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9 Small-Space Decorating Sins

So you're spatially challenged: One or more of the rooms in your home are, well, a bit undersized. Okay, they're glorified closets. And your decorating decisions haven't helped matters much. We've asked four of our favorite design experts to bust common small-space decorating myths and share secrets that will help you supersize even the tiniest living space.

Small-Space Sin #1: Thinking "Cramped" Instead of "Cozy"

Decoration Salvation: "Small spaces get such a bum rap," laments Trading Spaces designer Laurie Smith. "I would much rather do a home that has well-thought-out small spaces than big, palatial ones." The multitalented designer and author of Discovering Home continues, "You can get a lot more mileage out of your dollar and pay attention to the accessorizing and dressing of a small space." But while a diminutive room has the potential to be a "jewel box" in your home, Smith says you really have to be detailed when decorating it, because everything becomes a focal point: "The eye travels quickly around a small room, so you want everything to have meaning and impact or at least be tailored and make sense in the space."

More Small-Space Decorating Sins Corrected:

  • Furniture Size and Paint Colors
  • Decorating with Accessories and Multipurpose Furnishings
  • Playing with Patterns and Mirrors
  • Lighting and Wall Treatments
Small-Space Sin #2: Small Room = Small Furniture

Decoration Salvation: Oprah fave Nate Berkus, who's just launched a home decor line at Linens 'n Things and authored his first book on design, Home Rules, advises selecting one high-impact piece as a focal point in a small room. "Look for one large-scale piece, such as a round table in a corner or a large canvas or mirror, to trick the eye and make the space feel larger," he suggests.

"The key is not the type of furniture, but its scale, adds Target's newest home design partner, Thomas O'Brien. You can make a compact room feel much bigger by choosing fewer large, bold pieces instead of several smaller ones. You just want to keep the main furnishings in proportion to each other." Take care to avoid loud and boldly patterned or overstuffed furniture with thick arms, reminds Berkus. Slim and streamlined pieces, such as armless Parson chairs, are beautiful space savers.

And look for ways to add multifunctionality to the space, says Laurie Smith. Ask yourself: What can I add to the room to make it more inviting? "I took a beautiful little writing desk and incorporated it into my living room," Smith says. "Now I go in there to do correspondence or pay the bills. It's another place to land besides the kitchen table."

Small-Space Sin #3: Being Afraid of the Dark

Decoration Salvation: Star of HGTV's popular Divine Design, Candice Olson wants to bust the myth that dark colors make a room look small. "That's really not the case," she asserts. "I love to use darker colors in small spaces. It's not the color that makes a room look small ‑- it's the contrast."

The busy Canadian designer and author of Candice Olson on Design explains: "There's a lot of contrast between the horizontal plane of the floor, the vertical color that might be on the walls and the more-than-likely white that's painted on the ceiling. So if you do opt for a dark color, it's the way the eye jumps from one plane to another that causes the room to look small." If you want to go dark or more dramatic, keep the contrast low, Olson advises: "Take the wall color onto the ceiling or use a shade that's two or three shades lighter than the walls on the ceiling so it keeps the contrast levels down."

"My favorite small spaces are deep, rich jewel tones with lots of depth," says Smith. She adds that when choosing a dark hue for the walls, such as a chocolate brown, keep the woodwork, cabinetry and/or trim a contrasting neutral color like cream. The dark color on the walls becomes negative space for the detail and furniture up against it.


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