How to Make a Small Space Look Bigger

A few years ago, I attended ‘The Japanese House Architectural and Life After 1945’ exhibition at the Barbican Centre, London.  A very interesting exhibition, identifying how the Japanese design small living spaces.  For people living in cities, this is the norm due to cost or personal preference. But also, new-build and larger properties, comprising three or four bedrooms can consist of small spaces.  With any design project it is sometimes easy to get carried away when sourcing materials and furniture for spaces.  As a result, this can create spaces, which can feel like an assault course just to manoeuvre through them due to the amount of objects.  Or the space may seem smaller due to the wall and floor coverings choices.  When designing a small space there are some helpful things you can consider.   For instance, what is the function of the space, (does it need to be multifunctional?); how many people will be using it; how much natural light is available; and importantly how is my design sustainable and animal friendly?  So how can you turn your small space into something, which looks bigger, inviting, and is sustainable and animal friendly?


Opinions may vary regarding which colours work best for small spaces but in general, pale and softer hues, (blues, greens, greys, pinks and even white) can make a space look bigger.  But this also depends upon what the space will be used for and the ambience you want to create.  It is recognised that whilst dark, bold colours can make a space look smaller they can be great if you want a cosy den to retreat to.  

Play around with the colour you have chosen by using different shades of the same colour for the skirting board, window frame and picture rail.  Another option would be to paint the walls and ceiling the same colour.  To add more intrigue, you could paint the ceiling a different colour to the walls.  Remember, light coloured walls and a dark ceiling will make the ceiling look lower and vice versa.  If you want to add more intrigue, how about including vertical or horizontal striped wall covering.  Vertically stripped wall paper or painted walls create the effect of making the walls look taller.  Horizontal stripes create the effect of wider looking walls. Why not use a wallpaper on the ceiling?  This can add character, depth and style to the design.

Make sure all the colours you select flow and work with the other colours in your home.  This will make it aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  Don’t forget to select paints which are low volatile organic compounds (VOC) and plant based.  Check out Edward Bulmer PaintsPure and Original Paints and Farrow and Ball Paints.  If you choose wallpaper, look out for paper, which is Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper and uses water-based inks.  How about including a mural or large bold print wallpaper?  This will make the space bespoke to you, whilst adding interest and style.   Look at Rebel Walls and Little Greene Paint Company.


If you are living in rented accommodation you may be restricted in what you can change.  But there are some simple tricks you can use.  If, the property has dark stained floors, use a light-coloured paint for the ceiling.  In general, if the space includes wooden floors select a light coloured lacquer for it’s finish.  For sustainability purposes and promoting your health and wellbeing, purchase lacquers, which are low VOC and do not contain lots of harmful chemicals.  This will help promote a healthy internal air quality and reduce off gassing.  Look at Auro, they offer solvent free and other sustainable flooring coverings.  The link provided is for the United Kingdom, but it is available globally.  If you want to add some fun, how about include a black and white striped rug.  The stripes will make the space look bigger.  When including rugs, use the rug to create zones, identifying where one space finishes and another one starts, if you have an open plan space.  


Once you have established what the space is to be used for, select furniture which suits its function.  One method of making sure the furniture you select fits, cut out the proposed sizes of the furniture you are interested in buying and place templates on the floor of the space.  Traditionally, it was recommended to select only small items of furniture.   However, ensuring good space planning, why not include a larger item of furniture?  This can make a space look bigger.  But note, the inclusion of too much furniture is not relaxing and may result in a stressful space.   Don’t just opt for putting all the furniture along the walls.   If you have selected a larger piece of furniture, position this away from the wall at a unique angle.  This will add depth whilst make the space look larger. 

In the kitchen include worktops which run from one end to the other, making the room seem longer.  In a tall kitchen cupboard why not include a pull-down table, which will create somewhere to work or eat. 

Include floor to ceiling storage shelves in the lounge or bedroom.  This will make the ceiling look higher.  Leave spaces on the shelving, for this will make the space look open and spacious.  Want to include a desk? Why not create this within the wall to ceiling shelving?  If you are renting a room, install a desk, which can fold up onto the wall, therefore freeing up space when not in use.  This could further be used as a dining room table.  In the dining room, buy a table which is extendable, creating seating for when friends or family come over

Include furniture which comprises glass, for instance tables.  This can the trick our eyes into thinking the space looks bigger.  To create a sustainable design why not include second hand furniture.  This will reduce the amount of off-gassing within the space.  Therefore, promoting the circular economy and protecting the environment.  When selecting sofas and armchairs, choose items which have long legs.  Therefore, allowing you to see underneath the furniture, creating a free-flowing space.  If you want to break the tradition of having a sofa and/or armchairs, why not include and bamboo cocoon swing, suspended from the ceiling, or a bean bag?


Utilise as much of the natural light entering the space as you can.  This will make it look bright and open. When lighting any space, include layered lighting.  This will help create the correct ambience for that space.  For instance, a ceiling light, concealed lighting within any shelving and wall lights.  And in the bathroom, concealed ceiling lights, recessed lower wall lights and a concealed light around or behind the bathroom mirror.

Soft Furnishings

When deciding how to dress the window spaces, keep the windows as a focal point for the space.  If including curtains, make sure they run from the ceiling to the floor.  This will assist in making the space look larger.  If curtains are not your choice, but privacy is key, include a roman blind.  For both curtains and blinds, use light-weight fabric.  Use fabric with a small pattern repeat or which comprises the same colour as that used for the walls.  Curtains and blinds will help to keep heat in, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the space.


Mirrors reflect light around a space making it look bigger.  Colour coordinate accessories by putting items of the same colour together, reds with reds and blues with blues etc.  This will create a room, which looks smooth-running.  Importantly, declutter anything, which you cannot reuse or recycle back into the design of the space.  However, do not just throw these items away, sell them or donate them to a charity or second-hand shop.  This will prevent materials ending up in the landfill.  For your television, hang this on the wall.  You might include it within the floor to ceiling shelving unit.

Include some unique pieces of art and position them at a point furthest to the door.  This will draw people’s eyes into the space, making it seem bigger, whilst making the room feel more exuberant.  There is a theory, which can be adopted when accessorising a small space, the cantaloupe theory.  This involves the inclusion of minimal accessories, but which are large in size.

Top Tips

Small spaces are fun to design.  Here are some top tips to help you:  

  • Ensure good space planning.
  • Use sustainable and animal friendly products. Promoting your health and wellbeing.
  • Reuse or recycle materials and furniture.
  • Make windows a feature. 
  • Combine spaces, open them out, open plan.
  • Have some fun, include bold printed wallpaper.
  • Don’t be scared to use dark colours if creating a cosy snug.
  • Include one large item of furniture.
  • Include some unique pieces of artwork.
  • Include layered lighting.  Utilise all natural light entering the space.
  • Declutter.
  • Include floor to ceiling curtains.
  • Include stow away furniture and/or floor to ceiling shelving.

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