Small spaces are notoriously difficult to decorate—and the stakes for getting it right are surprisingly high. When furnishing a room with limited square footage, a design decision seemingly as innocuous as selecting an area rug or a dining table can either accentuate an obvious lack of space or make a 200-square-foot room feel more like 400. For anyone who's lived in a cramped apartment, we don't have to tell you that there's so much more than meets the eye to curating a well-styled small space.
Needless to say, interior designers, particularly those living in urban areas, have perfected the art of making the most of every square inch of a room. So, to gain insight into the common design mistakes that can afflict a small space, we asked Los Angeles-based interior designer Stefani Stein to share the decorating errors she most frequently notices in homes and apartments with tiny square footage. From the entry to the living room and even the bathroom, these are the design discrepancies interior designers always notice in small spaces—and how to fix them. Take note.
Mistake #1: Opting for Open Shelving in the Entry
While it may be tempting to hang a set of floating shelves by the front door and call it a day, Stein reminds us that there is more involved in planning an optimal entryway layout. "In smaller homes and apartments, storage is often in short supply, and the entryway is no exception," the interior designer explains. "Open shelving is sometimes purported to be the solution. However, unless the shelves are perfectly styled, it just ends up looking messy and disheveled."
"Instead, I prefer to select pieces that can work double duty and provide functional storage while handsomely concealing clutter," offers Stein. "A small dresser or vintage commode, rather than a console table or bookshelf, provides essential storage and makes a lovely first impression." Take style notes from the entryway pictured above and hang a large mirror above the piece of furniture to complete the vignette.
Mistake #2: Selecting a Rug That's Too Small
For Stein, one of the key mistakes to avoid when decorating a living room is choosing an area rug that's too small for the space. "When a rug is too small for a room, it can actually make the space appear even smaller," she explains. "Functionally speaking, a rug provides softness underfoot, dampens sound, and anchors furniture pieces so they don't easily shift. Not only do rugs unify a room, but a larger rug can convey the feeling of a more open space."
Mistake #3: Neglecting Personality in the Bathroom
"Bathrooms don't have to be boring, utilitarian spaces," Stein points out. "A fun sconce, unique mirror, updated plumbing fixtures, or even wallpaper can add tremendous impact," she explains—and the bathroom pictured here is proof. However, if you're wary of overhauling your small-space master bath, the designer advises starting even smaller. "Powder rooms are the perfect place to try something audacious! And, fortunately, because of the petite footprint, it doesn't take much expense or effort for a little refresh."
Mistake #4: Buying the Wrong Bed Size
The number one small bedroom mistake to avoid, according to Stein, is buying a bed that's too large for the space. "While I am typically an advocate of playing with scale, beds tend to be an exception," notes the interior designer. "A king-sized or four-poster bed can overwhelm a smaller room and make it difficult to maneuver. Instead, try a queen sized bed with a lower profile. If possible, shoot for at least 30 inches of open space between your bed and the walls or adjacent furniture pieces."
Mistake #5: Living With Bad Lighting
"Bad lighting doesn't always mean inadequate lighting," the interior designer quickly points out. Case in point: recessed lighting. "While they may be unavoidable for individuals living in newly constructed buildings, recessed lights can be terribly bright and uncomfortable," Stein notes.
This is especially true in a dining room, according to the designer. "Bright lights just don't set the right mood for dining and intimate entertaining," she adds. If installing new light fixtures is frowned upon by your landlord, "dimmer switches can be a practical solution," offers Stein. "However, if dimmers aren't an option, table lamps (or even floor lamps) provide layered light for an inviting ambiance."