The #1 Small-Space Hack New Yorkers Swear By

Updated 08/23/19
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Courtesy of Sheep + Stone

Small-space decorating can be a challenge—few people know this better than Manhattanites. In one of the world's most densely populated cities, real estate prices are sky-high, and square footage comes at a premium.

New York small-apartment décor is a science all of its own, requiring expert-level Tetris skills, clever storage solutions, and multipurpose layouts. To shed some light on the best small apartment ideas, we tapped real NYC-based interior designers, architects, and chief creative officers to share their best tricks with us.

01 of 08

Build Storage Up

open shelving living room

 JULIA ROBBS

"When you can't build out, build up," says James Tabb, designer at Laurel & Wolf. Having designed plenty of small New York spaces, he is no stranger to the need for storage. This basic principle of any metropolitan city can be easily translated into the interior design of a micro living space. "A clever trick that I love incorporating into small spaces is adding a floating shelf very close to the ceiling, which runs the perimeter of the room. By accessorizing with books, accessories, or other collectibles, it creates an effect similar to crown molding."

Add a floating shelf close to the ceiling, running the perimeter of the room. Accessorize with books, accessories, or other collectibles, to create an effect similar to crown molding.

brass and acrylic shelf
CB2 Brass and Acrylic Wall Shelf $90
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02 of 08

Use Large-Scale Pieces

black and white room

 Julia Robbs

While it may be intuitive to fill a small space with small pieces of furniture, Sheena Murphy of Brooklyn-based design firm Sheep + Stone says it's the worst thing you can do to a tiny apartment. "Use large-scale furniture and artwork," she says. "Smaller pieces can actually make rooms feel smaller." While you need to think of function above all in a small space, try to edit down your furniture needs to a few larger pieces, as opposed to a bunch of smaller ones.

03 of 08

Keep It Light and Airy

black and white room

Ash NYC 

"Keep things light and airy," Murphy says. While some designers believe in painting small rooms dark, New Yorkers tend to swing the other way. "Paint everything white," says Will Cooper, partner and chief creative officer at ASH NYC. "Rooms always feel bigger when there is one continuous color. White is perfect for small spaces because it reflects light and keeps any space feeling open and airy." Having designed and staged countless New York dwellings for prominent clients and realtors, Cooper is the perfect person to advise on making a small space look top-notch.

04 of 08

Mount Full-Length Drapery

gray and blue living room

  SHEEP + STONE

"Mount full-length drapes on either side of a window to create the illusion of a wider wall," Murphy says. Having worked in many Brooklyn and Manhattan apartments, hanging curtains high and wide is the designer's signature move. When space (and outside views) is limited, the last thing you want to do is to block the incoming natural light, or somehow reduce your window's real estate.

05 of 08

Pick Double-Duty Pieces

murphy bed

 Amuneal

Murphy beds aren't the only multipurpose furniture pieces out there (though this custom feature wall from Amuneal will make you reconsider their bad rep). "When space is scarce, a gateleg or drop-leaf table is a perfect item to incorporate in your home," Tabb says. "If you frequently entertain, but your kitchen or dining room is small, either of these tables can provide an efficient solution for seating guests."

Adding a tray to an ottoman allows it to also serve as a coffee table, or an extra place to set drinks when entertaining.

Kimberly Winthrop, a designer at Laurel & Wolf, agrees: "With a little bit of research, you can easily find a host of products that can do double duty in your home. An ottoman, for example, can have hidden storage and be a place to put up your feet. By adding a tray, it can also serve as a coffee table, providing an extra surface to place a drink when hosting friends."

upholstered ottoman
West Elm Upholstered Base Storage Ottoman - Large $500-600 $350-420
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06 of 08

Use Wall-Mounted Lighting

wall mounted lighting

Sheep + Stone

"Wall-mounted lighting is a perfect example of how to utilize your walls," Tabb says. It not only adds an interesting design feature to your space, but it also serves a necessary, functional purpose." Megan Opel, a designer at Laurel & Wolf, is also a fan of the wall sconce: "One of the biggest mistakes I see in small spaces is failing to make use of wall space for lighting," she says. "For example, when space in a living area is tight, prioritize a bigger, cushier sofa ditching table and floor lamps in favor of wall-mounted, plug-in, or hardwired sconces."

black wall light
Workstead Wall Lamp - Black $800
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07 of 08

Leave a Little Breathing Room

studio apartment

Ash NYC

"When you have a small apartment, it can be tempting to place furniture in corners to save space," Tabb says. However, this actually ends up making your space look and feel much smaller. One easy trick you can employ is to have a little breathing room between your furniture pieces and walls, as this visually opens up your space."

Floating furniture in the middle of the room is a great way to fake loads of space, and it forces you to edit your clutter down to a minimum.

"In a small space, giving your eye a little breathing room can help make your home look and feel bigger," Winthrop says. "Opt for sofas and credenzas with visible legs. The little bit of negative space will keep your small apartment from feeling like it's filled from wall to wall with furniture."

08 of 08

Use Rugs Carefully

black walls

 Julia Robbs

"Just because your space is small doesn't mean it should lack the basic elements of a well-outfitted room," says Laurel Startzel, designer at Laurel & Wolf. "Area rugs are a great way to define spaces and you can buy them in just about any size under the sun. If your living room ties into your kitchen, which ties into your dining room, use various area rugs to help define those spaces and give the illusion that there's more square footage than there actually is."

While Startzel praises the use of rugs to define open spaces, Cooper prefers forgoing them altogether: "Avoid oversize rugs or rugs at all," he says. "I love rugs, don't get me wrong, but in small spaces, they can sometimes feel too defining and claustrophobic to me. I think tight spaces flow nicely sans rugs."

Want more tips to organize your small space? We learned some hacks from the world's smallest hotel rooms.

This story was originally published on January 26, 2017, and has since been updated.

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