10 life-changing decor tips for small spaces I picked up after stalking the 'Tiny Homes' movement online
The little wonders you need in your life
“Some days are as bouncy as a Bruno Mars track and some days feel like, well, Monday”, writer Naina Hiranandani accurately summed up what the first year of marriage feels like in her story. Having armed myself with marriage advice from seasoned pros, including therapists, I thought I was set (ish). But surprises in married life crop up like unexpected hair growth on your body — you have a lifetime of being an Indian woman to prepare, but it still shocks you.
My new husband sleeps with five pillows, like a horizontal portable pillow fort. One blanket. He’s also 6ft 2inches. Beds have limited spaces. See where I’m going with this? Going from sharing space with a minuscule dog to a grown man, well, takes adjustment. And while we’re blessed with a decent-sized apartment, as far as Mumbai homes go, over 30-odd years of things we’ve accumulated, well, we had stuff. To figure out how to systematically fit unending items within a limited space, and to pick up survival tactics, I started researching the ‘Tiny Homes’ movement that’s blown up internationally, and found the ultimate decor tips for small spaces.
I stumbled upon Indian-American van explorer Priya Mareedu’s living space, and it’s a true testament of how much you can do with a tiny space. Sure, the whole world is her backyard, so that probably helps but still.
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Tiny homes are like Polly Pockets, and while I marvelled at the ingenious decor tips for small spaces they hid within them, the mystery of how two human-sized egos fit into abbreviated nooks remains unsolved. Because I’m still fighting over shelf space for my bum-shaped Tweak India Cheeky candles. If you can identify with finding your spouse’s dirty clothes on the toilet lid, tripping over his foam roller that’s lying on the floor, and having run out of drawers to fit the hand towels you seem to use more than your phone, this list is for you.
From making the most of wall, floor and ceiling space for storage (couch with drawers, I’m looking at you), to harnessing the power of neutral furniture, hidden inside those miniature homes are the coolest, most unexpected decor tips for small spaces. And, we’ve attached a shopping list too. Yes, we realise we’re suggesting you add more items to make better use of space.
Decor tips for small spaces that will turn your home into a haven
Get creative with storage
Husbands, I don’t mean leaving your wet towel on the bed. Interior designer Sharrah Stevens, on the tour of The Kinwoven Home, San Francisco, showed us how the owners have made the most of their ceiling, floor, and walls to create additional storage.
There’s a couch with pull-out storage (perfect for stacking extra cushions, and linen), open floating shelves, hooks attached to the underside of shelves in the kitchen (for the cups and dish rags), and a slim chest of drawers that fits into a narrow wall space. You can take this a step further, and attach hooks to the inside of your bathroom cabinets and invest in a magnetic strip for your knives, to maximise storage.
You can even carve out storage space in a window seat.
Pro tip: Don’t fill up every exposed shelf in a room. Leaving some empty space will help your room look airier.
Use neutral furniture
Sure, the idea of a beige couch seems more boring than watching Citizen Kane or exclusively eating vanilla ice cream, but hear us out. Picking big, neutral coloured furniture pieces helps create the illusion of space, so yours feels more expansive. You can even match your big furniture with your walls.
If you want to go one step further, and bare it all, invest in see-through furniture, like glass and lucite tables and chairs which make it look like there is more space than there actually is.
Turn floor-to-ceiling shelves into room dividers
Ok, so sometimes you’re stuck renting an apartment where the kitchen blends into the living room, and you’re sweaty and behind the stove, while your roommate is on a date. Or worse, your didi, god bless her, is clacking dishes behind you while you’re on a Zoom video call because your husband won rights to work in the bedroom.
Now, you can’t quite build a wall à la Trump. You can however, invest in (relatively) portable floor-to-ceiling shelves to create a DIY room divider that you can carry with you to your next home. And one that magically allows space for those books ‘you have to have’.
This trick also works if you have two young kids, one large space, and want to separate the bickering babies and give them the illusion of ‘privacy’. If the idea of a shelving unit seems bulky, live out yours 80s movie aesthetic with a portable screen. We love the butterfly printed one from Jaypore.
Invest in a disappearing desk
Ah, silent treatment thanks to losing desk privileges for the day because your husband needed it more. Covid-19 may be the pandemic, but fighting over a WFH home space is the epidemic of our times. And you don’t have enough space for two desks.
Cue the disappearing desk — the slab that hangs surreptitiously by the wall when it’s not needed, and suits up as a work station when you do. All you need to do is grab a chair, pull up the drop-leaf table — and your will to work through another 9-hour, Zoom-call infested work day — and you’re set.
Invest in one of those portable magnifying mirrors that you can bring in from the bathroom, to the desk and you can transform this in to a makeshift dressing table when your husband/roommate is taking too long in the bathroom. If it wasn’t obvious, multi-functional furniture is one of the most over-used, and most worthwhile decor tips for small spaces you need to remember.
Nurture a vertical garden
Plant parents, we haven’t forgotten about you. Even if you have forgotten to water your Areca palm for the second week in a row. If you’re moving to a small apartment with no window room for your babies, or don’t have enough horizontal areas left to gingerly set your beautiful planters down, don’t worry — you don’t have to leave your babies behind.
A vertical garden wall helps you liven up a space, (both, because plants are living creatures and as a decor piece) and doesn’t take up as much room as laying all your pots on the floor of the balcony.
Buy it here: Vertical garden panel; Trustbasket.com
Opt for a movable bar
Furniture that can be folded, stacked, or wheeled away is your BFF. All you need to do is push it out of the way when it’s not in use. Unlike your spouse (Hehe).
Investing in a bar is your true initiation into adulthood. You’ve transited from furniture you need, to items that you want, to indulge the mature, whiskey-drinking liquor connoisseur that you are. Still, you may not have space for the antique teak wood 3-tiered cabinet with an attached wine rack. Or you’re stuck with a roommate who refuses to put bottles back into the designated bar.
Keep your spirits up — and opt for a moveable bar, that can be tucked away when you’re not actually entertaining, and your bottles can live there, instead of getting them out of the kitchen cupboard they’re stashed in every time you have company.
Hang your drapes as high as you can, and go sheer
According to CountryLiving.com, “the easiest way to make ceilings look higher is to place a drapery rod really close to the ceiling—roughly 2 inches below the crown moulding will do the trick. While you’re at it, make sure to extend the rod at least 4 inches on either side of the window so that the window appears wider—and allows in more light.”
Add to the airy vibe, by opting for sheer lightweight curtains with vertical stripes to add height to a small space. We know, this won’t actually give you more space, but it’ll make it look like you have more.
Sheer curtains; Ajio
Ditch the table lamps for wall sconces
Table lamps, as the name suggests, take up valuable real estate on your table. Space that you tend to need on your bedside table, for your phone, the book you read once in four days, headphones, lip balm, the sculpture you picked up on your travels to New Zealand and your husband’s retainer.
Whether you need to clear table tops in your living room, or bedroom, try hanging up wall scones. They provide indirect lighting that offers a warm glow to the room, without adding to your space woes. Or “the you knocked the table lamp off the table again” woes.
Wood and metal wall sconce, Jaypore
Lean two-ward dual-purpose furniture
Yup, we know we said it’s the one of the most obvious decor tips for small spaces, but we’ll help you out with ideas anyway. A perfect example of multi-functional furniture is a storage ottoman that can be used to sit on, can be topped off with a table mat and turned into a perfect little coffee table, and well, has storage space in it. Talk about an over-achiever.
Or a vertical shelf lamp, that gives you more room for knick-knacks, while shining light on them. If you’re willing to go experimental, invest in a Murphy bed, like Caroline Channing from Two Broke Girls.
Colour coordinate your knick-knacks and accents
One of the best ways to expand a space is with very clear colours, says designer Mark McCauley, ASID, author of Interior Design for Idiots in a story on HGTV. “In a small space, in particular, these little touches — the pillow that matches the lampshade fabric, the style of the mirror that echoes a side table — can all add up to a cohesive space,” McCauley says.