It’s one thing to talk about decorating a small space—try under-counter refrigerators instead of a huge tall one, we might advise—but quite another to actually do it. In the case of those fridges, you can feel comfortable taking the leap thanks to a particularly good real-life example: Ryan Lawson’s smart kitchen design in Greenwich Village. He got rid of the big fridge that blocked the window and purchased two under-counter ones to go in its place, making the room feel much bigger and breezier (and essentially doubling his counter space). And he loves it! (Key, in our opinion.) We get some of our favorite small-space ideas from the home tours we run on Clever, real spaces designed by intuitive decorators—often the owners themselves, who can attest to the quality of the hacks and tricks because they actually live with them. Here are 15 that recently caught our eye for you to try.
1. Paint the radiator or AC unit the wall color.
Tone on tone is one of our favorite tricks for helping a small room feel less cluttered, which the Pieces cofounders expertly employed in their Brooklyn apartment by painting the radiators the same color as the walls. Now you see an ugly, bulky appliance; now you don’t.
2. Use a windowsill as a nightstand.
If you’ve got a window in your bedroom, and hopefully you do, use the sill as a nightstand and then you won’t have to allot any extra square footage to getting a little table on the other side. H/t to Jessica Herber, who taught us this trick in her apartment in Germany.
3. Get rid of upper kitchen cabinets.
Before you get upset about where you’re going to put all your things, do a big KonMari-style kitchen cleaning and then consider how to renovate. By ditching upper kitchen cabinets, the way Pluck Kitchen did in this galley, the whole room will feel bigger. (You can always store overflow in a hutch in the next room over.)
4. Paint bookshelves anything but white.
A tip we swiped from designer Ryan Lawson’s Greenwich Village apartment: Paint built-in bookshelves a warm gray to help them recede visually. This way, they won’t seem like such a bulky space-hogger.
5. Streamline your finishes.
That could mean opting for an all stainless-steel kitchen, rather than stainless appliances mixed in with wood cabinets, or even wood floors painted the same color as the walls. “Using a lot of the same material helps blur the lines of the space and give a more rounded and open feel in a small space,” Studiomama cofounder Nina Tolstrup says of the allover Douglas fir in her London apartment.
6. Get some furniture that has hidden storage.
Even if you aren’t up to the task of DIY-ing your own secret storage coffee table, the way Fort Standard founder Greg Buntain did in his Brooklyn apartment, you can still shop for one that is similar. Look for sofas, beds, tables, and bench seating that lift up to reveal storage space within.
7. If possible, build in furniture.
As evidenced by many a small apartment that we’ve seen—Starrett Ringbom’s Brooklyn family home and this Paris pied-à-terre by Mariane Evennou, for starters—built-in furniture can be the difference between a cramped small space and a thoughtful, pleasant one. Bookshelves, sofas, desks, shelves, and even radiator covers are worth considering.
8. Use bench seating around a table.
Not only will a banquette allow for more people to squish around the table than chairs, it’ll also provide extra storage if you do it right. (See: Fazeelat Aslam and Jimmy Goldblum’s Brooklyn dining room.
9. Embrace the retro tile if you can’t renovate it.
Rather than just wishing it didn’t exist, lean into the color scheme of any tile you can’t immediately replace the way Camille Walala did in her London flat’s teal kitchen; this will make the room look more intentional and soothing than erratic.
10. Get rid of lower stair railings.
Does your staircase really need a railing down by the ground floor? Nixing it might be just the thing to open up the room. For proof, see this amazing reno by Sheep and Stone.
11. Consider a hidden bed.
Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it: Inspired by our favorite teeny Paris apartment, a Murphy bed or fold-out sofa can be the difference between a studio you dread returning to and a studio you actually consider hosting guests in.
12. Rethink the size of your dining room table.
When designer David Lucido and his partner renovated this Manhattan one-bedroom, they opted for a chic little two-person dining table rather than anything larger. Bistro tables work particularly well for couples.
13. Swap your big fridge for under-counter models.
If you’re housing a family of five, this might be a no-go, but singles and couples should seriously consider it thanks to Ryan’s example. You’ll gain back air space and counter space in a room that desperately needs it.
14. Mirror a whole wall if you have to.
It’s true what they say: Mirrors will bounce the light around a room and trick your eye into seeing room where there isn’t any. Case in point: In this brilliant student-housing apartment in Madrid, one whole wall of a tiny room is covered in mirrors so it reads as bright and huge when it isn’t.
15. Glass and acrylic furniture are basically invisible.
Okay, so not exactly, but as proven by your eyeballs and the glass console in this Paris pied-à-terre, glass and acrylic furniture is definitely a good idea in a small space because it all but blends into the walls.