from shoebox to showcase - Making a small room look big

Making a small room look big – Shoebox to showcase…

Making a small room look big – or at least bigger is a major issuel when you are in a small space. Many people give in to “shoebox syndrome”.  They reconcile themselves to the fact that they live in a shoebox and compensate by spending as little time in their own home as they can. Given what housing costs have become, that’s just insane. If you spend an arm and leg on your living space,  you’ve earned the right to be able to enjoy it.

Our sense of space is quite elastic…

The reason we are able to make a small room look big is due to the fact that people have a fairly elastic perception of space. This was something I noticed right after getting my real estate license. Back in the dark ages of 2006, agents still toured houses in weekly caravans. Caravans forced me to walk through a large number of homes in a very short period of time.  This taught me that how a perceived size (or spaciousness) was could vary depending on the home. Color, layout, decor, and storage all played a role. All 700sf condos were not created equal. Some seemed spacious and open, while others had you feeling like you were in a sardine. can.  

So below are a few general tricks on making a small room look bigger.

A whiter shade of pale…

A whiter shade of pale - the many variations of white...
And you thought white was just white!

Color can make or break a small space. Although I am a big lover of color, in a small home white rules – at least when it comes to the walls and ceilings. It brightens and opens up space, while rich color makes everything seem darker and closed in.  You can go with a very light color as well, but in that case, you should stick with neutrals or very pale pastels. Just remember that the color is always more intense once it is put on all four walls.

If you think white is boring or a lazy choice, the palate dots in the photo above will set you straight. Those colors are all variations on white paint! Pick a warmer tone for a more cozy space or a cooler tone for an airy feel. Even slight differences in shades can change the whole feel of a room. There is an amazing array of white to choose from.

Another color tip is to paint the moldings and ceiling in a different shade of the same color. This creates both interest and continuity.

For punches of real color, consider smaller items such as throw pillows and artwork that add interest, color, and maybe a bit of whimsy. If the space allows it, you can include an accent color on one wall.  This adds character and interest to a quiet palette. Neutral never needs to be boring.

Over time I have developed a Pinterest page of palettes for the home. I add to it frequently, so feel free to stop by for some the inspiration and ideas.


Window treatment magic…

Sheer, neutral window treatments let in light and make small rooms seem larger...Window treatments can make or break a small room. Decorators have the following advice:

  • Keep the color of your window treatments similar to the color on the walls. A contrasting colors causes your eye to stop. This makes the room seem smaller.
  • If you use drapes, make sure they are not heavy. Sheers are probably the best option for tight spaces. They aren’t heavy which can lead to a closed-in feeling and they let the natural light shine through, brightening the room.
  • Consider putting the valance near the ceiling instead of just over the top of the window. This draws the eye up and makes the ceilings seem higher.
  • Blinds are also a great alternative. For a bit more warmth, consider textured blinds or maybe fabric-based roller or Roman blinds.  They are available in an amazing number of textures and colors. The benefit here is that you can roll them up and let in all the sunlight from outside.

Storage, storage, storage!!!

When space is at a premium, organized storage is a must.

  • Consider closet organizers or even California closet systems to increase efficiency. Also, organized storage makes it easier to keep things tidy.
  • Look for furnishings such as ottomans and chests that can serve double duty as independent storage space.
  • Make use of vertical space by having shelving that goes from floor to ceiling. Not only does this add more storage space, but it draws the eye up.

Repurpose awkward nooks and crannies and make them work for you…

A laundry nook is a great use for unused or awkward space...Don’t let any square footage go to waste! If you have some awkward closet areas, make them work for you. Laundry nooks can go into awkward corners of a kitchen or bathroom. Storage shelves can go into under staircase spaces. Home office desk space is also a popular use for under stair space.  Awkward corners by your front door can have coat racks or hooks for things like umbrellas. I once saw an ingenious use of chalkboard paint in an awkward corner near a front door. The family used it for making grocery lists and leaving messages for each other.

The point here is to use your imagination and think out of the box. One of my more popular Pinterest boards is all about Nooks & Crannies and how to make use of them.

Furnishings – smaller isn’t always better…

Keeping furnishings in proportion is important. If you have 500sf of space and you buy a sectional that takes up the whole room, that just isn’t practical. But most designers will say that some large statement pieces are not a bad thing, as long as they aren’t totally over-the-top.

For example, I had a listing once where there was a large sectional and a massive easy chair in one moderately sized living room. The sectional worked with the room’s layout, but not with the easy chair. We took out the chair and the space opened up immediately. The lesson here is that a big piece is fine, but too much is too much. Any major large piece has to really work with your lifestyle and multiple large pieces probably aren’t going to work that well.

  • Other tips for furnishings in tight spaces include:
    Make good use of folding chairs and nested tables for entertaining: If you can fold it up and tuck it away when it’s not being used, so much the better. A dining table that can collapse into a smaller size is a real space-saver as well.
  • Buying large pieces like sofas that are on raised legs create a sense of light and are less heavy looking.
  • Looking for furnishings that can serve double-duty. For example, an ottoman can be used for seating or as a coffee table. Sometimes they can even be used for storage as well.

Well, that’s just a very basic overview. As you can see, making a small room look big requires a bit of thought and imagination. But if you think through what your needs are, discard the extra clutter and do some out-of-the-box hacks, you can turn your shoebox into a showcase.

Additional Reading:

Tips to help live a minimalist lifestyle…
Tricks to making a small room look big…
Clever DIY room divider ideas…

© 2018 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.



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