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9 Small-Space Decorating Sins

Small-Space Sin #4: Putting It All Out There

Decoration Salvation: Personalizing your space with collectibles and accessories gives a room character, acknowledges NYC-based O'Brien. His advice for avoiding a cluttered look? "Try to rotate objects so you only have a few special things on view at any one time - the rest can go into closed cupboards or other storage so that they don't crowd the room," he says. "This will help a small space look composed and neat without becoming plain or impersonal."

Laurie Smith is a fan of concealed cabinetry, even for her own home. "Most of the rooms in my house are very modest sized," she says. "So I really had to figure out how to conceal and arrange things so they appeared organized, streamlined, clean and not cluttered." The solution: shelving and cabinetry with doors or panels. On a Trading Spaces budget? Try Ikea, says Smith. With many options in price and size, you're likely to find just what you need. Personalize pre-fab pieces by staining or painting them. Or upholster the front of cabinet doors with padding, beautiful fabric and nail-head trim. (For nail-head and other decorative trim, check out M&J Trimming).

Small-Space Sin #5: A Table Is Just a Table

Decoration Salvation: According to Nate Berkus, "A coffee table can be used for dining or for a cocktail party if you have a few beautiful chairs that can be moved into the space. A wall of shelving can store decorative objects as well as office supplies. Also, extra bedding can be tucked away in covered boxes."

"I don't think I've ever used an actual desk as a desk," muses Thomas O'Brien. "I like to use larger tables with enough room to display favorite objects - things to inspire - in combination with the paperwork and stacks. And I love trays for keeping work things organized. They do amazing double duty as decoration and organization, and they help cut down on visual clutter."

Laurie Smith agrees with the concept of multipurpose furniture, adding, "Never underestimate an ottoman or small stools."

Small-Space Sin #6: Going Crazy with Contrast

Decoration Salvation: "If you have a bold pattern - maybe a large-scale floral print for draperies or a really graphic geometric rug - use softer, tone-on-tone colors," says O'Brien. "With smaller or more delicate patterns, you can choose a lot richer color. Pick one pattern or fabric to focus on and let the things around it be a little simpler." Pay attention to a balance of textures, continues O'Brien. "You can mix a lot more textures together than you can patterns, if they're in the same color family."

Says Candice Olson, "A small space isn't a place to have high-contrast, jarring color and patterns. Go for color, but keep it all in the same tone." If you choose orange, for example, look to enhance it with colors in complementary, not contrasting, hues. Opt for chocolate brown, deep red or fuchsia to pair with orange, as opposed to stark black and white. Keeping contrast levels down, says Olson, creates a cozy atmosphere.

And when it comes to furniture, mixing it up also adds interest to a compact room, says Chicago-based Berkus. "Make sure everything is not the same shape," he advises. For example, pair a linear sofa with a rounded table.

Small-Space Sin #7: Mirror, Mirror - Only on the Wall

Decoration Salvation: Candice Olson loves the idea of mirrors everywhere in a small space, even on the ceiling when reasonable. "Dining rooms are all about atmosphere," she points out as an example. In a small, 10-by-10-foot dining space, she chose to add a mirrored ceiling to reflect the candlelight, china and crystal that often accompany a meal in the room. "It creates incredible depth," she enthuses. "You walk in and it seems like it goes on forever."

Olson also likes to use mirrors in other unexpected places. "I'll do sconces mounted to mirrors to create the illusion that there's a wall and lighting on the other side," she says. "If there's a window in the space, I'll take a floor mirror and position it in the corner so it reflects the window and gives the illusion that there's more light or another window. Mirrors are designers' best friends," she laugh


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