12 Key Design Rules for Living in a Small Home
Professionals reveal the decorating rules they swear by for living large in a compact abode
Professional advice from: Justine Wilson, director and principal stylist at Vault Interiors; Ian Ugarte, founder of Invida, a company specialising in micro-apartments
“When designing a small home, start by considering your priorities and how you want to live and function in the space,” Justine Wilson says. “For example, would you like room to exercise inside? Do you need an area to work from home? Will you be having guests to stay? Are you into cooking or are you more likely to eat takeaway food?
“All these things will affect the amount of space you allocate to each area and help you design for maximum functionality,” she says.
“Mirrors can work magic in a small space,” Justine says. “Hang them on the wall or prop them on the mantelpiece or floor (firmly secured) and you’ll find they bounce the light around, making the room feel brighter and enhancing the sense of space.
“Another tip is to position a mirror opposite a window with views,” she continues, “and you’ll instantly bring the outside in.”
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“In a small bedroom, for example, your first decision should be where to locate the bed, as this will dictate where the smaller items of furniture should go, such as freestanding storage and an armchair,” Ian Ugarte says. “In the living area, begin by choosing the position of the sofa or sofas, then work the coffee table, side table and any storage around it/them.
“Starting with the main ‘hero’ pieces in a room will also determine where the TV should go, which should generally be opposite the bed or sofa,” he adds.
“Clutter and mess quickly pile up in a small property, so it’s important that everything has a home,” Justine says. “Look for storage opportunities everywhere: shelving units with cubes, storage boxes and furniture that does double duty as storage, such as gas-lift beds, storage ottomans and the space at the top of cabinetry or under beds. The key is to conceal items neatly while using all available space; this is practical and will avoid a messy look.
“To maximise storage in a living area, dining room or bedroom, select furniture such as a [sideboard], chest of drawers and bedside tables over smaller units without storage,” she says. “Use baskets, pretty boxes or cute tubs to store smaller bits and pieces that easily get lost.”
“Having an external space can completely transform a small home, giving you access to daylight, fresh air and an additional usable room,” Ian says.
“Where possible, create a connection between the interior and exterior of your home with sliding or bifold doors,” he continues. “Sliding doors make the best use of space, as they open flat rather than protruding into your outdoor area. They can also be easier and more cost-effective to install, as they are bottom-mounted rather than top-mounted like bifolds, which can require extra structural support.”
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“Noise is one of those things many people aren’t aware of until they move into a home, and televisions are generally the main culprit,” Ian says. “Always look to install a TV on an external wall or one that’s facing away from bedrooms, so you don’t disturb other people living in your home.”
“Having free-flowing space allows the eye to travel right through a small room, making it appear more spacious,” Ian says. “Plus, it means you can move more comfortably through the area.
“Another bonus is that it allows natural light to filter through, which makes any room, whatever its size, feel more open and welcoming,” he says.
“Avoid cluttering up rooms with too much furniture,” he adds. “Seek out pieces with low backs that won’t block sightlines, and position furniture in zones – dining, relaxing, working – so you can move freely throughout.”
“Choose compact versions of standard-size furniture to enhance space and circulation in your small home,” Justine says. “Think narrow sofas, low-backed armchairs, slim sofas and ensemble beds rather than beds with heavy frames.”
“To add visual breathing space to a small home, keep horizontal surfaces as clear as possible and use vertical space where you can,” Justine says. “For example, use wall space for storage and display space, such as tall bookcases, floating shelves or display niches.”
“Flexible and multi-use furniture can be a lifesaver in a small abode, allowing you to get more from every room,” Ian says. “In a bedroom, consider a Murphy bed that folds away, so you can use the space as a study or second living area during the day. In the living room, consider a long bench that can be used for either seating or an extra surface for display or storage.
“A drop-down table in the kitchen, particularly one with storage drawers at the centre, can give you dining space for four to six people, plus storage, then fold away when not in use,” he says.
“A busy colour palette in a small space can be hard on the eye and make the space feel cramped,” Ian says. “Instead, opt for a fresh and neutral canvas consisting of whites, pale grey or beige tones for walls and flooring that maximises light and allows you to bring in colour and pattern through art and collectibles.”
“Opt for smaller-than-standard appliances for a compact kitchen or laundry,” Justine says. “They’re easier to find than you might think – you can pick up everything from compact fridges and dishwashers to fold-away vacuum cleaners at some caravan and boating shops.”
What’s the one thing you swear by for making a small space work? Let us know in the Comments. And don’t forget to save your favourite images for inspiration, like this story and join the conversation.