60+ Of House & Home’s Best Small Space Solutions
Small space living is good for the environment, easier on the wallet and, as these compact living quarters prove, it can be plenty chic, too. Click through for smart tips that demonstrate how small space living is both efficient, and oh so stylish.
“I’ve always called my home ‘the land of cupboards,'” says designer Christine Ralphs of the compact kitchen in her 680-square-foot Toronto condo. “Storage is essential if you want to create a feeling of space.” Built-in appliances free up countertops.
Use important pieces to pull the focus away from a narrow space and over to something catchier, like these metallic gold stools or the starburst mirror. The 10-foot-long island also serves as a dining table and work surface.
According to Christine, bedside tables are just “another area for clutter.” In her bedroom, she opted for built-in closets that frame her bed instead, and the result is sleek and practical.
“Think big — in size and attitude,” says Christine. “Fewer larger pieces can make a small room feel more spacious.”
Small spaces can mean walls are at a premium, but don’t let that curtail your art collection. Casually propping some works on the floor against the wall allows freedom to change pieces up and enjoy treasured works and creates a rich, layered look.
The living room in designer Philip Mitchell’s Manhattan pied-à-terre is only 13-by-18 feet. To make sure every inch counted, Philip designed an L-shaped sectional that hugs the corner and placed three-seat sofa at either end, plus armchairs. The configuration easily accommodates 30 to 40 guests for cocktails and canapés — a gathering that might feel chockablock even in some larger homes.
A petite table beside the sofa doesn’t take up a lot of space, but it blessed with double drawers. “Most of the side table and end tables have drawer, shelves or both,” notes Philip. “I try to use as many multi-functional pieces as possible.”
Philip opted for wall-mounted lighting to free up space on the nightstands in the principal bedroom.
Tonic Living founder Janine Morrison uses a bar cart in her 900-square-foot Toronto home not only to house essentials, but to give visual interest to the hallway. “A vintage bar cart makes entertaining a breeze. “I can roll it to wherever it’s most convenient, store extra cocktail glasses or wineglasses and set a vase of fresh flowers on top if there’s space.”
The glossy finish practically makes furnishings disappear, just witness the barely discernible — yet huge— armoire in actor Amélie B. Simard’s 850-square-foot loft in Montreal’s Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. She subtly defines the open-concept space with a bench (seen right) that casually divides the living area from the dining room and offers guest seating in addition to the generous sofa.
In small spaces, many homeowners opt for condo-size or scaled-down pieces, but there’s a real luxury to a deep sofa that allows Amélie to stretch out and get comfortable.
This charcoal feature wall makes the dining area look deeper than it is and gives the space a cozy and sophisticated feel.
In Amélie’s kitchen, a ceramic water dispenser in a wooden stand becomes a sculpture, while an assortment of items on a utensil rack keeps clutter off the counters and provides handsome display.
When a room is small, putting the focus on tactile elements makes the space seem more layered and dimensional. A whitewashed shipping palette leaning against the wall breaks up the dark color but is still airy. A fringe-trimmed coverlet and rag rug creates an inviting, sensual vibe.
To make this living room look finished, designer Sarah Richardson spontaneously painted the corner a cobalt to play up the dimension, and added a funky mirror. Playing up a plane of space helps tight quarters to appear less flat.
New pocket doors give an open feeling and save wall space, which is at a premium in small homes. Standard swinging doors can gobble up to 10 or more square feet, so swapping them out for pocket doors frees that area for furniture, storage, or hanging art.
A Pax wardrobe system from Ikea was painted to match the walls for a custom look. Sarah used the dead space near the corner to create a nook for books and decorative objects.
Corner showers get a bad rap, but by adding in this stylish version, Sarah turned a powder room into a 3/4 bathroom for weekend guests, and didn’t sacrifice a ton of floor space. To elevate the shower, Sarah continued the graphic floor tile from the foyer into the shower (using a smaller scale) for continuity.
It’s a beloved Frank Lloyd Wright ploy: when an entry is cozy and small, stepping into a larger adjoining room creates the impression that the room is dramatic and much larger. In the foyer of this 1,200-square-foot condo, a showstopping dark wallpaper defines the compact entry so the living room seems huge in comparison.
Look to underused nooks and crannies to make them functional. This alcove (a former shoe closet) at the end of a hallway was transformed into a dressing space for primping, courtesy of a nature-inspired wallpaper and appropriately lipstick-red Saarinen stool.
Openwork fixtures make a small space seem airier. The pendant has a big scale, but the openwork weave keeps the fixture feeling light, not overwhelming in this diminutive bedroom.
In this open-concept, 600-square-foot Calgary apartment designed by Peter Wilds, the kitchen is on full time display. To keep it looking sleek, uncluttered and more expansive, Peter chose custom touch-latch MDF cabinetry in a glossy white finish, hid the drawers behind cabinet doors (the horizontal lines look busy), skipped the hardware, and choose panel-ready appliances.
An antique desk is a workspace that can also serves as a bedside table. Small spaces often require creative thinking when it comes to crafting a home office. The daybed looks like a sofa when made up, so this principal bedroom resembles a chic home office.
Mirrors make small spaces appear larger and reflect the natural light, but it’s important to scale them to the space. In this Calgary apartment, a tall custom version lines up with the window valance and is surrounded by a simple box frame painted white to disappear into the wall.
In this 1,200-square-foot Vancouver home, a concrete bench acts as a side table for the daybed and sofa, and provides storage and display for books. The long bench’s ample seating allows homeowner Joanne Fletcher to entertain up to 40 people in her digs.
Small spaces need to embrace natural light whenever possible so they feel bright and airy. In the Montreal apartment of designers Alexandre Blazys and Benoit Gérard, a ribbed-glass wall fitted with French doors separates the bedroom from the main space to reduce sound, but allows light to stream into this windowless room.
Here’s an easy trick to make a small space look larger: Choose “invisible” furnishings that seem to disappear, like the glass waterfall coffee table in designer Christine Ralph’s 17-foot-wide Victorian home.
The closet in designer Sabrina Linn’s 940-square-foot loft is chock-full of her favorite fashion finds. She didn’t want to have to scrimp on space here so she maxed out every inch using ready-made shelving stacked to the ceiling. She hid the stacking washer and dryer with a pretty chinoiserie-print curtain.
In Sabrina Linn’s small kitchen, there’s little room for a bulky island. A round oak pedestal table serves as an extra prep surface, and the shapely piece is elevated enough to stand in as a bistro dining table for two.
An accent wall adds depth to shallow spaces. Designer Sabina Linn made her diminutive Georgian home look grand by painting a dark blue accent wall in the dining area, and using twin mirrors for the illusion of greater depth to amplify the natural light.
In this 1,000-square-foot family cottage belonging to the owners of Toronto design store Mjölk, white Scandi-style floors make the space feel larger by reflecting light, while leggy furniture provides visual breathing room. Blond woods complete the fresh, airy Nordic effect.
In fashion designer Olympia Gayot’s 600-square-foot Manhattan walk-up, space is at a premium. So she chose to opt out of a coffee table, turning a slim console (an inexpensive vintage school desk) into a work surface and general catchall, which won’t block the flow in the main space.
If your bedroom is so tiny you don’t have room for a headboard, Olympia Gayot sympathizes, and found a brilliant solution. She painted out this alcove in black to define it and tucked a floor lamp next to the bed for night reading.
An exposed closet in a small space can quickly become an eyesore without editing. Olympia Gayot (who spent time working as a designer for J.Crew), organizes clothing as a merchandiser would in a store. She groups striped T-shirts in a separate stack and folds jeans neatly together so her staple pieces are easy to find and she’s not greeted with a big jumble whenever she walks by.
Downsizing to a smaller space poses its own challenges. In this two-bedroom home, designer Olivia Botrie of Dart Studio saw it as an opportunity to address a common kitchen problem for the homeowners, her parents. Olivia ran the cabinets all the way to the ceiling for maximum storage and to eliminate the “dust collector” surface on top of the cabinets.
Could you store your china in the same place as your suitcases? In the dining area of Sara Shafran’s 1,296-square-foot Vancouver loft, this pink hutch makes both these items look pretty, and intentional. If your storage unit is bland, perk it up like Sara did and repaint it in your favorite hue.
Custom built-ins make clutter disappear, and painting them the same color as the walls makes them recede into the surrounding space.
Bunk beds don’t eat up as much floor space as twins, but they are visually heavy — when you can see an expanse of walls, spaces have more breathing room. In her son’s bedroom, designer Sarah Hartill placed the beds end to end (and made sure there was closed storage underneath to cut down on clutter).
A vintage wallpapering table offers plenty of display space in Whitney Keeley’s 975-square-foot Toronto apartment. The table’s slim profile neatly fits behind the seating area so with a few quick modifications, the living and dining room morphs into a photography studio for shooting blog posts. The roll of paper showcases her art collection and serves as a backdrop for product photo shoots.
Window seats make pretty perches for reading, but why not push things a bit further in a small space? To maximize seating, Whitney Keeley commissioned a custom table to fit the dining area alcove perfectly so it can comfortably accommodate four. Contrasting backs make chairs more artful in a small, open-concept space.
In this compact circa-1910 Montreal triplex, designer Richard Ouellette of Les Ensembliers commissioned a painted ceiling resembling a cloudy sky, and punctuated it by crystal chandeliers that look like glittery earrings. “It draws the eye up, and you forget the narrowness of the space,” Richard notes.
In blogger Gabrielle Savoie’s Montreal pad, she sought out storage for her magazine collection under the counter of her breakfast bar, which keeps the coffee table surfaces clear of clutter.
In her small dining room, designer Alexandra Hutchison didn’t want to contemplate a criss-crossing sea of table and chair legs. She uses a restaurant-style banquette to seat guests in her tiny 640-square-foot Toronto semi, or catch a casual dinner with her husband, chef Craig Harding. She scores extra points for turning the banquette into storage for bulky items like stand mixers.
Because the kitchen of former Flare editor Lisa Tant’s condo is visible from the main living area, designer Tommy Smythe minimized the TV’s presence by building it into the backside of the kitchen island so it’s almost completely disguised.
Intelligent space savers, like this hideaway trundle bed, are key when square footage is sparse. The roll-out is a charming original feature built into Kaili Zevenbergen’s studio apartment in Vancouver. It’s built into an armoire unit, and when closed it tucks under counters in the kitchen and a walk-in closet.
This pretty spot in a West Coast cottage is perfect for donning hiking boots, but the built-in bench also houses pantry items and bed linens.
Don’t break up a compact room with contrast moldings; paint is one of the cheapest, easiest fixes for a small space. Designer Garrow Kedigian had the crown and baseboards painted the same mustard color as the walls in this living room, which makes them seem higher and conveys a luxe, cocooning feel.
Instead of topping a breakfast nook with art, framing a large mirror and painting out the molding to match the walls visually expands the compact eat-in area in this Manhattan apartment.
Smart storage steals make the most of small bedrooms. In this space, a budget-friendly lift-up bed from Ikea conceals out-of-season clothes and suitcases. Savings on the bed were channeled towards punchy upholstery on the headboard and skirt to amp up the room’s personality.
A walnut wall divides the living room and den in this Vancouver condo, and offers a bit of sound proofing. But the real functionality lies in the fact it holds everything from books and files to office staples and TV components on the den side, concealing them from the mail living space.
Fashionistas know stripes can be slimming, or make something look wider, depending on whether they are horizontal or vertical. To make this 15-foot-wide house look wider, designer Cameron MacNeil bucked convention and flipped this striped rug 90 degrees and ran the oak plank flooring widthwise.
Here are two sleights of hand to make a ceiling feel higher. Mount the curtain rod as close to the ceiling a possible, and sew black trim to the drapes to draw the eye up. Designer Sabrina Albanese also designed a low-profile sofa for her 774-square-foot Toronto condo so the ceilings seem even loftier in comparison.
The design concept of ‘enfilade’ leads the eye from one room to another by differentiating the color. In Sabrina Albanese’s condo, a punchy palm wallpaper pulls the focus from the white dining area to the kitchen’s back wall to create a sense of greater depth in the space.
White slipcovers and upholstery makes the furnishings in ceramist Trudy Crane’s 1,200-square-foot Montreal apartment look cohesive and airy.
There is plenty of storage in the wall-to-wall lower cabinets in this galley kitchen, but Trudy Crane wanted to show off a display of her handcrafted pottery. The floating shelves are a practical solution and the kitchen actually seems more expansive and less boxed in when the brick texture of the walls is visible.
Mirrors are a quick way to add depth, but that’s not the only way to use a reflective surface. An antique mirror, glass cloche and lantern fixture over the bed let light flow through the room and add sparkle.
This 1,140-square-foot Toronto loft feels much larger thanks to a 10-foot-long velvet sectional designed by Erika Floysvik. It not only seats up to eight people, making maximum use of space, it encourages a convivial, party atmosphere when entertaining.
Designers Ian McLeod and Kerry Johnson enclosed a guest room/office in their signature “telephone booth” construction in this 960-square-foot Kitsilano Beach home. It makes the guest room feel like a large sunporch, and the windows allow light to flow freely into the adjoining den and hallway.
The Murphy bed is a secret agent that is enjoying a renaissance in condos and other small spaces that require multifunctional furnishings. In this 900-square-foot basement, a Murphy bed can be easily tucked away to morph the space from a guest room into a workout area for designer Barbara Purdy and her husband.
The good news about small spaces? You can splurge on a statement wallpaper or raw silk curtains without breaking the bank, so treat compact rooms, such as this powder room papered in deconstructed vinyl damask, like a jewel.
This island gets a lot of use as a kitchen table in this downsized home. The design eliminates pushing around because stools are neatly tucked away in a deep recess under the counter.