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6 tips to make the most of small spaces

Here's why you should remember to use the "fifth wall" while decorating.
Yes, wheels are an important factor!
Yes, wheels are an important factor!TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Small spaces and tiny living have plenty of upsides, but after spending so much time at home, the challenges of life, school and work in smaller homes have become all too apparent.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a ton of money to transform cramped spaces into functional — and beautiful! — living areas. For some tips on smart and affordable ways to make the most of small spaces, TMRW reached to the pros. Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas are Detroit-based home flippers behind the HGTV show "Bargain Block, and T.K. Wismer is a Louisville-based interior designer.

1. Start with storage

It’s not so much that small spaces are inherently hard, but that often there aren’t enough places to put things. It’s great if you can adhere to a minimalist life, but that’s just not feasible for many of us. Cutting down on visual clutter becomes especially important in small spaces, Wismer said, so everything needs its own space — which means you need an intentional storage plan.

It comes down to giving items assigned spots and making use of baskets, bins, hooks and anything else you can press into service “so that you don't end up laying a bunch of stuff around and getting a lot of clutter.”

Streamlining all your storage bins to match is a great start, “or putting things in containers that are more attractive, so that if they are out it's just a little bit of a nicer aesthetic,” she said.

And don’t be afraid to add cabinets anywhere you can, Thomas said. They added a tall, narrow cabinet in a bathroom on the wall above the toilet in a 600-square-foot home, he said, “and suddenly we have a lot of storage.”

2. Do double duty

In smaller spaces, it’s all about multipurpose furniture, all the experts said, “or sneaking in storage” where you can, Wismer said. Think about a small dresser by an entryway where you’ll have drawers for things like sunglasses and shopping bags, or a credenza or sideboard that doubles as a work table.

Ottomans are a great way to sneak in some extra seating in case you get people coming over,” Wismer said, “but then you can throw a tray on it and it's a coffee table.”

Another trick is to use benches for dining room seating. Not only are they more flexible for additional people and easy to tuck under the table when not in use, but the right benches can offer storage for extra linens.

3. Wheels up for a small home office

Anywhere you use mobile furniture, you gain functionality. “I’m obsessed with casters,” Wismer said of the furniture wheels that make it easy to adjust a space.

Desks don’t even have to take up any floor space, for that matter.

Bynum and Thomas advocated for a fold-down writing desk. You can buy them online, or DIY it like these guys. On one of their projects, they created a piece of modern art on a 2-by-4 piece of plywood and mounted it to the wall with hinges. Voila! Fold it down to a desk, or leave it up for art!

Wismer has helped clients carve out office space in everything from closets to pantries to nooks under the stairs. When all else fails, the kitchen counter or dining table can serve as an impromptu desk.

“One of my favorite things to use are big trays,” Wismer said, “because I can put them up on a shelf and it just looks like, ‘Oh, maybe that's a serving tray that I use for entertaining,’ but when I take it down, maybe it holds papers and desk supplies and clutter so just like that the dining room table can become a desk, and then you remove all that when it's time to transition over to using that as a functional eating space.”

4. Remember the fifth wall

Both Wismer and Bynum and Thomas are fans of using color to open up smaller spaces by applying the same color to all the walls and the ceiling, aka the fifth wall.

“Your eye just kind of continues,” Wismer explained, “ and in a small space like that the more times you can avoid stopping your eye, the better.”

Repetition achieves a similar effect, she said, so in addition to carrying the same color through “maybe it's not the place to mix a lot of different chairs.”

5. Get off the floor

Keep things off the floor as much as possible, Wismer said, and off of other surfaces like tables and counters for that matter.

Not ready to hinge a desk to a wall and fold it up? “If you have a funny little nook, like in a hallway, try bolting just the desktop to the wall. Even losing the legs opens things up and makes it feel more spacious," she said. "The same goes for lighting. Swap floor lamps for sconces where you can."

6. Think about scale and placement

While low-profile pieces can help a small space feel more spacious, Bynum said, the experts all agreed that you’re not limited to only small furniture. The layout of furniture can be just as important as what you buy, according to Thomas, so think about getting the flow just right. When the home flippers do use a large piece in a small space, they’ll pair it with something smaller for balance.

Wismer agreed. “Maybe I'll use an oversized coffee table because that's functional,” she said. “That could also be a place to work or a place to eat, and then maybe go smaller on a really comfy loveseat instead of a huge couch and then add some extra chairs around.”

Even details like curtain length and where you hang art can make a difference, too, Bynum and Thomas said. They like to source at thrift shops so the pieces aren’t always the most design-forward or on trend, he said. But “if you place it correctly in the room where the position is right and scale is right, and you hang art at the right height, and you put plants in the right areas, suddenly the room looks nice, even if you have a lot of fairly cheap furniture in it,” said Thomas.

What’s the right place to hang art? A lot of people tend to place it too high, Thomas said, so try dropping it a few inches from where you think it should be.

“It just feels nice,” Thomas said, “because everything is proportioned and placed properly.”