When former MyDomaine editor Sophie Miura and her boyfriend were looking for their first apartment together in Manhattan, they quickly learned how to translate realtor-speak—"cozy" is code for tiny, "prewar" means unrenovated, and "converted" implies that the owners installed a fake wall to charge for an extra room. So when they came across a bright 350-square-foot one-bedroom on a tree-lined street, they thought they'd struck gold—until it came time to decorate.
Initially, it seemed like the options were limited. The living room was a short, boxed-in space connected to an open-plan kitchen. Luckily, celebrity designer Jeremiah Brent and Decorist, an online interior design service that provides personalized help to make over any room, had other plans. With the help of West Elm's Design Crew and Paintzen, the team was able to maximize Miura's space.
Meet the Expert
Jeremiah Brent is a renowned interior designer who has been featured in TLC's "Nate & Jeremiah By Design" and "Say I Do" on Netflix.
Working with a designer Miura trusted didn't just take the pressure off, it also imbued her with decorating confidence she never would've had on her own. When she walks into their apartment now, she doesn't see a small space. She sees her favorite reading nook, a marble coffee table that's the perfect shape for playing cards with friends, and all the items she and her boyfriend have collected that make it feel like their own. After months of drafting, shopping, and styling, they're finally "home."
Keep scrolling to take a peek inside Miura's redecorated NYC living room and other small spaces to see what makes a room look and feel 10 times bigger than it actually is.
Add Mirrors to Fake a Larger Room
Adding mirrors to create the illusion of a larger room isn't a new decorating trick, but after introducing these two large West Elm mirrors to their living room, Miura says that it is, without a doubt, the most transformative tip.
"Not only does this create the illusion of a larger space, but it also reflects light to brighten up the room even more," Brent explains. Given Miura's living room has only one small window, this simple decorating trick made it feel brighter and more open without needing to renovate.
When it comes to mirror styling, Brent says to keep it minimal: "A large statement mirror is already a focal point of a room, so focus on decorating a different area to avoid unnecessary clutter."
Reassess Your Canvas
Every apartment has its quirks, and for Miura's, it was faux wood laminate cabinets that instantly dated the apartment. With a little encouragement from the Decorist team and permission from her landlord, she enlisted the help of Paintzen, an online service that connects people with skilled, insured, and background-checked painters, to give the cabinets two fresh coats of crisp white paint, which instantly made the room look brighter. Brent and Paintzen agreed on Benjamin Moore's matte finish paint in Decorator's White.
Paintzen spokesperson Rebecca Hochreiter says this is one of the most effective ways to make a dated space look luxe. "Simply repainting can give a space a new personality," she says. And since no amount of decorating can make up for a bad "canvas," this was a crucial step.
Layer Accessories (It Won't Look Cluttered)
A common misconception is that having fewer items in a room will make it appear minimal and large. It turns out that the opposite is true: Every time Brent layered a new accessory like a tray, coffee table books, or table lamps, it created vignettes, or "moments," as Brent calls them, which made the living room feel bigger.
"My trick is always to pick a place for the eye to land," he advises. "What's the first moment you want to highlight? Work backward from there."
Try a Drapery Wall
"Drapery is a cost-effective and dramatic way to add instant architecture to any room," Brent explains. Initially, Miura had thought a gallery wall was the only option, but Brent's drapery wall idea makes the space feel bigger, minus the clutter of multiple frames.
West Elm's Design Crew managed the process, a service they offer to take the pain (and possible error) out of installation projects. "There are several things that go into hanging a rod, such as using the correct anchors and tools," says Michael Carr, former manager of in-home services at West Elm. In one hour, Cesar, the installer, had fixed the drapery rod, drilled the plug-in sconces into the wall, and hung the drapes—a project that Miura says would've taken her half a day.
Carr recommends paying particular attention to the drapery rod step. Position the drapery rod as high as possible, loop the drapes over the end of the rod so it's not visible, and focus on getting your curtains to hang at that perfect 1/4 inch above the floor.
Select a Statement Light
One of the most unexpected styling tricks that worked in Miura's space was the installation of a large, statement chandelier. "We're always trying to make a room look larger, but we should never forget that we can also elongate the room as well. Anything that draws the eye upward plays up the vertical plane of the space, giving it the illusion that a room is taller than it is," says Brent.
In general, it's always a good idea to maximize your small space by thinking vertically. In other words, utilize the space above eye level. Floor-to-ceiling cabinets and bookcases take advantage of ample vertical storage. Often forgotten areas to consider might include the wall space above your sink or stove, or the space above your doorways.
Choose the Right-Sized Rug
One common major mistake? Choosing the wrong size rug. When Brent picked a textured cream rug from the West Elm x Bower collection, Miura actually thought it was too big. But, "People tend to think that a smaller room needs a smaller rug," Brent says. "Break the rules. A larger rug in a small space is a great opportunity to make a room feel more dramatic and get more bang for your buck."
Hang Drapes Higher and Wider
Create continuity and extra length with your drapes and window treatments by hanging them higher and wider than your window's dimensions. A good rule of thumb is to hang your curtains as high as their length allows and wide enough to just kiss the window frame when open. Visually, this allows the eye to flow from floor to ceiling, rather than stopping abruptly in the spaces where the curtains begin and end.
Try a Few Oversized Art Pieces
This may sound counterintuitive, but decorating your space with fewer yet bigger pieces of art or décor can feel more streamlined than a greater number of smaller objects or works. One or two oversized pieces can take up a lot of real estate without overwhelming the room.
Adopt a Calming Color Palette
If dark colors trick the eyes to recede, lighter colors do the opposite. Whites, creams, and other neutral colors feel light and airy to give the room a more spacious feeling. When it comes to furniture and cabinets, Brent suggests a matte white, "as it tends to feel soft and sophisticated while subtle," he says.
Take it a step further and opt for a monochromatic color palette to create the illusion of a bigger space with plenty of breathing room.
Incorporate Clear Furniture
Another visual trick to create the appearance of a larger space is to incorporate clear furniture. Materials like glass and lucite can be a small space's best friend. They offer structure to pieces like desks, coffee tables, and chairs without visually crowding a room. That way, playful patterns and bold color combinations can take center stage.
Seek Slim or Tapered Bases
In the same way that opting for clear furniture helps a smaller room appear larger, opting for furniture with slender or tapered legs creates a similar effect. Seating and side tables with slimmer bases or on taller legs allow for more negative space visually, which means less clunkiness and more room for your eyes to wander.
Consider Furniture Scale
When it comes to furnishing, think carefully about scale. "Most people believe that a small space means you need to use small furniture—that’s simply not the case," says Brent. "Instead, focus on scale and proportion." Select staple pieces that fill the space with enough room to navigate around, but keep other pieces in the room visually clean and to a minimum.
Pull Furniture Away From Walls
For another space-making illusion, pull your furniture several inches away from the wall. This simple maneuver makes walls appear further away than they actually are. And ta-da!
It's also one of the most affordable ways to breathe more room into your space.
Spring for Custom
If it's within your budget, there's nothing quite like the perfect fit, and by that, we mean custom furniture and built-in storage. Whether you want built-in shelving and seating or a custom sectional to complement the dimensions of your space, customization ensures every piece is perfectly suited to the room.
Create a Gallery Wall
Another way to make a smaller room feel larger is to forgo the décor that would otherwise take up precious space on the floor or other surfaces and utilize your walls instead. A gallery wall adds personality without hogging elbow room for more practical items. Opt for an all-squares collage for a more uniform look.
Decorate With Stripes
Stripes are a time-tested tool in creating the illusion of length. Use stripes to your advantage and look for décor that will help elongate with visual lines. Generally, aim to run your stripes in the direction that needs the extra length. Anything from existing architectural elements like beams to striped rugs and throw pillows can be used to your advantage.
Look for Hidden (Yet Stylish) Storage
Keep things like electronics, cords, office supplies, and whatever else you'd like to hide out of sight with functional yet stylish pieces that pull double duty as storage and décor. For example, look for ottomans, entryway benches, and coffee tables with storage space. Covered woven baskets and pretty bins also store odds and ends while serving as side tables.
Take Your Time
If your home lacks personality and doesn't quite feel "done," Brent says that's okay—it's not a race. "My advice would be to take the pressure off," he shares.
He also recommends that you leave enough space to continue to evolve into your home. "A great rule of thumb when purchasing items and layering your space is if it's not absolutely beautiful or absolutely functional, get rid of it," he says. That way, when you do come across a flea market find or artwork that speaks to you, you can continue to layer.
Admit When You Need Help
Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to be honest. If you're not particularly handy or something is beyond your skillset, don't be afraid to bring in the experts.
Even something that seems simple, like hanging curtains, has the potential to go disastrously wrong. "Sometimes when people try to do a project on their own, they can use the wrong tools, drills, or screws, which can damage the wires inside of a wall, the wall itself, or the product they are hanging on the wall," says Carr. Know your limits and know when to turn over the tools.