10 Things That Make Your Home Look Smaller (and How to Fix Them)
Make your house look larger by changing out these common design mistakes.
We all know how even a simple clean-and-declutter session can suddenly make a room feel new and more spacious. So what if a few décor and furniture fixes could take it to the next level? We asked Realtors and stagers how to avoid 10 of the most common design mistakes to maximize space — or the illusion of it — in your home.
Too Much Furniture
Homeowners often overestimate how much furniture they need.
“By removing excess pieces, you can make the room feel more open and inviting,” says home stager Kasia McDaniel of Blue Diamond Staging & Design. “A living room should fit a couch, two chairs, a coffee table and two side tables, or other combinations like a couch and a loveseat or a sectional. A bedroom should only have a bed, nightstand and a dresser.”
But that’s not all: The arrangement matters, too. “Sometimes the way furniture is arranged in the room can make the room feel smaller,” she advises. For example, if a large piece of furniture blocks the entrance visually or physically, it can create the illusion of a smaller space. Moving that furniture to another wall can make the room seem bigger.
No, we’re not talking about weight here. McDaniel says some furniture looks heavy and can make the room appear smaller. An example of a “heavy” chair, couch or bookcase would be one where the legs are not visible. It may have a skirt or a trim piece that extends all the way to the floor.
The fix, McDaniel says, is to use “lighter” furniture where there is actual space underneath the piece and you can see the legs. Darker-colored furniture also tends to look heavier, whereas lighter fabrics and wood feel lighter and more open.
“In the dining room, acrylic chairs are see-through and don’t take up any visual space and are a great option for small apartments with limited space,” she says.
“Unless you have a movie theater room, darker walls tend to make the room feel smaller,” McDaniel says. If you still want a trendy, dramatic wall color, add mirrors to help reflect light.
Extra lamps can help, but watch out — you can over-clutter the space with those, too. Otherwise, swap to a lighter, more neutral wall color to make the room feel larger, and save the dark color you love for accents.
Bathrooms with a small footprint can already be a design challenge. Surprisingly, using a proportionately small tile can make the problem worse. “Small floor and wall tiles, like penny tiles, can make the bathroom feel smaller because they visually make the space look cluttered,” McDaniel says.
She recommends replacing small subway wall tiles with large 12-in. x 24-in. rectangular tiles, laying them horizontally to make the room feel wider. You can also use 18-in. x 18-in. floor tile to make a small bathroom feel bigger. And as usual, the devil is in the details: Color-coordinate a light tile with light grout, eliminating the contrast that can make rooms feel smaller.
“I love popcorn but not on my ceilings,” says Realtor and stager Elizabeth Lee Anderson of Elm and Oak Real Estate. “Popcorn ceilings hide imperfections and dampen sound, but let’s be honest, it’s ugly and it often collects dust, spiderwebs and dirt.” They can also cast shadows, which make a room feel smaller.
The good news is that popcorn ceilings can be removed easily. “Once it is removed, your space will feel more open, brighter and more vibrant,” Anderson says.
Maximize the benefits of natural light. Make sure shades, blinds and drapes are open when there’s daylight and don’t let anything else be a barrier to letting it illuminate your room. The dirty secret is that dirty windows prevent light from coming in, so keep your windows clean.
“An easy way to brighten up a room and make it feel bigger is by cleaning your windows,” Anderson says. “Light reflects, making spaces look bigger. So as the song says, ‘Let the sun shine in.’ ”
Anderson says drapes and curtains are beautiful, but only if hung correctly. “Dark, heavy drapes make the space look smaller,” she confirms. “But hanging long drapes close to the ceiling will make the wall and window appear taller. It’s like magic.” By drawing the eye upward, you create the illusion of more headroom and airier spaces.
How does that saying go? You never get a second chance to make a first impression — that’s why you want your entryway or foyer always neatly organized.
“Your entryway is the first place people see when entering a house,” Anderson says. “Having too many things in the entry gives the impression the rest of the house is like that. Using the closet to hide jackets and shoes will help make the space feel spacious.” Interior closet organizers will help keep everything in its own place, and help mitigate spillover, too.
This might sound like sacrilege in this time of the houseplant renaissance, but it’s true: Too many plants can close your room off visually.
“Plants can enhance the look of your home, but if it is droopy, dying or spiky, it can affect a space in a negative way,” Anderson warns. “Maintain plants by watering them and making sure they are not overgrown for the pot or hanging down too low for the room.”
There’s a reason people often opt for an open floor plan. An airy layout allows the eye to wander and gives a sense of sprawling space. Smaller rooms that are closed off by solid doors look smaller, even when they have the same approximate square footage.
But, Anderson says, if you don’t need the doors for privacy, consider swapping them out for glass French doors. “The glass panels will make the room feel more spacious,” she says.
If the swing of a door is constantly getting in your way, consider a pocket door, which tucks away into the wall when not in use. And again, if privacy is not needed, you can always remove the door and let the doorway be unencumbered.