Tips & Tricks for Small-Space Decorating on a Budget

Size Matters

You’ve probably seen photos online of eclectic gallery walls packed with playful art of different shapes and sizes. They’re super cute—but not ideal for small spaces. “They tend to look a bit cluttered, especially in smaller floor plans,” Bravo explains. While it may seem counterintuitive, large-scale, poster-sized art can make your space feel more expansive.

Avoid Clutter, Including the Sneaky Kind

Apartment living requires a certain minimalist sensibility—in a 600- or 700-square-foot space, there’s simply not much room for stuff. But according to the designers, you can Marie Kondo everything you own and still feel like you’re surrounded by clutter if your furniture is too large or attention-grabbing.

“The goal is to show more of the floor, which creates [the impression of] more space,” Hopwood says. Floating bookshelves and coffee tables with slim legs, for example, will make rooms feel more open.

Alter the Architecture (Without Losing Your Security Deposit)

There are plenty of simple tricks to make teacup-sized spaces feel grander: A large mirror (though not too big, Hopwood cautions, since a glut of oversized mirrors sometimes make small rooms “feel like a gym”) can create the illusion of more space. And floor-to-ceiling curtains, Hopwood adds, help ceilings appear taller.

If you’re up for a bigger project, Bravo says that you can transform a cookie-cutter apartment with elements like peel-and-stick molding—especially if your lease allows you to paint. You can purchase relatively inexpensive kits designed for DIY wainscoting, paneling, tiling, or molding. When put up and painted over, they look like a built-in detail.

Consider Construction

Even when it comes to budget furniture, not all couches are created equal. “Any upholstery, you want to make sure you’re getting performance fabric,” Aaron says. “It’s a hundred percent polyester, and it’s bulletproof”—unlike linen textiles that show stains and pet scratches.

Spend Where It Counts

The designers I spoke to all said the same thing: Invest in your sleep. “The right mattress is something you’re going to have for years,” says local interior designer Elizabeth Aaron. Once you find your ideal one (Firm or soft? Cozy or cooling?), “you better buy a mattress protector,” Aaron continues. While it may seem like an unnecessary purchase, it can dramatically expand the life of your mattress.

Identify Your Personal Taste & Buy Accordingly

“When someone first starts designing their place and they don’t really know what their style is, they jump into what the trends are,” says interior designer Nicola Hopwood. “They go on social media and do what everybody else is doing. But if they just follow trends, it’s not going to feel like home.”

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