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I recently moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my family after living in a small one-bedroom for eight years. My two-year-old's crib was nestled neatly into an alcove under a stairway, and we had a huge kitchen that housed a 10-foot dining table. Our bedroom, however, was akin to a sleeping berth on a cruise ship. With literally only enough room to fit our queen bed between the walls, we had to be seriously creative about our space usage.
Wall sconces were the smartest choice for reading lamps. Since there was no room for bedside tables (By far the biggest luxury in the new place is being able to place a glass of water next to the bed. How novel!), we built a small shelf behind our mattress to stash books and tissues and errant pacifiers. We bought an alarm clock with a projector so that the time was always visible on the ceiling, and used tall, nearly floor-to-ceiling corner shelves from Ikea to maximize every inch of storage space.
Tight living quarters are part and parcel of city living, and thankfully there's a plethora of space-saving ideas for small bedrooms that make your sleeping den livable. See below for inspiring decor tips for small spaces, courtesy of interior designer and owner of Items of Interest, Susie Kurkowski.
1. Keep the walls light: “Avoid using dark colors in a small space. Any time you use a darker color on the wall, like dark orange or dark blue, it’s going to bring the wall toward you.”
2. Use lighting that goes both up and down: “Oftentimes people’s go-to is a recessed light (a light that shines down). However, shining light up against the ceiling can make the ceiling look lighter. If you have a white ceiling and white walls, when the lights are on, the ceiling appears lower because it is in shadow. You want to create a ‘globe of light’ whereby you have light going up and light going down. This way the ceiling will look higher—and whiter—than the walls. If you stick with recessed lights or fixtures where the light is shining down, you can’t achieve this effect, the ceiling will appear a shade darker than your walls. A low ceiling is one of the hardest things an interior designer has to deal with in general. We always try to make it look higher.”
3."This is a light I used recently in a client's house that I like for low ceilings. It was in a small vestibule that had a lower ceiling than the surrounding spaces so I really wanted to shine light up at the ceiling to fool the eye and make it seem taller. She has a more contemporary, clean aesthetic and this light was perfect. Notice how the light is shining up at the ceiling rather than down. So the ceiling will look whiter and higher, rather than its natural state where it has a shadow that will make it look darker than the walls even if you paint it a shade lighter. This light is available in 2 sizes—$335 for small and $655 for large."
4. "A lot of semi-flushmounts are also made to cast light up at the ceiling. I love this one from Tech Lighting, very clean and unfussy. This light is $700. Again, notice how it is shining light up at the ceiling."
5. Go for a glass-like ceiling: “Similarly, you definitely don’t want to put darker colors on a ceiling, as this will make the ceiling seem lower.”
6. Opt for sunny window treatments: The same principle that applies to walls and ceilings also holds true when it comes to window treatments. “The higher up on the wall you go the lighter it should be.”
7. For a low ceiling, vertical stripes and lower furniture can create the illusion of height: "Vertical stripes can heighten a low ceiling. I quite like when the stripes are done more subtly, like two shades of the same color, rather than black and white or brightly colored stripes. You could maybe use two different finishes of the same or a similar color, like eggshell and satin, or I have seen it done well with a different finish on every other stripe (you would paint the whole wall the same color and just make stripes with topcoat such as Ralph Lauren's Candlelight finish, a personal favorite because it can go over any eggshell paint and it makes the paint reflect the light as if there were candlelight shining on it)."
8. "For low ceilings, you have to keep the furniture lower as well, like these sofas. The seat is 17" high rather than 19-20". No high back chairs or sofas. Keep the proportion of the room uniform. If you want to put in a chair rail, play a little bit with its height. If your ceiling is on the lower side, you might want to put your molding a little lower than 36 inches so you’re not dividing the wall in half."
9. If you have a short wall, using horizontal stripes can make it appear longer: "Just like vertical stripes can make a room seem taller, horizontal stripes can make it look more spacious. I again would advise using subtle stripes like in this adorable nursery in Nursery Notations."
10. "Especially in a small space, I would focus on keeping the stripes very subtle. If they are bright or jarring, they're going to have the opposite effect and make the room look smaller. Also, I am not a fan of the stripes continuing onto the ceiling. This can make the ceiling look lower if the stripes are dark, and can also be confusing to the eye which seeks visual separation so that it can determine proportions and edges of spaces."
11. If the room is dark, get yourself a good, proportionately sized mirror: “In a dark space that’s facing north, it’s great to put up more mirrors—but keep it in proportion to the size of the room.”
12. Be a dictator about the dimensions: “A lot of design in general is finding something you really love and realizing that it’s not going to work. There might be a million things that you want that just aren’t going to work in a small space. Think of your space almost like an airplane’s bathroom. Get creative with it. Make the most of every inch. If you can only fit 11.5 inches, you can’t get the 12-inch piece. And, when measuring, go from baseboard to baseboard, not wall-to-wall.”
"Keep your dimensions in mind—that's the most important thing in a small space! I love space saving pieces like this desk we sell at the store (for $750). Very simple, minimal and multifunctional. It has two drawers and even a slot for cord management."
13. Make smart furniture purchases—find versatile, mobile, lightweight pieces: “Always keep your dimensions in mind. Get small but functional pieces. Custom pieces of furniture are also a good investment. They don’t cost much more than store-bought items, and can be made to fit your exact requirements. Skinny, tall storage pieces are great for small places. They eliminate clutter. You want there to be a place for everything. For kids’ rooms, there are a lot of really great modular units that have bunk beds. We have a great line that I work with at Items of Interest that is totally modular so that you can really squeeze a lot into the room. Some pieces make things even more efficient by putting drawers in the stairs.”
14. "Here's an example of a C table, which is super multifunctional because it can become a laptop desk when you're working on your sofa, a TV tray, a side table, etc."
Head over to Kurkowski’s blog, Roomology, for more on tall, narrow storage pieces. Also, for design ideas for small spaces, check out Japanese interiors: “They really squeeze everything in there—real estate is super expensive, so they’re forced to make really good use of small space.”
15. Channel minimalism in your artwork: “Stick to more relaxed, lighter color artwork. In general, there’s a time and a place for every piece, and it might not be in your room.”
16. Bottom line: "You have to keep things light and airy to make a small space look larger. This is an example I like a lot. Here they did a good job of keeping the furniture low with a low ceiling, and also keeping the artwork neutral. All the pieces are well-dimensioned and the room works despite its small size."
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?