5 Inventive Ways to Get the Most Out of Small Spaces

Stuck in a cramped space? There are ways to open the place up.
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You're cramped, always tripping over your own stuff. There's no place to put anything or room to have friends over. Sometimes, you feel as though you're in a prison cell or cave.

Whether it's a tiny apartment, a small house with inadequate storage, a mobile home or a dorm room, living without enough space can be a challenge.


You could grumble about it -- or you could tackle that challenge head-on.

First, look around at that stuff that's in your way and decide what you can live without. Do you really need those books you read three years ago? Are all those knickknacks and doodads essential to your happiness? Is there any point in keeping clothes you never wear? Do you really need to reserve counter space for that cappuccino maker you haven't fired up in two years?

Be ruthless. Cut the clutter. If you rarely, if ever, use something, sell it, give it to charity, recycle it or toss it. Space is at a premium.

Getting rid of things you don't need can be a great start. Read on for some more imaginative ways to make the most of the space you have.

5: Change the Space

Is your room too small? Make it bigger or fool your eyes.

If you can, consider removing a wall to combine small, cramped rooms -- maybe your kitchen and dining room -- into a more spacious one. Try knocking out a wall to enlarge a room by adding the space in a hallway or entryway. If you can't remove an entire wall (due to your lease, perhaps), take out the top half and open adjoining small rooms.


Light helps. If you own your home, you can add a window or enlarge an existing one. Add a skylight. Replace a door that closes between rooms with an open doorway or archway. In an older home, revert to the original higher ceilings.

If you can't tinker with your walls, ceilings and doors, don't despair. Perception of space is almost as important as actual space. Just making a place look lighter and more spacious can lift spirits.

Apartment dwellers can give the illusion of space in the following ways:

  • Painting your room cool, light colors make it seem larger. So do unified color themes. Painting old, dark cabinets white can do wonders for a cramped kitchen.
  • Mirrored panels on walls, as well as standing or hanging mirrors, give the illusion of more space. But beware: Make sure that what will be reflected is pleasing to look at. Mirrors paired to reflect each other create seemingly endless space. Furniture with glass surfaces, stainless steel appliances and other reflective surfaces also help.
  • If low ceilings are a problem, choose artwork with vertical lines and hang it higher than eye level. Hang curtains or window treatments as high as possible. Diagonal patterns on floors will make rooms seem wider.
  • If a room does double duty, a folding screen can offer privacy when needed.

4: Downsize

Small furniture and wall hangings can really open up a space.
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Large furniture and appliances will make your small space seem like something out of "Alice in Wonderland." Instead, go for items that won't dwarf the room.

Forget the recliner and huge sofa. Go for a small sofa or even a loveseat instead. Flat-screen TVs -- especially the kind that hang on a wall -- save space. Choose a narrow, drop-leaf table and keep it against the wall when you don't need to use it.


In the bedroom, either forgo the bed's headboard -- it can shrink the room -- and use the wall instead, or make the headboard do double duty with bookshelves and storage.

In the kitchen, choose small-scale appliances. Many newer models use space efficiently. There are even refrigerators that are no deeper than the average cabinet, saving floor space. Look for compact counter-top appliances. If they serve more than one function -- chop and blend, for example -- that's a plus. A single-bowl sink means more counter space.

3: Look Under the Bed

Even a small bed takes up a lot of floor space. Use the space under it for something better than collecting dust bunnies.

A bed of ordinary height will hide a good amount of storage space. Inexpensive lidded plastic storage boxes can hold sweaters, T-shirts, seasonal items or even papers and photos. Some under-bed drawers roll out. If you buy sheets or a comforter in zippered plastic bags, you should save those bags to store other items.


Want more space? Buy a set of four inexpensive risers designed to make the bed even higher. College students have been using cinder blocks to do this for years. You can even try a loft or bunk bed. These elevated beds aren't just for little kids anymore.

A loft bed, with the bed atop a platform and open space beneath it, offers enough room for a study area with desk underneath, or a sitting area. Another option is to place shelves or storage cubes under the bed.

Bunk beds with one bed stacked above another have long been used to save floor space in children's rooms. You can also find bunk arrangements that combine one raised bed atop drawers and storage compartments that take the place of a separate chest of drawers.

Going vertical with the bed is only the beginning of ways to squeeze more space out of your furniture. How about using pieces that do double duty? Learn more on the next page.

2: Double Duty

Ottomans like these can provide extra storage and seating space.
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When space is at a premium, furniture must serve more than one purpose.

A futon can play couch during the day and bed at night. Need a coffee table or end table? Fix up an old trunk that also can be used to store items. Want an ottoman for extra seating? Get one that includes a storage compartment. Instead of a table in the middle of the kitchen, have an island with lots of storage as well as a counter. Don't just put a table or bookshelf under a window: Use a trunk or chest to make a window seat that doubles as storage.


The other way to make your furniture part of the solution is to get it out of your way when it's not needed. The classic example of disappearing furniture is the Murphy bed. The Murphy Bed Company still makes beds that fold into the wall by day in a range of styles, sizes and prices.

For futuristic folks on an ample budget, a number of manufacturers offer modular furniture; furniture that hangs on the wall when not in use; furniture that folds and beds that slide up to the ceiling during the day. Kenchikukagu sets are compact cabinets that open to provide a bedroom, office or kitchen set [source: Home Interiors Zone].

On the next page, we have some tips for using hidden spaces.

1: Waste Not, Want Not

You can change your space and get creative with your furniture, but space will probably still go to waste. To make the most of what you have, look for awkward or hidden places where you can stretch your space.

  • Look inside cabinet and closet doors. A narrow spice rack can fit inside a cabinet door. Try using hooks for hanging small utensils. Home-organization sections in stores sell containers for shoes, ties and other items to hang inside closet doors.
  • Go inside the wall. Got an unfinished wall in a pantry or garage, or a wall in the kitchen or bath where you can remove the covering? Install narrow shelves between the studs.
  • Check your dark corners and alcoves. Especially in older homes, dark nooks and crannies go unused. Be inventive with buying or making shelving and storage units that fit these spaces.
  • Look under the stairways. The space under stairs can be a great closet if closed in. It's also a good place to add shelves or a chest.
  • If you have an awkward corner cabinet, add a Lazy Susan or a slide-out drawer.
  • Look above the cabinets. Add more cabinets atop the cabinets, to the ceiling. Put things used infrequently up high.
  • Narrow shelves can fit in that space behind open doors.
  • Attach shelves on the wall over the toilet or buy one of those units made to fit over the back of the toilet and reach to the ceiling.
  • Double pole arrangements in the closet allow shirts, blouses and jackets to hang above and pants and skirts below. Organizers provide order for shoes and accessories.
  • Add shelves, racks and pegboards to empty wall spaces. Store towels, utensils, clothes or whatever you need.

Fired up to meet that small-space challenge? There's more information on home decoration on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • The Associated Press. "5 Tips on maximizing storage space." Jan. 16, 2011. (Accessed Jan. 16, 2011)http://www.siouxcityjournal.com./
  • Hillstrom, Susan Boyle. The Smart Approach to Small Space Living. Creative Homeowners. Upper Saddle Ridge, N.J. 2007.
  • Home Interiors Zone. "19 Amazing Furniture Designs to Make the Most Out of Tiny Apartment Space." (Accessed Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.homeinteriorszone.com/interior-decoration/furniture/19-amazing-furniture-to-make-the-most-out-of-tiny-apartment-space/
  • Martha Stewart Home and Garden."Small Space Makeover." http://www.marthastewart.com/article/small-space-makeover (Jan. 16, 2011)
  • Murphy Bed Company. "The History of the Murphy Bed." (Accessed Jan. 16, 2011)http://www.murphybedcompany.com/home.php?section=history
  • Pandolfi, Keith. "9 Small-Space Solutions." This Old House. (Accessed Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/print/0,,20301933,00.html
  • Patterson, Jean. "Small spaces demand ideas for getting more out of less." The Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 4, 2010.http://www.theolympian.com/2010/08/04/1325127/small-spaces-demand-ideas-for.html
  • "Small Space Storage Solutions." The Family Handyman. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. 2010.
  • Whittaker, Kathryn. "Loft Beds and Dorm Decorating Tips." DormDelicious. http://www.dormdelicious.com/articles/loft_beds_and_dorm_decorating_tips (Jan. 16, 2011)