8 Design Mistakes That Make Your Small Home Feel Even Tinier

Little mistakes, big consequences.

In case you didn't get the memo, living in a small space might not be as easy as it's cracked up to be. For many, downsizing is all about having a simpler, more streamlined lifestyle. Still, small space dwellers are tasked with the unique challenge of fitting all their essentials into a limited number of square feet—all while making their space feel light, airy, and larger than it really is. (After all, nobody wants to feel as if they're living inside a shoebox.)

When the stakes are this high, mistakes are bound to occur. While some mishaps might result in lackluster décor or subpar storage solutions, others can make your space appear even smaller than it already is. And, unless you actually want to feel claustrophobic, these mistakes aren't doing anyone any favors.

To help, we asked a handful of designers to share common mistakes people make when decorating their small spaces—and how to fix them.

Small Farmhouse with Red Tin Roof
Helen Norman

Using Oversized Furniture

When it comes to purchasing furniture for your small space, there's a good chance you prioritize comfort and price point above everything else. (Let's face it, nobody wants to sit on a stiff sofa.) But according to Jessica Davis, founder of Atlanta-based design studio Atelier Davis, it's important to think critically about the size of your pieces, too.

"Don't use pieces with large rolled arms or really deep sofas that don't seat more people, but take up way more floor space," she explains.

Instead, opt for furniture with sleek silhouettes that allow for plenty of negative space.

"[You want] long, clean lines where possible," Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, founding principle of JG Neukomm Architecture, adds. "A simple trick is to use furniture that works with the architecture in concert, so a really long built-in cabinet along a wall can significantly expand a space."

To spark inspiration, have a look at these budget-friendly space-saving essentials.

Dark-Colored Furniture

Speaking of furniture, you might want to reconsider the color of your larger pieces like a sofa or storage cabinet.

"Understandably, darker is more forgiving when it comes to daily life: Kids, dogs, and potential spills," explains Amanda Lantz, designer at Lantz Collective. "However, in a small living room, for example, darker colors on sofas and chairs will make the space feel packed and then it becomes obtrusive to the eye. If you lighten the upholstery, the room suddenly is lighter and airy."

Lantz recommends selecting furniture with outdoor-quality materials or fabrics with Nanotex technology. That way, you can enjoy the look of lighter upholstery minus the worry.

Too Much Furniture

A small room is not the place for a lot of end tables, plant stands, and other small pieces of furniture. It will quickly feel cluttered and closed off. Choose simple pieces large enough, but not too large, for the space. This is also a good place for furniture that does double duty, such as an ottoman that opens for storage and a stool that also serves as a nightstand. A larger piece of furniture with only one function may need to be reconsidered.

Another tip is to group furniture into areas to create spaces for conversation. Avoid pushing furniture against the walls to give the illusion of a larger room. Moving furniture away from the walls a few inches actually creates depth in a small room.

Pint-Sized Art Pieces

Just because you should opt for smaller furniture doesn't mean your artwork should follow suit. For Beth Diana Smith, CEO and principal designer of Beth Diana Smith Interior Design, it's all about playing with proportions.

"Don't opt for tiny pieces of art in a tiny home; it's like embracing the opposite of what you want," she explains. "Beautiful rooms are all about scale and proportion, and the shape and size of your art follow the same rule."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it's important to choose pieces that suit your personal taste. From a sizable tapestry to a well-curated gallery wall, the options are virtually endless.

Blank Slate Style

Convinced that crisp, white walls will give your petite home a spacious, airy feel? Think again. Not only can flat, light-colored walls draw attention to the size, but designer Isabel Ladd also argues it'll make your space feel sterile.

"Select a bold paint color or, my personal preference, fun, bold, and large-scale patterned wallpaper for a small space," she recommends. "If wallpapering the room scares you, opt to just wallpaper the ceiling and pair with a high-sheen paint finish on the walls."

Turns out, a little personality can go a long way.

Breaking the Flow of Color

Painting trim and walls in highly contrasting colors breaks the flow and creates a disjointed look, shrinking a small space. No matter what paint color you choose, try an all-over color to expand a small room. Paint the walls, trim, baseboards, built-ins, and even the ceilings all one color to open the room. Even dark colors can make a room feel larger than it is with this trick.

Skimping on the Light Fixtures

Great lighting can make or break any space—and your tiny home is no exception.

"Most people think a dark color makes a room look smaller, but not having proper lighting is actually more detrimental," says Carolina V. Gentry, co-founder and principal interior designer of Pulp Design Studios. "Illuminating a room with different types of lighting makes a space feel larger."

In a perfect world, your place would be covered in sun-drenched windows and spacious skylights. However, Kwandaa Roberts, MD, a physician and interior designer with the popular Instagram account @TinyHouseCalls, says there are plenty of ways to recreate the look.

"Place mirrors opposite windows to bounce light around the room," she recommends. "And, don't forget the artificial lighting, which is critical when designing a small space. Sconces are perfect because they don't take up surfaces or floor space."

The result? A small space that feels open and welcoming, not dark and constricting.

Creating Clutter with Personal Items

For many, filling your small home with personal touches can feel like a catch-22. On the one hand, decorating your place with photographs, sentimental artwork, and mementos can keep your space from feeling sterile. However, too many personal items can make your space feel crammed. For the owner of Lauren Nelson Design, the key is to design with intention.

"People have a tendency to hold onto anything of value, even if it's not adding value to the space itself," she says. "It's better to edit down a room than pack it full of knick-knacks."

Alison Giese, designer and creative director at Alison Giese Interiors agrees: "Too many decor elements or furniture pieces can crowd a [space]; make sure you leave some areas with 'negative space' so a room has visual breathing room."

Making the most of your small space is all about thoughtful choices and surrounding yourself with things you love.

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