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Sixteen ways to maximise a studio apartment

Decorating a spatially challenged apartment can be tough. And I say that from experience: the cosy place I currently call home is a studio apartment just 36 sq m in size. And, let me tell you, furnishing and styling my compact space has been a daunting task. In fact, I still haven’t finished decorating the studio and I’ve lived here for almost nine months.

So, why has it taken me so long? Well, it’s mainly due to a lack of research on my part and not reading up on design tricks the pros use to transform diminutive dwellings like mine into stylish, inviting and liveable spaces that look much larger than they really are. Honestly, if I had known then what I know now, my apartment would’ve been fully furnished months ago!

If you’re an apartment dweller who, like me, is struggling to decorate their small space, try these simple space-enhancing tricks at home and watch as your compact apartment becomes an abode that’s big on style and functionality, and doesn’t look so small in size after all…


Show off your legs

Your furniture legs, that is. Decking out your space with furniture with exposed legs will make your home feel open and airy, unlike pieces that sit low on the ground and make compact areas look bottom heavy and cluttered. Notice how a wide array of leggy furniture (from an elevated bed frame to a dresser with tall, slender legs) is used throughout this open-plan bedroom and living zone to create the illusion of spaciousness.

Discover thousands of living room ideas on Houzz.

Contemporary Family Room

Invest in multitasking furniture

When space is at a premium, incorporating furniture that serves multiple purposes into your interior is a must. One of hardest working furniture pieces around is the multitasking ottoman, which can be used as a coffee table, extra seating or a footrest. Likewise, a stool can also be used as a side table in your living zone or as a bedside table.

Little apartment in Kyiv. 38 m2

Choose lean, tailored furniture

Bulky furniture can make a compact space look cluttered and cramped, so opt for pieces with a slim silhouette instead. Notice how the lean metal dining chairs, side table and built-in bench used in this narrow kitchen and dining zone visually occupy little space and keep the sight lines of the room free, which helps make the area feel airy and open.

Carnegie Hill Residence Breakfast Area

Play with scale

It’s time to banish the notion that you can only decorate compact apartments with small-scale furniture. After all, decorating a small space with multiple pieces of petite furniture and decorative features can make an already small room appear cluttered and closed in.

The trick to pulling off a mixed-scale scheme is to splurge on one large statement item and complete the look with smaller pieces that offer balance and visual contrast. This cosy dining area shows how to play with pieces in varying proportions to great effect.

Austin SkyHouse Loft

Create zones in open spaces

If you live in a studio apartment or have an open-plan living space, resist the temptation to line all of your furniture around your walls so the middle of your room remains free. Although you may think it may make your space appear roomier, it will actually create cluttered walls and an area that lacks visual appeal and practicality.

A better solution is to divide your space into different zones, as this will transform any compact room into one that’s inviting, has a practical floor plan and offers clearly defined areas for living, dining and/or sleeping. Permanent, solid structures, such as room dividers, can disturb the airy, open feel of a space, so try using visual tricks including defining different zones with rugs, clever furniture placement or portable decorative screens.

Modern Vibe

Work space-enhancing magic with mirrors

An easy way to make your compact apartment appear bigger and brighter is by strategically placing mirrors around your space. Try hanging or leaning a large mirror on the wall opposite a window – this will maximise natural light and completely open up the room. Placing mirrors on facing walls will have a similar effect. Mirrored or high-shine chrome furniture are also clever (and chic) additions to small flats as they, too, bounce light around a room, create the illusion of space and offer functionality without adding visual clutter as they blend seamlessly with the surrounding space.

Check out a huge range of mirrors here.

A colourful London home

…or balance moody hues with lighter tones

Are you a decorating rule breaker who wants to dress your small apartment in moody hues? The trick to pulling off this look successfully and ensuring your space looks chic and cocoon-like, but not claustrophobic, is to paint your walls a dark, dramatic colour and lighten the look by keeping your ceiling crisp white. Then use lighter tones for your furniture and décor. While your interior will have a cosy vibe, the bright white ceiling will give the illusion of height and ensure the space feels light and airy overhead and not too closed in. This dramatic look may be too overwhelming if used throughout a whole apartment, so I’d suggest sticking to one room.

Browse more rooms that use dark tones

Rough Luxe Residence - Ottawa - Astro Design Centre

Master the art of distraction

Want to draw attention away from the poky size of your space? Add a statement design feature that dazzles and becomes the focus of the room, rather than its dimensions. The bright, playful Penguin Library wallpaper does the job nicely in this petite cloakroom.

Park Avenue Modern

Try a fresh, airy palette…

Sure, a crisp white palette can make a spatially challenged apartment feel airy and open, but all-white schemes can sometimes feel cold and lifeless. Rather than dressing your space in this classic tone from ceiling to floor, introduce muted shades, such as soft pastels or light neutrals, that achieve the same space-maximising effect but offer character and visual interest, as well. This compact culinary zone features a calming colour combination of fresh mint and white that makes the room feel more spacious and infuses it with personality.

Interior design

Opt for large-format tiles

If your bathroom’s footprint is on the smaller side, one way to visually expand the room is to incorporate shiny, large-format tiles into its design. This small bathing zone shows how it’s done – large shiny chocolate brown tiles make the floor appear larger, while the wide rectangular wall tiles in an arresting mirror-like red hue add depth and create the illusion of a wider space.

Grimsby Home

Just add stripes

Introducing a bold striped pattern to your interior will not only add visual interest to your home, but make it appear larger, too. While horizontal stripes make narrow spaces look wider, vertical lines give the illusion of height and can make any room seem taller. Here, alternating strips of wallpaper and mirrored wall panels work wonders in this compact living zone – notice how the thick, reflective stripes bounce light around the room and amplify the space-enhancing effect of the stripy pattern.

Bellarine Beach House

Opt for open storage

Closed-in cupboards and built-in cabinetry can make a small space feel heavy, so use open storage – such as open bookcases, floating shelves and glass-fronted cabinets – throughout your apartment. To take this room-expanding look to the next level, choose airy storage solutions that extend from wall to wall or floor to ceiling, as they maximise space, create the illusion of width and height, provide space-savvy storage and make a striking focal point, too.

Palmerston Residence

Go for eye-popping patterns

Don’t be afraid to introduce large, bold patterns into your home – while they can make rooms feel more intimate, they can also be used to add depth to a space and make it appear larger. This narrow apartment entry provides the perfect example. Notice how the strong directional lines of the chevron pattern appear to elongate the space, while the use of the striking motif on the floor and ceiling as well as the wall helps visually expand the compact thoroughfare.

See more great ideas for decorating with geometrics

Small Apartments, Big Style

Embrace transparency

Furniture made from sheer, transparent materials, such as glass or clear acrylic, are an ideal addition to any compact apartment, as they offer functionality without adding visual clutter, plus they exude chic appeal.

Todd Davis Architecture

Experiment with symmetry

A mirror-image scheme can instantly make a compact room appear larger and more organised. Symmetrical arrangements also exude visual harmony and a calming, sophisticated vibe. Take note of how the balanced appearance of this bedroom makes the space look and feel more open, airy and expansive.

Lifestyle: Living Rooms

Set your sights high

A simple trick that will make your small apartment feel taller and impossibly airy is to introduce elements that draw the eye upwards to the ceiling and amplify the height of any tight space. Here, a tall floor lamp and a cluster of framed art and decorative accents that sit high on the wall elevate the look of this cosy living zone and make it feel more open and spacious. Curtains that drop from the ceiling to the floor, towering storage units, striking pendant lights and tall headboards that seem to climb up your bedroom wall also achieve a similar space-enhancing effect.

Natasha Saroca, Houzz Contributor

About our expert View all posts by this expert

Houzz Experts

Houzz is the leading platform for home renovation and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world.

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