The New Rules Of Small-Space Decorating

Unless you're extremely lucky, you’ve most likely experienced the panic that comes with trying to find a new place, sane roommates, and the cash for a security deposit — all at the same time. It’s only natural that, in the face of desperation and real-estate fatigue, you issue a "yes" to a living situation that's not exactly ideal upon closer inspection. Bedroom way smaller than you remember? Weird, triangular living area you didn’t quite notice the first time around? Yeah, we’ve been there. Not only is it a huge bummer that (surprise!) half of your furniture isn't going to fit, but — as every shelter mag would tell us — these tiny rooms also severely limit your decor choices.

Before you go breaking your lease and starting the hunt all over again, consider instead putting your own spin on a few classic decorating rules. We tapped interior designer Kate Driver to help us pinpoint three fresh design techniques that prove petite quarters aren't so constricting, after all. With the right styling tricks and Lowe's HGTV Home By Sherwin-Williams paint palettes, these changes not only dial up the interior envy but actually make your space look bigger, too. We're firm believers that lugging a couch up to a fourth-floor walk-up should be the most trying aspect of the moving process. Decorating? That's the fun part.

Old-School: Never paint hardwood floors.

New-School: Hardwood floors are often lauded as a major score, but they sometimes aren't worth keeping as is — especially if they're of the fake-looking engineered variety or have very narrow slats. "If you don't have the funds to strip and re-stain wood floors, painting them white or off-white will brighten and open up small rooms tremendously," says Driver. "Pair your freshly painted floors with matching walls, and you'll create the illusion of limitless space." To keep the effect from looking clinical or cold, go for earth-toned furniture and untreated wood accents. Even a few burlap pillows or a cream-colored throw draped over the couch you already own will do the trick. Now, you've got a Scandinavian-style oasis that reads cozy, not cramped.

There's no space for floor-to-ceiling accents in a small room.

Turns out, when placed against a bright wall, that extra-tall potted plant you almost left on the curb can actually make your ceiling look higher. "In turn, the entire room appears larger," Driver says. She recommends jumping on any chance you have to move the eye upward, including swapping horizontal cabinetry for vertical bookshelves and adding floor lights in place of a desk lamp. Use your newfound shelving to display trinkets like decorative candles, ceramic collections, and framed photos.

Old-School: Mixing patterns overwhelms a small space.

New-School: To blend patterns like a pro, Driver stresses the importance of choosing from similar color and print families and setting everything against a warm, neutral-colored wall — otherwise, you risk creating chaos. Love the bold blossoms on your curtains? Complement them with a smaller-scale floral print on your bedspread, so the eye doesn't have to compete between two focal points. Keep accent pillows in the same flowery family — and mix in a few solids — to enjoy a well-balanced, indoor garden party of a bedroom.

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