8 Experts Reveal the Interior Design Mistakes to Avoid in Small Houses

Small Bedroom Design Ideas

Design: Katie Hodges Design, Photo: Amy Bartlam

While we love decorating small spaces, we're a little less keen on the challenges they typically present. The lack of square footage can make you susceptible to committing a small space faux pas, including ill-placed lighting, unflattering color schemes, and disproportionate furniture. In our opinion, though, learning from our mistakes makes the process worthwhile. After all, perfection is overrated, right?

If you're feeling down on your small space's interior design, take comfort in knowing that even the pros make mistakes. We asked eight interior designers to reveal their biggest small space decorating mishaps. However, they turned their errors into feats, and you can too. If you have a great idea that you've been putting off because you're worried it may not turn out the way you imagined, give it a shot. You can always try again if it doesn't work.

Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez of Dekar Design

Décor Ideas for Small Spaces: inset shelves
Design: Dekar Design

Signature Style: "Our style is layered with timeless elements and an eclectic perspective. We aim for each space to not feel overly designed, but rather collected and layered over the years to be as authentic as possible."

The Small Space Mistake: "Since our work is mostly in New York, we have become pros at small space hacks that make a room feel bigger. Once, we were in the middle of renovating a loft in Tribeca and uncovered an old fireplace in one of the walls—that was definitely unexpected and not in our original plans!"

The Fix: "After thinking on it, we saw it as the perfect opportunity for a built-in bookshelf using reclaimed wood. It actually became one of our favorite small moments in the apartment."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Don't immediately assume that a small space issue is a bad thing; it can be an opportunity for a great design moment. In small spaces, storage is key, so make that a priority."

floating shelf
West Elm Reclaimed Wood Floating Shelf $80
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Michael Amato of The Urban Electric Co.

a small space bathroom with a sconce
Design: The Urban Electric Co.

Signature Style: "As a lighting designer, my style incorporates classic lines and silhouettes, with a big focus on details and scale. I aim to create pieces with a balance between fashion sensibility and classical form, and I am especially drawn to clean lines and simplicity."

The Small Space Mistake: "One problem my clients and I continually struggle with in small spaces (especially in tiny powder rooms) is finding the perfect lighting for the vanity. When there's only a skinny patch of wall, the mistake is forgoing a sconce altogether and only having overhead lighting, which can be harsh and overpowering. In some cases, it can even make the space feel smaller."

The Fix: "I designed an entire collection around the small space dilemma. When you need to add a sconce but don't have abundant wall real estate to install a fixture, opt for a slim sconce that uses tubular or cigarette shapes. The added layered lighting adds a glow to the room that makes it feel larger."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Incorporating a sconce with overhead lighting, lamps, and natural light will offer a sense of balance and make the room feel open and inviting."

Hedges sconce
The Urban Electric Co. Hedges Sconce $1,392
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Katie Hodges of Katie Hodges Design

Small Bedroom Design Ideas
Design: Katie Hodges Design, Photo: Amy Bartlam

Signature Style: "Deeply rooted in the California lifestyle, my style is best described as comfortable and organic. I like to balance modern and traditional design elements, too."

The Small Space Mistake: "I specified a location for sconces above my bed that ended up being way too high."

The Fix: "Once I realized the mistake, my lighting game plan changed completely. Instead of searching for a reading light, I redirected my efforts to something that would hang lower and hide the negative space I created. This was not an easy solution, and after a few weeks of relentless hunting and sleepless nights on Pinterest, I took matters into my own hands and designed a sconce with Worley's Lighting!"

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Try to have your lighting selected (or even better, in hand) before doing any permanent electrical work. It's costly to fix, and you can avoid a whole lotta headache."

Worley's Lighting Katie conce/Pendant
Worley's Lighting Katie Sconce/Pendant $299
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Britt Zunino of Studio DB

Little Boy Bedroom
Design: Studio DB

Signature Style: "Our style is classically modern with an unexpected twist. There's always a little cheekiness or whimsy to keep things interesting."

The Small Space Mistake: "A small space's potential can be easily overlooked—especially if you're focused on a larger project. Cozy bedrooms offer opportunities to experiment with color and pattern. In our home, I made the mistake of starting with plain white walls for our son's tiny bedroom, hoping they would enlarge the space. In reality, they emphasized the room's lack of light and made it feel unfinished."

Don't immediately assume that a small space issue is a bad thing; it can be an opportunity for a great design moment. In small spaces, storage is key, so make that a priority.

The Fix: "We decided to paint the entire room a beautiful teal blue, including the ceiling, which made the walls recede and the furniture pop. We also added a huge vintage map, which filled a wall. It was so much more dynamic!"

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Consider painting a low ceiling the same color as the walls, especially if there are uneven ceilings or obtrusive ductwork. Also, play with the scale of furniture and artwork. A larger rug will expand the footprint of the room, for instance. Don't be afraid of bold color or pattern, either."

Vanessa Alexander of Alexander Design

small space entryway with greenery
Design: Alexander Design, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

Signature Style: "My style employs a blend of contemporary, custom, and vintage pieces from various periods. I like to create a layered feel that's rich in texture, yet functional and elegantly effortless. We draw influence first and foremost from context and surroundings. We're inspired by the way that our clients live or want to live."

The Small Space Mistake: "Using heavier, darker, traditional furniture when it was more popular. I think that was the worst thing for small spaces."

The Fix: "Small spaces, like hallways, will feel larger and more open if you use pieces with a lighter visual profile: slim lines for legs on tables and an open basket for canes and umbrellas."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Keep the lines clean and simple, and the styling really edited. Keep items you love out and stow away everything else so that it doesn't feel cluttered. Also, adding greenery instantly makes spaces instantly brighter and more open, making it seem larger."

Parlor Palm
Bloomscape Parlor Palm $65
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Shea McGee of Studio McGee

small living room with deep blue walls
Design: Studio McGee

Signature Style: "We are bright and airy, collected, approachable, and unstuffy."

The Small Space Mistake: "I think that one of the mistakes I made early on was going small in a small space. Now, I find that a few large items make a significant impact in small spaces."

The Fix: "Instead of doing two small lamps in the space, why not try one large lamp to anchor the corner?"

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Being intentional with scale is something I learned the hard way, but it makes a big difference!"

McGee & Co Lebon Floor Lamp
McGee & Co. Lebon Floor Lamp $869
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Anne Hepfer

small space entryway
Design: Anne Hepfer 

Signature Style: "I love working in a range of different styles, from eclectic city to country chic, to beachy, to modern rustic. I'm constantly looking, evolving, and shopping for cool finds on my global travels."

The Small Space Mistake: "I painted our foyer walls high-gloss brown, which was a little dark and moody. The stair runner was also light wool, which didn't wear well, so that had to be swapped out for printed, more durable carpet."

The Fix: "I've since changed to white lacquer, and it makes my consoles pop. The whole space is now bright and clean."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Choose your paint colors carefully. But if you paint a wall and realize you don't like the color, it's such an easy fix."

Serena & Lily Perennials® Rhodes Outdoor Rug
Serena & Lily Perennials Rhodes Runner $898
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Danielle Walish of The Inside

small space kitchen table
Design: The Inside, Photo: Anna Routh

Signature Style: "I would describe my style as site-specific: It changes depending on the architectural bones, the geographic location, and the moment in time."

The Small Space Mistake: "Feeling like it's too small to make a bold decoration statement."

The Fix: "Don't be afraid to take a risk! I worked on an office project that had an uninspiring, small kitchen. Instead of just trying to forget it existed, we concealed the lackluster cabinetry with gorgeous banana-palm draperies. The worst room instantly became my favorite in the office."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Look at a lot of precedent imagery and get inspired. It also helps to paint a swatch of color on a wall and look at fabrics swatches in the space."

Serena & Lily Chevron Riviera Side Chair
Serena & Lily Chevron Riviera Side Chair $248 $180
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