How to improve design in small spaces

  • Even a studio apartment or small home can be stylish with a little design creativity.

    Even a studio apartment or small home can be stylish with a little design creativity. Stock Photo

By Joseph Pubillones
Posted1/9/2022 7:01 AM

Editor's note: Joseph Pubillones is taking time off. This column originally published in 2018.

Micro-apartments are the next trend in city living. In larger cities such as New York or San Francisco, people have been used to living in cramped quarters for decades. Now, emerging cities from Seattle to West Palm Beach, Florida, are claiming small apartments as the new housing prototype.


You would think designing small spaces is easy because there is less to design, but nothing could be further from the truth. Small spaces are challenging to design and give designers a run for their money to be creative and inventive in their search for the right, pint-size solution.

Designing small spaces that are livable takes the kind of ingenuity required by naval architects when designing boats. Everything must serve more than one purpose and must feel natural.

In small spaces, such as a one- or two-room apartment, a bedroom can double as a library when you flank a bed on the long side with a pair of bookcases and fill the bed with a dozen decorative pillows, and a couple of wall mounted lamps, and -- voila -- instant bedroom and library. This same arrangement with a table on casters and a pair of chairs can suddenly give you a bohemian dining room.

Opening spaces makes uncomfortable spaces usable. In smaller apartments, kitchens are often galley-type and enclosed. Keeping in sync with newer home requirements, open kitchens -- even in small, tight spaces -- make a difference. Knock down a wall into the kitchen and gain visual space. Also, using open cupboards in place of enclosed cabinets makes items easy to reach, even if it means being more rigorous with organization.

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Mirrors work wonders to add virtual space. While we have all seen the mirrored walls popular during the 1970s and '80s, try using mirrors more effectively with restraint. A wall hung with various style and sized mirrors makes for an interesting feature wall; alternatively, mirror the back panel of a wall unit or bookcase to bounce light to imply space beyond the surface.

When square footage is in shortage, look up to the ceiling. Hanging drapes as close to the ceiling as possible always helps to give the impression of a grander and taller space. Use the lightest drapery hardware possible in order to accentuate the sense of verticality. Forego swags and jabots in favor of a tailored valance, if at all.

Seating is always at a shortage in small spaces. Using a sectional or L-shaped sofa will add more seating and will use the corner space that is often left empty in a room. Additional seating can be accomplished with foldaway chairs and ottomans. Ottomans are favored, as they can function as seating and as coffee table when topped with a tray.

Finally, when it comes to lighting, small spaces should use recessed lighting wherever possible. Refrain from the use of any pendant type fixture, which will tend to make your space cluttered. Concentrate light on any surface or area that needs light for a specific task. This will refocus your attention from the tight space onto a dramatic focal point.

• Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Florida.

© 2022, Creators Syndicate

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