Make a small room look big

You can't do anything about increasing your room's size unless you do a major renovation. You can, however, give it the illusion of being a bigger room. Follow these simple decorating tips and begin living large in that small space.

Start With an Empty Room

When you’re trying to redecorate a room, it’s difficult to create a new space when you’re looking at what you’re trying to replace. Empty the room. Clear out the old and you’ll find it easier to come up with new ideas. Begin with a blank palette then let your creativity get to work.

Decide On a Color Scheme

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to go all-white to make a room look bigger; however, you do have to pay attention to color scheme and some basic rules of color design.  A monochromatic color palette (tone-on-tone) is the best choice for a small space. You can still have your blues, greens, yellow—or any color you want—as long as you use pastel versions of the color. Bright, deep colors will bring the walls together and overpower a small space, but neutrals and pastels will have the opposite effect and tend to move the walls outward, creating the illusion of more space.

The key to using color in a small room is to minimize the contrast. Use varying shades of the same color to add interest and detail.  Don’t ignore the ceiling; keep it two or three shades lighter than the walls but in the same color family. This will create a continuation of the space.

The Floor is First

People are often dismayed when they’ve taken great care with the selection of paint, furnishings and accessories, then put it all together and it doesn’t look right. That’s usually because they’ve forgotten to take the floor into the equation of design. Your floor is the first element of design; it will anchor the rest of your space. When dealing with small spaces, the more you see of the floor, the larger it will feel, so it’s important that you get the floor right.

Light-colored flooring works best in small spaces. For wood floors, light colored finishes—honey-oak and natural bamboo—are best. Stay away from mahogany and cherry finishes in small rooms. They will draw the eye downward and minimize the space. If you have a dark wooden floor and don’t want to refinish it, then add a carpet or large rug, but choose neutral shades. Think creams and light beiges or a variant shade of your wall color and stay away from heavy patterns or designs.

To maximize the illusion of space, make your floor blend in with the wall color and furnishings. When choosing rugs and carpets, select shades that are slightly darker than the walls.  The same rule applies to furniture; if you have dark furniture and light floors, you could end up with a top-heavy, unbalanced room.

Furniture and Scale

Second to the flooring, the most important element of design in your room is furniture. Striking the right balance is crucial to maximizing your space. Too-small furniture will accentuate the smallness of the room, but too-large furniture will overpower the room and do the exact same thing.

When selecting furniture, opt for pieces that are moderate in scale and have an open element of design. Chairs and sofas should have exposed legs and if they have arms, they should be open, not upholstered. Beds should also be an open design. Don’t use sleigh beds or beds with footboards; they tend to close in the space around them. Hollywood bed frames work beautifully in small bedrooms.

Larger pieces of furniture should anchor the back of the room opposite the entry.  Don’t put large, bulky pieces near the entryway or in the walkways.  Keep as much of the floor exposed as you can. Armoires and entertainment centers should be of an open design. Opt for pieces with legs so that the floor stays visible. Glass top tables, beveled glass shelving, and furniture with glass doors are excellent for small spaces because of their transparency.

If you have a heavy piece of furniture along one wall, then you must balance the other side of the room with something of comparable scale. That doesn’t mean you have to add a bulky piece of furniture to the opposite side. Instead, balance the room with accessories that are scaled proportionately to the furniture. A large wall decoration works well as a balancing agent.

Lighting Your Space

Lighting is critical in any space, but especially so in small spaces. Your eye should naturally travel to the focal point of the room, so make sure you have that area accented with lighting. Assess the natural light that comes in from windows, doors or hallways, then decide where you need to supplement with artificial lighting. Don’t be afraid of creating shadows; they create drama and interest.

If the windows in the room are all on one wall, the light source will be coming from only one direction; you’ll need to bounce the light around the room for even distribution. A great way to do this is with a mirror. Positioning a mirror so that it reflects your light source (usually a window), is a trick designers use to manipulate the light in a room.

Experiment with tilting the mirror to direct reflected light to where you want it to go; however, use caution because a mirror is only as appealing as what it reflects. If the view out your window isn’t attractive, don’t place the mirror where you can see directly into it. Place it on the diagonal, still allowing for bouncing the light, but also making certain it reflects a pleasant visual.

Consider adding track or recessed lighting. You can direct spots of light as needed to lighten dark areas, accentuate accessories, and illuminate the room’s focal point. Use uplights in corners to create shadows.

Don’t cover the windows with heavy drapes; use cornice boards or swags. Taking a cornice or swag up to the ceiling can add the illusion of ceiling height; extending it beyond the window can add the illusion of room width.


Once your room has been painted and the furniture is placed, it’s time to accessorize.

This is where you can put the bold dashes of color into the room. Choose one or two complimentary colors to contrast your base color and distribute them evenly around the room.

Large pictures or artwork is better in small spaces than collections of small pictures. Smaller accessories tend to make a room feel cluttered.  Choose a few good proportionately scaled pieces and keep the artwork simple.

Nothing says “I don’t know how to decorate” more than a mountain of throw pillows dumped on a sofa or a bed. This is the most common mistake novice decorators make when accessorizing their room; it’s easy and adds color and texture, but there’s a tendency to overdo it.  Instead of a piling on slew of them, add a few well-placed pillows for accent.

When accessorizing, stay within your room’s theme.  If your furniture is contemporary chrome and glass, don’t use pictures with heavy gilded frames.  Keep the frames close to the wall color and let the picture inside it pick up the coordinating colors.

A final word: When decorating a small space, clutter is the enemy. Keep is simple and organized and you’ll be living larger than you ever thought possible.