8 Interior Designers Share The Biggest Small-Space Decorating Mistakes

Updated 05/05/19
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: Katie Hodges Design

Small spaces pose notoriously tricky problems. The lack of square footage equates to a lack of storage space, which means things can quickly get a lot more cluttered, and then there's the challenge of showing off your style in an oddly shaped room while still trying to make it a functional area. Even professionals make mistakes. But that doesn't mean we aren't up for the challenge—in fact, that can make the design process even more fun.

Which is why we asked eight interior designers to reveal their biggest small-space decorating mistakes. And like any mistake, there's always room for improvement. Considering their pedigrees, it's unsurprising that they turned these small-space mistakes into serious interior design feats. Read on to see how they transformed their mistakes into small-space perfection, and then learn how to troubleshoot the biggest no-nos in your own home.

Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez of Dekar Design

Dekar Design's Signature Style: "We approach each of our projects with a particular sensitivity to architecture to create distinct and authentic spaces, and 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 hacking small spaces to feel large. Once, we were in the middle of renovating a loft in TriBeCa and uncovered an old coal shoot/fireplace in one of the walls—that was definitely unexpected and not in our original plans!"

Décor Ideas for Small Spaces: inset shelves
Dekar Design

The Fix: "After thinking on it, we saw it as the perfect opportunity for a built-in bookshelf out of reclaimed wood, which 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 to be really creative! In small spaces, storage is key, so make that a priority."

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Michael Amato, Creative Director of The Urban Electric Co

The Urban Electric Co.'s Signature Style: "As a lighting designer, my style incorporates classic lines and silhouettes, with a large focus on details and scale. I aim to create pieces with a balance between fashion sensibility and classical form, and 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, making the space feel even smaller."

a small space bathroom with a sconce
The Urban Electric Co

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 to fit in a space as small as a couple of inches wide. The added layered lighting adds a glow to the room to make it feel larger."

How to Troubleshoot in Your Own Home: "Never disregard the power of lighting to make spaces feel larger. Incorporating a sconce with overhead lighting, lamps, and natural light work together to bring balance to a space and make it open and inviting."

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Katie Hodges of Katie Hodges Design

Katie Hodges Design's Signature Style: "Deeply rooted in the California lifestyle, my style is best described as comfortable and organic, balancing modern with traditional design elements."

The Small-Space Mistake: "The specified a location for sconces above my bed that were too high."

Small Bedroom Design Ideas
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: Katie Hodges Design

The Fix: "Once I figured out that the mistake, my sconce 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 created. This was no easy solution, and after a few weeks of relentless hunting and sleepless Pinterest nights, 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) prior to doing any permanent electrical locations. It's costly to fix, and you can avoid a whole lotta headache."

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

Studio DB's Signature Style: "Classically modern, with an expected 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, not to mention closets and laundry rooms, offer opportunities to experiment with color or pattern. In our home, I made the mistake of starting with plain white walls for our son's tiny bedroom, hoping it would enlarge the space. In reality, it emphasized the room's lack of light and made it feel unfinished."

Little Boy Bedroom
Studio DB

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 school 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; it's only one little room."

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Vanessa Alexander of Alexander Design

Alexander Design's Signature Style: "Our style employs a blend of contemporary, custom/bespoke and vintage pieces from a variety of periods, creating a layered feel that's rich in texture and influence, 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, by light both natural and curated, and by the rhythm and flow of space."

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

small space entryway with greenery
Tessa Neustadt

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 walking sticks instead of bulky pieces."

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

CB2 Seminyak XL Grey Planter
CB2 Seminyak XL Grey Planter $129
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Shea of Studio McGee

Studio McGee's 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. I find now that a few select large items make a significant impact in small spaces."

small living room with deep blue walls
Studio McGee

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 $799
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Anne Hepfer of Anne Hepfer Designs

Anne Hepfer Design's Signature Style: "I love working in a range of different styles, from eclectic city and country chic to beachy to modern rustic. Every project varies for each client to provide a unique, timeless, and beautiful atmosphere. I'm constantly looking, evolving, and shopping for cool finds in my global travels."

The Small Space Mistake: "I painted our foyer walls high-gloss brown, which was a little dark and moody. The butterflies in a glass cloche dome also a mistake. One of my kids accidentally hit the table with some hockey equipment, and my butterflies came smashing to the ground."

small space entryway
Anne Hepfer Designs

The Fix: "I've since changed to white lacquer, and it makes my consoles pop; the whole space is now bright and clean. The stair runner was also light wool, which didn't wear well, so that has to be swapped out for printed, more durable carpet."

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."

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Danielle Walish of The Inside

The Inside's Signature Style: "I would describe my style as site-specific, meaning, it changes depending on the architectural bones, the geographic location, and moment in time."

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

small space kitchen table
Anna Routh for Local Foreigner

The Fix: "Don't be afraid to take a risk! It's all contingent upon room's proportions and conditions (e.g., ceiling height, how much natural comes in). For instance, 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."

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