommends researching sample layouts in books or magazines, or visiting a furniture store to check out their apartment layouts.
6. Go Big With Rugs
Small rugs chop up a space, says Langdon, making it seem smaller. “A larger rug gives a more expansive feel to a room,” she says. Choose a rug that covers most of the floor, stopping 6 or 7 inches from the wall. Save money by having a rug store cut a remnant carpet to fit your room and then binding it.
7. Light The Corners
“Lighting is paramount,” says Langdon. Use a mix of table and floor lamps to make sure you illuminate all four corners of a room. “If there’s an area left dark, it closes the room in visually and makes it seem like that square footage isn’t there,” she says. Use as tall a table lamp as possible; this adds scale and height, makes the room feel bigger and provides a better spread of light.
8. Make The Walls Pop
Never let a wall sit empty, says Langdon, especially in the living room. If you can’t afford one large piece of art, group several inexpensive frames together, and then fill them with images that speak to you—maybe pictures from a trip, inspirational quotes or images you love from Instagram. “Artwork announces your personal style,” says Langdon.
By Julie Anne Russell
Originally published August 2018.