The right furniture can make small spaces seem large

Marco Buscaglia

When Michelle Purta bought a condo in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, she had big plans for her small space. “I had this vision of a perfect set-up, a real cottage setting in the middle of the city,” says the 32-year-old paralegal. But it didn’t turn out that way once she moved her existing furniture into her new place.

“Nothing fit,” Purta says. “I felt like I was back in college. All I needed were some milk crates and a couch I found on the street.” Instead of resorting to her undergrad ways, Purta decided to seek some advice.

“A lot of my friends on Facebook live in New York City, so I asked them to send me pictures of their apartments,” she says. “I wanted to see what they did with their space.” Purta says she was pleasantly surprised and slightly dismayed by the images she received.

“Let’s just say people are way more creative than I am,” she says. “But after sorting through about 25 pictures, I figured some things out.” Things like color, furniture style, accent decorations and storage.

“I was still using a huge entertainment center for my TV when a table or small stand would have sufficed,” she says. “I decided to ditch everything and slowly start again with size-appropriate furniture.”

Stacey Leather Modular Living Room


Furniture to make a small room seem bigger

Mi-Ling Stone Poole, author of “Ask Mi-Ling! When You Want The Truth About Decorating," suggests several ways to make a small space appear larger:

    • Stay away from trendy items and stick with three basic colors that blend well together.
    • To create a conversation area, bring your furniture closer together. You shouldn't have to shout across a room to speak with your guests or loved ones. A whisper should be sufficient.
    • Select basic curtains from a discount store and embellish them with beads or fringe. Use a hot glue gun and you'll be done in a flash.
    • Fill in your design with live or artificial plants. You can find them on sale at most discount chains.
Cafe Latte Dining Room Furniture


Tips on furniture for small spaces

Better Homes & Garden’s Small Space Decorating offers up additional tips on decorating a small space:

  • Don’t cover up your entire floor with rugs. Instead, show more floor when possible by using hanging lamps, tables with glass tops and furniture without skirting. When possible, keep storage items like baskets off the floor.
  • To add storage to a bedroom, build an alcove above the bed and add shelving on the sides.
  • Don’t use more than three colors in any room. Keep the ratio at 70-20-10. Your walls, ceiling and main piece of furniture should be one color while your secondary furniture items can be a second color. Save the 10 percent for pillows and small accessories.
  • A large piece of furniture is acceptable, but it should be placed against the wall that’s farthest from the door. But be sure that a couch, for example, sits on a complete wall, rather than blocking open space.
  • Some small-space dwellers use fabric to separate rooms into two. Hang a small wire across a room and hang fabric. Don’t be concerned with dividing the space equally. The room can be split into a one-third and two-thirds ratio, or any other ratio that serves your purpose. You can also use wallpaper to signify the start of a new room.

As for Purta’s space, she says she’s “almost there” but has a few more tweaks to make. All in all, though, she feels like she made serious progress in the area of home décor.

“My sister-in-law came over the other day and was raving about how much I’d done with the space,” Purta says. “She had no idea how happy that made me. I was feeling like a rock star the rest of the night.”