Design

13 Brilliant Tips for Decorating a Small Space

Marci and Dan Clark (and their cat Maude) live in a teeny tiny Manhattan apartment, where they’ve managed to maximize every square inch. Here are their 13 smart tips for decorating a small space…

1. Don’t be afraid of color and scale. Bright colors, bold patterns and large furniture can work surprisingly well in a small space. “Grand items make a space feel bigger,” explains Marci, “and bold wallpaper can either help define walls or make them disappear. Just go for it!” This wallpaper is from Anthropologie.

2. Use mirrors to make a space feel bigger and brighter. The larger the mirror, the better. “We found this mirror at an antique shop in upstate New York,” says Marci. “We wrapped it in cardboard, put it on the roof of our car and drove it home in the rain. By the time we got home, the cardboard had disintegrated, but the mirror was fine!”

3. Bookcases are a small-space savior. When it comes to artful storage, nothing is better than a bookcase—it’s both decor and storage. “They hold so much,” says Marci. The couple started with a base of Ikea bookshelves and built custom shelves on top.

4. Sneak in storage wherever you can. Pepper your bookshelves with pretty bins to store photos or trinkets. Marci’s favorites are these fabric-covered boxes.

5. Invest in beautiful supplies. In a small space, you see everything all the time, so it helps to have pretty everyday objects. Marci recommends See Jane Work, an online store with elegant office supplies.

6. Hide things that are not beautiful. You’ll inevitably have a few things you’d rather not look at all the time. For Marci, this was the TV. “I would have gotten rid of it, but we do love our shows,” she laughs. Dan installed a motorized slide behind the bookcase—the TV is normally stored behind the shelves, and when it’s time to watch a show, they press a button and the TV slides down.

7. Use rugs to create distinct areas. Break up a room into separate spaces—living, dining, office, kitchen—using differently colored rugs. This flower rug is from Anthropologie, where Marci worked in college: “The job taught me to be bold and eclectic when decorating,” she says.

8. Display practical items in a pretty way. In the kitchen, which has limited storage, Marci’s tools are perpetually on display. “I tend to gravitate towards really utilitarian kitchen supplies,” she says. “I especially love stainless steel—it’s pretty enough to leave out but will last forever.”

9. Hang art that inspires you. Family photos infuse a small space with warmth. To create this photo wall, “we made a grid with string,” Marci explains. “Once the grid was up, it was easy to mount the photos on the wall.”

10. Find a spot for your shoes. Shoes can clutter up a small entryway. As a solution, Marci and Dan store them in IKEA shoe cabinets that are only 6″ deep. To help the cabinet blend into the space, the couple painted it the same blue as the hallway walls and outfitted it with Anthropologie hardware.

11. Create light where there is none. Marci and Dan’s bedroom is on the basement level with no windows or natural light. “When we moved in, the room was really dark, so we put a bunch of lights in the room—on both sides of and over the bed,” says Marci. The couple also hung silvery wallpaper from Target behind the bed: “It has a beautiful sheen that helps reflect light into the rest of the room.”

12. Keep clothes and accessories on rotation. Store out-of-season items to maximize closet space. “Everything in our closets is stored in bins and labeled with stickers,” Marci explains. “Our summer clothes are in bins now, and our winter clothes are on hangers.”

13. Don’t be afraid to get rid of stuff. Selling or donating goods keeps a space from becoming too cluttered. “In a small space, you can’t be precious about your belongings,” says Marci. “If it’s not working, get rid of it.”

Thank you so much, Marci and Dan! Any tips you would add? xoxo

P.S. Another couple’s 15 tips for sharing a small apartment (and not driving each other crazy), and a family’s playful 500-square-foot apartment.

(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Interview by Caroline Donofrio)

  1. This is an awesome combination of colorful images along with fantastic tips to help people for generating ideas how to decorate their small space.

  2. Sarah says...

    Its really brilliant tips to decorate a small space.I think this tips may be helpful who has small space for living.Also anybody easily collect these items from local furniture stores .

  3. A perfect tips for a small space! Now, I can truly appreciate the work of art. Its amazing. I believe that if you really had that creative mind, you will end up to this very beautiful output.

  4. Thanks for sharing these tips! Making the most out of your vertical space is the ideal way of decorating your small apartment or condo or whatever. I’ve read a lot of times that mirrors really give that illusion that your small space would look bigger than expected, maybe I should try it out. My tip would be going for furnitures that have multiple purposes. These will really make the space they take up worth it. That’s why cabinets and book shelves are one of the greatest thing a small apartment owner can ever have.

  5. Please tell me where they purchased the absolutely beautiful carpet on the floor of their bedroom? Is it a Persian carpet or is it wall to wall? Please, please let me know!

  6. It is truly a matter of art that how to decorate small spaces and make them looks special as big spaces looks. It is a must need in small space decoration to keep an eye on every single thing in order to achieve perfect look otherwise things can go messing. I am grateful to you that you have all the things in your post which makes it a perfect guide for small space interior decoration.

  7. I love everything about this space. It doesn’t look small at all considering how small it actually is. I guess it just takes some know-how to get the most out of a space. I’d love to live there. http://www.adelaidedresscircle.com.au

  8. What frames did they use for the photo wall? It’s amazing!

  9. Those shelves are awesome. They are so big and can kkep at bay everything.

  10. A well organised place with interesting furniture and objects ! still, it is hard to keep tiny space tidy, I believe. In bigger cities housing becomes smaller and I find it hard to even store all my clothing sometimes… Lately I heard about a storage cloud system for the future:http://smart-magazine.com/space/physical-cloud-storage/
    i would be curious to try it – have you heard of it ?

  11. This apartment looks like an adventure itself!
    x

  12. really great list of tips. i think so many people are really scared to be bold in small spaces but being bold really works out better than most people think and actually opens up a small space, just like Marci and Dan mentioned.

    rae of love from berlin

  13. I can’t wait to move so I can finally make my space a home. I hate living to be practical takes the personal out of one’s living area.

  14. The tips are very much helpful and informative. Your room looks so cozy and adorable.

  15. Their apartment is decorated so well! I especially love the sliding TV! So cool! Love everything about their place from the bookcase to the work station.

    Anceeta.com

  16. I need more info about that photo wall!!!

    Are they framed?

  17. Some beautiful ideas here which they have executed really well, the rooms are still just a little too “full” for me though….and I love stuff!

  18. I love the mix of patterns on the bed!

  19. Oh it’s so beautiful! I think our apartment is still 1/4 the size of this one but they’ve done so much with that space. I love it!

  20. I agree they did an incredible job with the space, but I have to say it is just too busy for me. I feel claustrophobic just looking at the pictures (especially the first one of the main living room). Also – yes Marci looks like a healthy human version of Angelina Jolie!!!

  21. I am fainting over this apartment. So much inspiration! And such a stunning color palette!

  22. I really, really want instructions on that motorized sliding TV! Amazing.

    We also built a wall of bookcases out of Ikea hacks when we lived in a teeny NYC apartment. Theirs is prettier than ours was, but it’s so easy to do and gives you amazing storage flexibility. The Billy bookcases are amazing.

  23. It’s so fun to get a glimpse into people’s well decorated spaces. I went to high school with Marci, so it’s fun to see her on a blog I love!

  24. Joanna, what about that dining table? Could you ask Marci? Is it CB2? The top looks marble.

  25. I LOVE seeing small apartments put to such amazingly clever and perfect use! Bravo to them. The ficus tree is kind of perfect too. Love this post! <3 beautiful style.

  26. thanks for these comments and questions! a few answers from marci:

    Black velvet couch is from Organic Modernism.

    My shoes are Seychelles – from a few years ago.

    Our sofa is from ABC Carpet.

    The wingback chair is from Anthropologie, then reupholstered.

    Our bed is from Anthropologie, 8 years ago.

  27. I was wondering about the litter box as well. In our apartment we have a cabinet with a hole on the side so no one can tell it’s there. I bet they have something similar.

  28. LOVE This! Can you confirm which Ikea shoe cabinets they have? The ones at the top of the link (the Trones don’t seem right to me—thanks!

  29. Lovely decorating, but the motorized sliding TV… GENIUS!!!!!

  30. Where did she get those great shoes????

  31. What a nice apt., thanks for sharing. I always like to see how other people live. I guess it’s the voyeur in all of us, but also for deco tips. Have you thought of making this a series? Would be great!

  32. Everything about this space is perfect! Thanks for sharing!

  33. Hi! I like their tiny place! That mirror is incredible! Thank you Caroline for this post!

  34. The Ikea shoe cabinets are absolutely genius I’ve never seen those! I also love the incredibly high bookshelves. I always have trouble making use of the vertical space.
    In Dramatic Fashion

  35. Wow, I just love the photo wall, how creative and so personal. I love a home that tells a story. Lighting is so key to ‘any’ space. Lamps in addition to main lighting are a great way to bring life to a dark corner. I adore mirrors, they are beautiful features and perfect to add more light. Using multi functional furniture can help too, like ottomans that can double up as storage/tables/seating. Great post, thanks for sharing :O)

  36. What a beautiful apartment! I love the living room wallpaper and those gorgeous bookshelves. The photo grid is such a great use of space too!

  37. Looks amazing! But if it’s anything like London, I bet it’s a nightmare to dust!

  38. Married 46 years. For the last 21years my husband and I have very happily lived in a 756 sq.ft condo.
    Because we are limited in space we A.). Spend less money buying and accumulating unneeded “stuff”, and B.) consistently keep the apt. organized.
    We recommend living as small as you can, but be forewarned…it takes a strong relationship to live that close together and not wish to kill each other from time to time, lol!
    We’re living proof that it isn’t just ” love” that keeps you together, it also takes a whole lot of patience.
    Having said that, we wish we’d “lived small” years before we did. It’s the B.E.S.T.!

  39. If there are no windows/natural light sources in the bedroom, does that mean there’s no exit, other than the stairs? (Is that even legal?) I mean, I like the apartment and all… but what if there’s a fire?!?

  40. Oh my! Where is her dress from?

  41. Way too much going on for my taste. I would get a headache living there, but I am more of a minimalist.

  42. this apartment is hands-down the most stunning small space i’ve seen!

  43. What a lovely cozy space! I’d love to know the source for the green rug in the living area.

  44. That photo wall – wow! So inspiring and my favorite part hands down. I’ve always struggled with how to display family photos and the idea of just putting them up seems so obvious I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!

  45. I love this space! They did an amazing job and really made the most of it. And best of all, they have the same Anthro Euro shams that I have (which were discontinued a few years ago)…can’t believe that! I have never seen those anywhere else before, so funny to see them here.

  46. I am in love with their home! Do you have any more details on the wall of photos? I’m trying to figure out how they did it since I’d love to do something like this. Thanks in advance for any advice. ;-)

  47. I loved this home tour, not only for the amazing look, but because I could see that they had STUFF. Often when I look at home tours I wonder where they keep all their things… here it is just so well integrated!

  48. When I lived in a 500 sq foot apartment last year the rule I started for myself was throwing/donating an item for every item I brought into the apartment. Of course you can’t always do this, but it really helps cut down on the clutter!

  49. what a beautiful apartment. the time and love they put into creating such a special space really shows through. thanks for sharing!

  50. amazing! so pretty!

  51. Can someone come and do this to my place for me?? I LOVE this space and what they’ve done with it.

  52. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful space!!! Genius handling of all of those bookcases. And I think she looks like Angelina Jolie, too! Gorgeous.

    I always love your decor posts, Joanna!

  53. Thanks @junebug!

  54. I currently live in a two bedroom apartment that I moved into solely based on space. After a year and a half of living there, I’ve realized that my second bedroom only holds my books (and a ridiculous amount of seasonal decorations that I’ve come to resent due to their space hogging ways.) I’ve been thinking about downsizing to a smaller, nicer place in a more desirable neighborhood, and this is super inspiring!

  55. can we find out where her shoes are from!??!!?!?

  56. Are the photos on the photo wall grid in glass frames or just pinned up “naked” on the wall? I tried something similar once but all the photos quickly began to curl inwards. Humidity maybe?

  57. Her shoes though, gah!

    Also, very nice article.

  58. Wow — this is gorgeous!!!

  59. Awww! Maude is so adorable!!! And what awesome tips!

  60. beautiful. I assume they own the space? We would love to put up bookshelves in our 375-square-foot apartment but the owner won’t let us … if anyone has tips on sprucing up a tiny rental space that would be amazing!

  61. cool ideas, beautiful stuff, but too much of everything everywhere! I’d be overwhelmed!

  62. Now that is good space planning. I can’t wait to decorate my own apartment now! Joanna I love checking your blog everyday. It gives me joy and something to look forward to at my boring desk job. :)

  63. I love my 1,000 sq ft house so much that we are already planning to buy the same size when we move in 6 months!

  64. A strange question but… Where do they keep the litter box? We have a cat and have always lived in tiny places so the litter box issue is a great source of consternation!

  65. Posts like this make me think how much cooler my house could/would be if I hadn’t invested so much of my time and resources in my children. Some days I tell myself not to look at things like this until my kiddos are, like … 15 years old.

    And I yet I think I’ve decided to have more children (touching on your post from the other day). As much as I want everything to be chic and clean, I’ve decided I prefer the high of nurturing & loving on my children even more. I’m gonna go for that third kiddo.

  66. Hi! What a great post and great space! How did they paint their ikea cabinets? I’ve been dying to paint mine, but have no clue where to begin! Theirs look great!

  67. What a fun apartment! I think I’ll get those shoe cabinets for my entryway.

    ps: did anyone else think the cat was printed on Marci’s dress at first glance? hehe

  68. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this is way too busy. They have some lovely pieces and obviously good taste, but it’s just too much for me!

  69. I adore this post and this apartment! I love how Marci and Dan painted that IKEA shelving unit blue and am wondering: could someone share a bit about exactly HOW to paint IKEA furniture? From the very little I know, I know you have to sand/strip the furniture itself before painting it, but I don’t know how the “faux” IKEA wood does with this kind of treatment. Any help you could offer would be awesome!

  70. the Laugh Lady – I’m pretty sure the plant is a Fiddle Leaf Fig.

  71. Beautiful apartment! Any idea where the sofas and wingback chair are from?

  72. That is the most gorgeous apartment I’ve ever seen! The bed looks like it is an antique…but in the 0.1% chance that it is not, do you know where they bought it?

  73. What a cute space! I’d love to know where those super adorable heels are from in the first picture.

  74. tip #14: Don’t have kids.

  75. What a lovely space! Thank you for sharing! Can anyone identify that plant for me? I’ve seen it a lot in smaller spaces and I love the size and scale of it!

  76. Does anyone else think she looks like Angelina Jolie? Cute space!

  77. would love more info on how to do that string grid for that wall of photos! I’m really un-crafty but absolutely would love that, as framing gets expensive and I have so many photos…any more information greatly appreciated!

  78. Marci and Dan also happen to be two of the world’s best human beings. (with obviously flawless taste)

  79. perfect timing! I just moved into my very first just-mine apartment, which is a small studio. excited to put some of these tips to use! :) thank you, as always, for the great content, joanna & caroline! xo