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Small place, big vibes: small apartment ideas to maximize space

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Living happily in a small space is possible, but if you’re new to the idea of making a home out of 300 square feet (or less), the prospect can feel daunting. 

Not to worry, though. Many, many people these days call expensive housing markets home, and this means you have lots of good company when it comes to maximizing tiny living quarters for functionality and style. 

Creating a great quality of life in a small space means mastering a handful of tried-and-tested principles. These small apartment ideas can be broken down into a few categories: ones to help you fit more stuff into your tiny apartment, ones that help you need less stuff overall, and ones that make your tiny apartment, with all your stuff in it, feel more spacious and comfortable. 

Taken together and put into practice, these rules may just help you see your bite-size apartment the way candy makers market their mini offerings at Halloween: fun size! (Or at the very least, totally livable, we promise.)

First, need less stuff

The first rule of small apartment living is to minimize your belongings to what you actually need, use, and take pleasure from. If you’re moving from a larger space, pare down as much as you can when it comes to smaller items like clothing, kitchen wares, and knick-knacks. 

The next step is to accept that furniture needs are different in tiny living spaces. You’ll want fewer but more versatile furniture pieces: think upholstered storage cubes that do triple duty as footrests and guest seating; open shelving units that serve as space dividers; a large couch that a guest can sleep on or, ideally, that folds out into a bed for two. A big trunk can store bedding and clothing for the next season and serve as a coffee table. A dining table can also be a work desk if you have storage nearby for office items. 

A few well-chosen, larger furniture pieces are often a better choice for both function and style than cramming many small pieces of furniture into a small space.

Another good way to need less stuff is to share ownership and storage of larger items that you don’t use every day with neighbors or friends. Examples can range from vacuum cleaners to large cooking pots to bicycles. 

small apartment ideas

Next, maximize storage

There are many ways to create more storage in a small apartment. Let’s start with your bed, a major floor-space hog. A strategic approach to sleep space is therefore essential in a small apartment. Consider a folding Murphy bed or an elevated loft bed with room underneath for a desk or armchair and side table. At a minimum, look for a bed with built-in storage beneath or room for bins. 

Use the space at the foot of your bed. This can be a good place for a bookshelf, desk or if your bedroom and living room are one and the same, a loveseat or sofa. 

Another fundamental principle of small-space storage is to think vertically. If you’re going to take up precious floor space with a bookshelf, invest in one that goes to the ceiling, or close to it (if there is a little space at the top, this is a great place for decorative knick-knacks and plants). Consider installing cabinets at the top of the walls. This space often goes unused otherwise. A folding step stool will make your vertical storage easily accessible. 

Mount everything you can to the walls: bedside lighting, a small worktop, shelving, hooks. Rails with movable hooks are great for small tools and coffee mugs (consider placing under kitchen cabinets to keep close at hand while freeing up counter space). 

An addendum to the “mount-everything-to-the-walls” rule is to consider the ceiling, too: overhead racks with hooks are crucial for storing big pots and pans in the kitchen, and ceiling hooks can be a good place for bicycles if your ceiling is high enough. 

Another easily overlooked storage location is the backs of doors, whether to rooms, closets or cabinets. Hooks, towel bars, shoe storage and bins inside kitchen cabinet doors are all good places for storage since they put otherwise unused space to work and are often easily accessible. 

Think seasonally and store what you don’t need right now in harder-to-access locations, like a basement, a bin in the back of a closet, or a high-up cabinet or shelf. Rotate clothing and other items to more accessible locations when you’ll actually need to use these items regularly. 

Finally, use visual design hacks

The way you experience space isn’t solely determined by actual square footage. Here, a good design strategy can do wonders. In this area as well as with storage, thinking vertically can be helpful. Placing curtain rods near the ceiling rather than immediately above a window can draw the eye upward and emphasize vertical space rather than limited horizontal space. Plants with trailing vines can be placed high up to let their tendrils trail down. Large art pieces can be hung near the ceiling to create vertical interest.

Another solid design trick for small interiors is to color-match large furniture items to the walls to make them blend in and seem less bulky. 

If you use the same room for many different activities, such as eating, sleeping, and entertaining, divide spaces up visually using curtains, folding divider walls, shelving units, and area rugs. This will create the feeling of distinct areas for different purposes.

Maximize light in all corners of the apartment. If you use curtains to divide a space, opt for sheer ones that let light through. Open shelving units that rise to waist or shoulder height are the best choice for room dividers that double as storage spaces. Transparent acrylic furniture like chairs and tables look airy and chic and don’t block the flow of light throughout a space. 

Seek out furniture with open legs and minimalist supports, rather than bulky bottoms. When the large plane of the floor is continuously visible, this creates a feeling of spaciousness. 

Use mirrors liberally to give the illusion of a larger space. Place them strategically to maximize the impact of natural light. 

small space ideas

The Bottom Line

Look around you as you visit other people’s homes and even businesses – it’s likely once you know these guidelines, you’ll see them put to use everywhere around you. Take inspiration from elegant design examples and ask about the origin of genius storage solutions so you can purchase them yourself.

The good news is that once you’ve gotten used to living in a small apartment and learned how to do it well, it becomes second nature, a skill you can experiment with and build on overtime. Soon you’ll find that a small living space can feel just as cozy, stylish, and functional as a much larger one – sometimes even more so. In other words, there’s no reason you can’t live large in a tiny apartment. What’s big-city living about, if not that? 

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