20 Ways to Live Large in a Small Space

by Kelly Medeiros on 18 October 2013 10 comments

Living in a New York City apartment for a decade certainly taught me how to prioritize a small space. However, some of the greatest lessons I learned from apartment living can be applied anywhere, whether it be a house or a cramped room. Here are a few small space tips that can help you take advantage of your square footage, no matter what type of dwelling you have. (See also: Why Smaller Houses Are Smarter)

1. Door Backs

Many hooks and racks can be easily installed on or over a door to free up space. Besides the obvious hanging shoe racks on closet doors, think of other places, like using hooks on a bathroom door for towels and robes, hanging floor mirrors on the back of a bedroom door, hanging pots and pans on kitchen or pantry doors, and even using the backs of bathroom cabinet doors to store hairdryers and necessities.

2. Wall-Mounted Electronics

If you like to read in bed, but are short on night table space, wall-mounted lamps with plug-ins to use as sconces are not only are functional, but can also be beautiful. And of course, a wall-mounted television is a big space saver for a small living room. In the kitchen, you can also wall-mount small appliances, such as microwaves and coffeemakers, freeing up counter space. (See also: How to Make the Most of a Tiny Kitchen)

3. Mirrors

It’s no secret that adding wall mirrors to a small space can make a room appear larger. Well-placed, oversized mirrors can especially do wonders for fooling the eye and reflecting more light to brighten up a room.

4. IKEA

IKEA sells a multitude of furniture and organizational items aimed at small space living. Their in-store displays and website are great for inspiration. Some favorites include the hanging kitchen wall dish drainer, the VIKA VEINE desktop, which functions as both serving table and desk, and the BRIMNES headboard, complete with storage compartments.

5. Rethink Clothing Storage

Take a hard look at your closet and drawers to make sure every bit of cubic space is utilized. In the closet, try installing extra rods, adding more shelves vertically, using shoe racks, and putting hooks on side walls. Take advantage of the space between the floor and your clothes to slide in a small dresser that fits just below hanging shirts, which can add valuable drawer space. Or, if you are in desperate need of hanging space, go for freestanding clothes racks in the corner of a room. (See also: How to Organize a Messy Closet)

6. Kitchen Carts

A kitchen cart on wheels can easily help increase kitchen storage. I wedged one below a small window in my old kitchen and used the shelves below for storing pots and the top as more counter space for food prep. Kitchen carts with fancier tops can even serve as moveable islands or buffet stations. Make sure to also utilize the sides of the cart to hang kitchen tools and towels.

7. Double-Duty Guest Quarters

If you don’t have a guest room, let alone enough room for yourself, think sofa beds. A multi-functional couch provides a fold out option for guests and works great in living room apartments, home offices, and finished basements. Or, go for couches that are perfectly comfortable as-is, especially those sporting a chaise sectional.

8. Pegboards

Pegboards open up some serious storage space when hung on a wall. A pegboard in the kitchen can neatly hang pots, colanders, pans, and tools, while one in the bedroom or a closet can be used to hang a jewelry collection. A pegboard in the garage provides an array of options, from hanging tools to sports equipment.

9. Kid’s Room

The obvious small space choice is a bunk bed in a kid’s room to make use of vertical space. However, even if you don’t have children sharing a room, a trundle bed, which slides out from below, is a great option for creating additional sleeping quarters when necessary. Loft beds are another great idea for kids or college students in small spaces, which not only provide a nifty sleeping area, but also open up precious real estate below.

10. Seating With Storage

The storage ottoman is one of the easiest fixes for adding more seating and storage. I used two affordable, faux-suede numbers on casters in the living room of my old apartment, which I could easily move around to provide extra guest seating while storing all kinds of odds-and-ends inside. Today they function as seats and toy storage in my house’s family room, still serving their dual purpose.

11. Kitchen Cabinet and Drawer Organizers

Get the most out of your kitchen using organizers that can double the amount of storage. Vertical dividers can help fit trays, flat pans, and pot lids, while small cabinet stands or even a simple tray can help stack mugs and cups to make the most of all the vertical space. As for drawers, using drawer dividers to create an organized and smart space for all items will help you utilize every last inch.

12. The Right Paint

Using certain paint colors and design elements can make a tiny area feel a lot bigger. From painting a vibrant focal wall to coating a ceiling in a lighter hue, check out HGTV’s painting tips for small spaces to find some great pointers on making your room seem larger.

13. Underbed Storage

From shoe organizers to garment storage boxes, there are all kinds of underbed storage containers that can make use of this large, hidden storage space. In my old apartment I used plastic underbed storage bins with wheels for easy access, which held everything from wrapping paper to extra pillows. My husband even stored his snowboard under the bed most of the year.

14. Clever Room Dividers

To help create separate areas within a small space without chopping up the flow or shutting out light, a sheer curtain divider is a great fix. Strategically placed furniture, as well as a collection of large, potted houseplants can also act as natural dividers.

15. Coffee Table Storage

Trunks or storage ottomans used as coffee tables allow you to store blankets or other belongings inside. Many traditional coffee tables also now come with shelves or drawers below, which are great for holding books, magazines, or other items.

17. Declutter and Organize

Of course cleaning up and organizing your belongings can help to make any space more functional. However, in small spaces, it’s essential. Invest in some cheap plastic storage containers and sort through items to store them more efficiently and get rid of unwanted things. (See also: 25 Things You Can Throw Out Today)

18. Shower and Tub Storage

If you don’t have a ledge or shelf in the shower, try a hanging shower caddy over the showerhead to hold everything from shampoo to razors. And for kids in the tub, there are many mesh bags that have suction cups, which stick to the tile to provide extra hanging toy storage.

18. Useful Armoires

An armoire can be a great piece of furniture to make up for lack of closet space. From storing clothes to housing an entertainment center, armoires can be extremely versatile. To cut down on bulk, try making an armoire into a multi-functional part of the room, such as pairing it with a chair for an armoire office workstation or using it in the living room as an open bar for entertaining.

19. Beautiful Boxes

One of the best ways to beautify clutter is to use decorative boxes. These look great in closets or in the corner of a room. You can buy cheap, attractive photo boxes at craft stores or cover a shoe box in pretty fabric to store small items, photos, or even office supplies. Stack them neatly, and they look like decor.

20. Beyond Books

Take advantage of great shelving and vertical storage by making your bookcases work harder than just holding books. In our old apartment, a bookshelf in the living room artfully stored and displayed our wine glasses, plates, framed photos, and baskets filled with baby toys. In the bedroom, bookshelves housed jewelry collections, office supplies, handbags, and cherished mementos.  

What are some other small space solutions that have worked for you?

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Guest

This is a great article for small space living! Even if your space it bigger all of these ideas would be smart to try. :)

Guest's picture
Jet

Even though it's geared toward people who own a home, I've found that the Not-So-Big House series by Sarah Susanka has some great ideas to encourage the small-living line of thinking.

Also, while Ikea is awesome for storage and organizational needs, be careful that you're not spending in excess of what you need! I'm very guilty of that because I go in and think "Oohhh! Neat - I need that to store this" when I already have a suitable storage solution for that item, and am just seduced by the new and pretty ideas Ikea has to offer.

ReadyMade, RealSimple, and other similar magazines can offer many inexpensive ideas for home de-cluttering. Save money and stop by your local library for back issues, or scour your local book resale shop for old copies of these magazines, usually at half price or less! Then share your copies with friends!

Having said all that, home organization can be fun and creative! Good luck!

Guest's picture

Speaking of small spaces, the Japanese are the winners of how to store things in small spaces (and to make spaces where there were none before). See the book below for some great photos and diagrams...I had no idea!

The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space by Azby Brown

As always, save some money by putting it on hold at your library or request thru your library's inter-library loan program if they don't carry it. Ask your local librarian for details (we are lucky that our local library has everything online, and it's just a matter of putting a book on hold and waiting for the email to say it came in).

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DivaJean

One thing we had to do was when our 2 year old came out of her crib to a big girl bed was to buy better furniture that suited the needs better. We had a bunk bed for our girls, and the plan had been for the 2 year old to move into the bottom bunk- but storage was still an issue.

We ultimately Freecycled the bunk bed and bought two single beds that are raised up to allow for dresser space underneath. Works so much better! We repurposed the dresser from their room for storage elsewhere and added more shelving storage for dolls, toys, etc.

Guest's picture

Great article, and I'm always interested in new ideas since we bought a 625 sq. ft. home in order to "simplify" life.

One thing we did in our renovations was completely eliminated all the kitchen cupboards. In such a small space, I felt traditional cupboards looked very "oppressive" and overwhelming. Plus, I'm not even 5 foot 2 so I can't reach into most of them anyway!

We store pots and pans (the few that we have) low where I can reach them, and we only have enough dishes for the two of us, so all that space would just encourage piles of junk to form.

We're still in the middle of the renos, so our design isn't totally worked out yet, but we're going to employ minimal, open shelving instead of upper cabinets so that it will encourage us to only keep what we can bear to look at every day! Part of small living is, as you say, reducing non-essentials -- not finding more places to hide them! :)

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Guest

Living small allows you to so much more with your money. Lots of cool stuff here.

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Guest

My husband and I lived in a converted garage, a 17' x 20' space with bathroom, kitchenette, living and sleeping area for 25 years, for financial reasons. Anyway, being organized is KEY. We have recently moved to a space 4 times larger, but my organizational skills have paid off here too. Examples, have only the pots and pans you will use, there is no need to have a 40 pc set, same with drinking glasses, I don't need to store 8 juice, 8 high-ball, 8 tumblers, 8 medium size glasses work for all situations. Your ideas are all wonderful and I am sure came with experience, trial and error and a lot of "um.....let me think a minute", moments.

Guest's picture

Great article! One thing that I've learned is that before organizing, it's so very important to pare down to the minimum and most valued of anything. Anyone can organize loads of stuff by buying organizing (aka more) stuff, but I've been most successful in smaller living by critically examining each item I own (keep/purge). Then I've thought about whether I needed anything that I didn't already have or could borrow to organize. (Borrowing is also a great way to check out any purchases before actually buying.) Keep up the great work!

Guest's picture

Great ideas in this article and in the comments.

Whenever I toss unwanted clothes out of the closet, it magically becomes larger!

Using a Kindle or other tablet reader saves a heck of a lot of bookshelf space!

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Guest

Shower caddies are not recommended. In fact nothing should be on the plumbing fixtures including wet wash cloths.