How to Properly Choose Furniture for Small Spaces, According to Designers

small living room

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Your home might be spacious when you consider its overall square footage. However, it is likely that you have at least one room that is more compact and needs special consideration when decorating it. The type and size of furniture and other decorative items you choose can really change the overall look of the room.

We asked home decorators and designers about their thoughts on keeping smaller spaces from looking cramped, and they shared their thoughts and tips.

Meet the Expert

  • Simran Kaur is the founder of Room You Love.
  • Brigid Steiner and Elizabeth Krueger are the owners of the luxury lifestyle concierge, The Life with Be.

No Textured Furniture

Planning the optimal layout for a space isn’t always just about the size of the furnishings. The actual composition of the piece, no matter the size, can affect the overall aesthetic of a room. Home design experts recommend that you avoid any piece of furniture that has texture to it if you want to make your room look larger than it is. “Textures in furniture or fabrics can reduce the optimum reflection of light in a small room,” says Simran Kaur, founder of Room You Love. “A lot of textured furniture pieces, like the Victorian ones, can actually make the room look smaller and packed and oftentimes even suffocating.” 

However, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid textured or designer furnishings altogether. If you have a couch, chair, or China cabinet that you love, use it. Having just one show-stopper piece in a room keeps the focus on that item without distractions from other furnishings that can make a smaller room seem cluttered. 

Think About Usability

When you are short on space, you need everything in a room to have a purpose. It is okay for that purpose to be eye-catching or unique. But not everything in a room that is limited in size can serve just one purpose.

If you have an ottoman with a special chair, then make sure it is also a place for storage. Even the walls in a tiny area should be designed to do more than display family photos. Brigid Steiner and Elizabeth Krueger, owners of The Life with Be, suggest actually using a storage ottoman as a coffee table as well or putting up decorative mirrors to serve as both art and a place to check your look as you pass by. 

“Make sure the pieces you select will serve at least two or more purposes,” they say. “Examples include using a dresser as a nightstand, or a coffee table that opens up to store blankets. Even a desk that can serve as a dining table. Double up on smaller pieces like side tables or types of benches that can be pushed together to serve as a coffee table and used individually as well.”

Less Is More

If your living space is small, you might be tempted to fill it with all the bookcases, chairs, loveseats, or anything you think you need for your daily routines—trying to make the most of every inch. However, that only leads to clutter, which in turn leads to increased stress. When every part of your room’s space has something occupying it, your eye has no place to rest.

If your eyes cannot rest in a room, then the room itself is not restful. It'll be difficult to enjoy being in that space if the room is chaotic—no one wants that! We all want every room in our home to be peaceful and conducive to our lifestyle, so be selective about the furniture and art pieces you choose for every room, no matter the size.

“It is a common misconception that you must go for several small furniture pieces in a small space,” says Kaur. “But the more the pieces, the more enclosed a space looks. It's better to have one or two big pieces of furniture than six to seven small ones.”

Consider Color

Your small space might or might not have a window or any sort of natural light. Regardless, the space needs the appearance of light to give it an airy, more spacious feeling. The first rule here is to keep the room’s walls a light color, as basic as possible. For the furniture pieces you place in a small room, you should also look for items that are lighter in color or tone. “Dark furniture can absorb light and make your space look tinier,” says Kaur. “Pastel-toned furniture or light wooden furniture is the best to opt for.”

The color of the furnishings isn’t the only consideration when trying to make a smaller space look larger. Whatever scheme you like, stick with it. “Staying monochromatic will go a long way, whether it's all dark or all light. The continuity in tone will help make the space feel bigger,” says Steiner and Krueger. Keep your bold or printed wall patterns for the larger spaces in your home.

Look at Legs

If your smaller space is the perfect spot for a chair or couch, consider adding a piece with exposed legs. Having that unexposed space around a piece of furniture makes everything look airier. It gives the illusion of having more space because light goes all the way through and isn’t blocked at the bottom as it would be with a couch or chair with fabric that goes all the way to the floor. 

“Shoot for skinny arms and legs,” Kaur says. “Avoid overstuffed, fat sofa arms in favor of those that are skinny and tighter fitting. The same goes for furniture legs—skip the chunky look and select slender, more streamlined silhouettes.”

Go Vertical

When floor space is at a premium, use the room’s height. Wall art or tall furniture pieces like a chest with drawers for storage work very well in a smaller space. You will be able to make a statement and add storage while keeping your overall footprint small.

Consider displaying photos or prints arranged in a vertical layout to add dimensions that extends the space of the room.

Go With One Color

When selecting furnishings and art for your smaller space, look at the dominant color scheme. Adding too many different colors or textures in a smaller space can make everything look cluttered. 

"Stick with a cohesive color palette for the space. This will make the whole space feel more calming and less cluttered. To add a bit of interest, texture can act as your pattern—play with organic, tactile materials like linen, boucle, leather, jute, or wool,” says Steiner and Krueger. 

Even a small space in your home can add style and function with proper planning. These tips give you a solid start to creating a look that is all your own and completely usable at the same time.