Despite the supposed drop in rents, living space comes at a premium in the UAE. With a typical apartment in Abu Dhabi or Dubai usually no bigger than 1,000 square feet, accommodating furniture and possessions without making your living space feel cluttered can be a challenge. But with some easy adjustments, smart purchases and clever thinking, you can not only avoid feeling 'boxed in' but even create the illusion of having a bigger space than you actually do. Here are 10 simple tips to try.
1 More is less
It's vital in a small living space that you keep pieces of furniture to a minimum. It may seem logical to buy a compact sofa and matching chairs, but one large sofa seating three or four people will take up less room than three single pieces. And don't think you have to skimp too much on size.
"It's a myth that smaller-scale furniture makes a space look larger," says the Dubai-based interior designer Pallavi Dean. "One larger piece is far better than the clutter of several small chairs and stools. For your one main piece, avoid large, bulky, padded leather sofas. Instead, try a minimalist, clean L-shaped sofa or an armless three-seater, maybe coupled with a chaise longue or a vintage armchair."
Minimising the number of focal points in the room is also important. If the space is dominated by a sofa or dining table, for instance, avoid introducing additional seating and side tables, and keep wall decoration and finishing touches such as cushions to a minimum.
2 Don't buy bulk
"Steer away from clunky entertainment units in a small space; you just don't need them," says Pallavi. "Mount your TV on the wall, above a low-lying bench for a look that is functional and sleek."
Also choose furniture with clean, unfussy lines and pieces made from transparent materials such as glass, Perspex, lucite or acrylic. "The famous Louis Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck is a classic, but not cheap," says Pallavi. "If you're on a budget, the Tobias chair from Ikea (Dh395) works almost as well."
3 Smart storage
Avoid large, wide, floor-to-ceiling shelves and choose low-level shelves, cabinets or sideboards that leave wall space uncovered. This will allow more natural light to circulate, creating the sense of greater space and will leave room on your wall for a mirror or piece of large artwork (see 7). Place a table lamp, and you also have an additional light source that won't take up valuable floor space.
4 Off the wall
It may seem as if you are revealing more floor space by pushing your sofa right up against the wall, but pull it away a few inches and you create the illusion that the room is larger than it is.
Also, avoid placing large furniture items at the entry point into a room. A sofa, or any large furniture item, should be kept towards the back wall to maximise visible floor space.
5 The importance of colour
Dark colours absorb natural light, so stick to plain neutral tones for your decor and furnishings. Pallavi advises that you should also try to keep your furniture as close to the colour of your walls as possible. "If you're working with a small space, go with a monochromatic palette - that is, pick one colour and use different shades," she says. "Something light like beige works best. Most homeowners hesitate to do this thinking it might be too dull, but bringing in variation through different shades and textures within the same hue adds real depth."
Painting a ceiling in bright white will also create the illusion of greater height.
6 Window dressing
Heavy, bulky curtains should be avoided at all cost in small spaces. Light, gauzy fabrics such as voile or linen will maximise the amount of natural light entering the room, plus the filtering effect of such fabrics creates a pleasant softening light. To maintain clean, uncluttered lines, fit blinds or panels - they're a better choice for smaller windows.
7 Mirrors and art
"You've heard it before," says Pallavi, "but mirrors and glass really do make a space look larger and brighter." Mirrors reflect and maximise the amount of natural light in a room. To get the maximum effect, position one opposite the room's largest window. Place a lamp near it to catch and redistribute even more light. In terms of wall art, one large piece will make a wall feel less busy and cluttered than several smaller items grouped together.
8 Smart buys for small spaces
Dual or even multipurpose items of furniture can really help reduce the pieces you have in a room. For example, instead of buying side tables, use a stool, which can then be used as additional seating for guests - we like Crate and Barrel's Flamingo stool (Dh67). Similarly, an ottoman or footstool can double as a coffee table.
Another good buy for a small room is an extendable dining table and folding chairs. Unless you are feeding six to eight people every night, a large table will only take up valuable space. Ikea has a number of tables with removable leaves that, like folding chairs, can be stored away when not in use.
9 Maximise floor space
On the floor, light wood or pale tiles will also help to reflect the room's natural light. If you are in an older apartment or villa with darker coloured ceramic tiles, a light coloured rug will help counter light absorption. Choose table lamps over floor lamps and display plants and decorative objects on shelves or surfaces, not the floor. Remember to keep them to a minimum.
10 Clear out clutter
Too much accessorising - cushions on sofas or decorative knick-knacks crammed on shelves or side tables - will only make a room feel cluttered rather than spacious.
Finally, it's boring and obvious, but getting rid of unwanted magazines, books and paperwork on tables, shelves or the floor really makes a difference. Store CDs or file important correspondence in box files that double as decorative features. Laura Ashley in Mirdif City Centre and Mall of the Emirates and Paperchase in Dubai Mall and Mushrif Mall are good for these, but our favourite are Pantone's sleek, stylish storage tins (Dh75, Bloomingdale's Home).