Whether you have a bijou studio apartment or simply want to make the most of your smallest room, there are plenty of design tricks that can add space without knocking down walls, writes Rin Simpson
A dark, dingy room will always look smaller than a fresh, airy one, so your first step is to increase the amount of natural light entering the room. If you can, increase the size of your windows or install full-height French doors, or even a skylight. Replace heavy curtains with pale blinds that won't block the window space, or at least make sure that any curtains are well tied back to allow as much light in as possible. Cleverly placed mirrors can reflect light around a room and even create an optical illusion that gives the impression of more space "beyond the wall".
In general, pale colours create more of a sense of space, as they increase the amount of light that is reflected around a room, while dark colours absorb it. On top of that, if you choose a cool colour rather than a warm one - mint green instead of rose, for example - you'll find that it amplifies the effect, as cool colours visually recede. Another top design tip is to paint coving and skirtings in an even paler shade than your walls - the eye is naturally drawn to borders, so this will reduce that effect and make the walls appear even farther back than they are.
Do you really need a door? If the room that you're making over is a common area, you may not. A door not only takes up space but it blocks light, which, as we've established, is essential when creating a sense of space. By removing a door, and especially if you're able to use the same flooring in the adjoining room, you create a flow through that makes both rooms look bigger. Consider installing an attractive archway through to the next room instead or, if you really do need a door, what about a sliding one that slips out of the way when open?
Interior design allows you to draw the eye to those areas that you want to highlight and away from those that you want to hide. A two-pronged approach will help you do this in relation to space. First, keep your eye line clear by reducing the amount of tall furniture items such as wardrobes or dressers, and placing those that are essential in a spot that you can't see from the room's main sitting area. Then, draw the eye to the far side of the room with a beautiful piece of artwork. The result will be a sense of distance and space.
Space isn't just a lateral concept - a high ceiling will also add to the overall sense of space in a room. If yours is low, keep it pale so as not to draw attention to it, with minimalistic spot lighting. If, on the other hand, your small room is generous at the top, draw the eye upwards with a pretty pendant light or even coloured paint on the ceiling itself. Wallpapered ceilings are a quirky trend that some brave homeowners have begun trying in recent years, and can be really effective - just remember to avoid very heavy, dark colours that will press downwards on you.
Just as height is important, so floor space is a big part of how your eye measures the overall space in the room. Where possible keep as much of it as you can on show. This means furniture such as beds or sofas should be raised on legs rather than solid, and rugs are best avoided. In a small bathroom, choose a wall-mounted toilet and sink to leave as much of the floor available as possible. Remember the rule of colour too - your floor should be pale, just like your walls. Alternatively, to lengthen your room, you could create an optical illusion using a subtle stripe (floorboards, for example, or a stripy carpet) - an oversized mirror at one end will add to the effect.
If you stuff a small room with large, bulky furniture, it will inevitably look crowded. Instead, choose smaller items such as a skinny console table rather than a sideboard, or a love seat rather than a full-sized sofa. Solid furniture looks bigger than furniture that is tubular, for example, so take this into account when you're making your choices. Glass furniture is also great, as it allows light to travel through it and therefore gives an impression of taking up no space at all. Having said all that, you also don't want to have too many items in your room. It's all about balance - one or two larger items may be preferable to several smaller ones.
Multifunctional furniture is ideal for small space. Since the idea is to reduce the amount of individual items in a room, combining two functions in one will help you add to the sense of space. An ottoman that has storage space within it is a classic example, but there are more and more designers thinking outside the box and creating quirky multifunctional items such as seating with built-in shelving. Equally, anything with a foldaway element - such as a pull-out bed or an extendable dining table - will allow you to maintain a greater level of space while they are not in use.
It's not just about furniture - the more items that you have in your room generally, the smaller it will look. Have a good clear-out to reduce any clutter, then keep those items that remain hidden behind closed doors (ie choose furniture with cupboards and drawers over open shelving). Frills and fancy detail will add to the cluttered effect of a room and visually reduce its size, so stick to clean, smooth lines when it comes to choosing everything from furniture to textiles. On the walls, one large painting will feel "cleaner" and more spacious than a selection of prints.
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