Less Is More In Small Spaces

Interior decorating in a small space may seem like a challenge, but there are plenty of creative ways to make the most of a room or even a whole house with a small square footage. We asked three local interior designers for their best tips and they all agreed more space isn’t necessarily better if you use the space you have properly.

By Laurie Higgins

Floor-to-ceiling shelving and a comfortable chair make the most of little space in this design by Cabbages & Kings Interiors.

Floor-to-ceiling shelving and a comfortable chair make the most of little space in this design by Cabbages & Kings Interiors.

Interior decorating in a small space may seem like a challenge, but there are plenty of creative ways to make the most of a room or even a whole house with a small square footage.  We asked three local interior designers for their best tips and they all agreed more space isn’t necessarily better if you use the space you have properly.

Peri Olson, owner of the Cape-based Cabbages & Kings Interiors, says when a whole house or apartment is made up of small spaces, the most important thing is to use pieces that serve more than one purpose.  For example, a house without a guest room would benefit from a pullout sleeper sofa.  A foldout desk feature on a secretary allows for a workspace, a bookshelf or display space above and drawers for storage below.

“Less is definitely more in small spaces,” she says. “And full-size, functioning pieces are going to serve you best.  The old sensibility was that you proportioned pieces to the size of the room, so a large room would have large pieces and a small room would have small pieces.  But I personally don’t subscribe to that.  I think that if you put a bunch of dinky pieces in a little room, you get sort of a dollhouse effect.”

For colors she prefers either very light or very dark and recommends that clients don’t shy away from colors like oxblood red and navy blue; they are not only cozy and dramatic but actually cause the walls to recede, unlike bright colors which bring the walls right into your face.

Olson is also a fan of decorating the top layer of the room with features like a plate rail three-quarters of the way up the walls for collectibles or hanging a series of photographs in matching sizes and frames a bit higher than usual.

“Anything that will bring your eye up as opposed to out will help the space seem larger,” she says.  “Even stacking pictures as opposed to putting them side by side or adding a tall piece can bring your eye up to the ceiling.”

This chair, a custom piece from Nautique, offers big style without taking up too much space.

This chair, a custom piece from Nautique, offers big style without taking up too much space.

For clients who live in a cottage or a small home with quirky nooks—both structures are common to the Cape—interior designer Marsha Malone, owner of Nautique in Brewster, found that custom-built furniture was a natural fit.  To that end, she has created two lines of furniture, including the Nautique Sail Loft Collection, which features handcrafted furniture made from reclaimed antique woods and the Coastal Collection, which is made from mahogany and bead board in different colors and stains.

“I’ll go to their houses to look at the space and the colors and to get a feeling of the look they want,” she says.  “Scale is critical and the way a piece of furniture functions is really important too.”

Like Olsen, Malone says that multi-functioning pieces are the key to a clean and organized look.

For example, a trunk in front of the sofa serves as both a coffee table and a space to store cozy throws or magazines.  One recent home she worked on had a tiny galley kitchen, so she designed a kitchen island that is also a dining table with tall barstools.  It serves as a space to set down groceries, prepare food and eat meals.  A nearby custom-built shallow yet tall cupboard houses the glasses and dishes.

“Keeping the palette similar is also a good thing,” she says.  “You don’t want to have too many dizzying things going on.  You don’t want to have stripes with a big floral print.  You want something that’s a little more serene in a small space.”

When designer Irina MacPhee, owner of Pastiche of Cape Cod, works with clients with small spaces, her first concern is good storage because too much clutter makes a room feel smaller and claustrophobic.

This chair from The Cape Cod Collection at Pastiche provides lush comfort in a compact design.

This chair from The Cape Cod Collection at Pastiche provides lush comfort in a compact design.

“If you can afford built-in bookshelves, it is money well spent,” she says.  “Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves can be the miracle cure for the no-storage apartment.  Use textured baskets for the unsightly items you do not want anyone else to see.”

Storage ottomans work well and there are a lot of fun choices in nesting tables, which offer both additional table space for projects and entertaining as well as extra seating, if they are constructed to double as a small stool.  MacPhee says that sectional sofas are the best solution for a small living room and there are many modern and unique styles to choose from.

“Swivel chairs are also a great addition,” she says.  “A swivel chair allows a person to enter into a conversation in another area of the space and thus allow your living space to expand.  These chairs are also great if you have several focal points of interest, such as a fireplace, view or TV.”

She prefers to keep fabrics neutral with bright punches of color in the pillows and says textured fabrics or wallpaper are great choices for small spaces.  An accent wall with textured wallpaper can do miracles.

“Don’t forget the power of great art and mirrors,” she says.  “If a mirror is placed behind a light source, it will reflect the light back into the space and give the room depth at the same time.  Remember, less is more and size does matter.”

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