Whether you live in an apartment, just bought your first home or have been a long-time home owner, you can probably agree: Some of us live in some pretty small spaces.
The average size of a home in New Jersey is about 1,760 square feet, and every square foot is costing more and more, with home prices up by 9.5% in September from the previous year, according to RedFin.
In terms of rentals, the average size of new rentals in 2022 was 887 square feet, the largest year-over-year decrease, down 30 square feet from the previous year, according to a study from RentCafe. The share of smaller rental units reached a historic high of 57% in 2022, with more studios and one-bedroom apartments being finished in 2022 than ever before.
It’s fair to admit that we just don’t get as much property for our money anymore. But, there are still ways to make your small space look and feel bigger.
Whether you’re a renter and are limited on the changes you can make to your living space, or you simply don’t have enough of a budget to actually make your home bigger physically, there’s ways around it.
Here are four ways designers say you can upgrade your space, on a budget:
Light paint colors and funky wallpaper
Painting is a simple and cost-friendly way to make your small space feel bigger.
“I love using light colors and pastel tones to compliment a small space,” said Michal Rubin, principal designer of MR Interiors in Livingston. “Mint greens, light grays, light yellow — these are great color options to give the appearance of a larger space.”
Amanda Scotto, CEO and principal designer of AMA Designs and Interiors in Little Falls, suggests accenting a focal wall, which can make the wall recede and give the illusion of more depth in the room.
Another way to experiment with paint in a space is through the use of paint finish, Scotto said. Rather than painting a ceiling with an ultra-flat finish, try using a lacquered finish.
“A glossy ceiling reflects all the natural light and artificial light in the room, giving the illusion of a larger space,” she said. “Lacquered ceilings do require a professional, as high-gloss tends to show all the imperfections, so the prep work required to accomplish this need to be perfect.”
Wallpaper is another way to expand your space. Rubin said that busy patterns are better for small spaces, such as ditsy prints and allover florals, and give the illusion of a larger space. If you’re a renter, they even make peel and stick wallpaper that can be removed when you leave.
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Don’t overdo the furniture
When it comes to furniture, the size and bulk of an item is more important than the style or material. Rubin said it’s not only important to avoid using bulky items in a small space, but to also not overcrowd a room with too many pieces.
“I’d probably opt for a sofa over a sectional, to avoid any one piece dominating the only space you’re working with,” she said. “I’d also avoid clutter — for example, if you’re working with a small-scale living room, you don’t need to throw in a sofa, two chairs, a coffee table, a side table, area rug, etc., because that’s what you’ve seen in other living rooms. Rather, I’d be conscious of the space and edit two or three items out.”
Also, be conscious of how you arrange your furniture. Scotto said it’s best to walk into a room with the largest piece of furniture as the focal point of the room, such as the bed in the bedroom or the sofa in the living room.
She also said it’s important to face the furniture to the entryways of the room. Walking in on the front of the sofa opens the living room’s floor plan, while seeing the back of the sofa closes off the room and creates an obstacle walking around to the rest.
Rubin says to bring furniture a few inches off the wall, rather than positioning it directly against the wall. While it seems counterintuitive, she said, it ends up giving the illusion of a larger space.
You can also incorporate the use of flush or semi-flush mount fixtures because they expand the room’s flooring and helps draw the eye up.
“If you’re doing a bathroom, for example, my thought would be to have a wall-hung vanity or something not touching the floor,” said Julia Kleyman, a kitchen and bathroom designer for Ulrich Inc. in Ridgewood. “OR, you could have an open console holding the sink, giving the illusion of a larger space because your eyesight will not be blocked by big volume items.”
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Soft lighting and pretty fixtures
Making a space feel brighter will also help open up the space. Kleyman said she likes to use hidden light sources, situated under kitchen cabinets or below vanities, to bring in a soft glow that reflects off of surfaces.
“You can also have a nice chandelier or nice sconces,” she said. “These always look nicer than just a harsh light source.”
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Lots of mirrors and grouping accessories
“Here’s where small spaced rooms get their character! When it comes to accessorizing, more is more,” Rubin said. “An art gallery on the wall over the sofa, a tall potted tree in a corner and mirrors.”
Both Rubin and Scott said mirrors are the best pieces of decor for a small space because they help bounce light around the room, reflect more space and create additional dimension.
When it comes to other pieces of decor, Scotto recommends grouping accessories to make them feel more cohesive in a small space.
“While less is more in most cases, there should be a little personality to every surface and shelf sprinkled throughout the room. Accessorizing in groupings of 3 or odd numbers work best, so at minimum a grouping of 3,” she said. “When it comes to bookcases, this is where it gets tricky because often people overload the shelves. To streamline bookshelves and give your eye rest, I recommend grouping books by color or height to give order.”