Designer Heidi Caillier shares 5 secrets for making a dark, small room look beautiful

Heidi Caillier shares how to bring mesmerizing interest to a small space with ease and elegance

Heidi Caillier design tips
(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

There are very few interior designers that make living beautiful look effortless, but Heidi Caillier is certainly one of them.

Heidi is a designer reinventing tradition to create beautiful and enduring interiors. Her projects, through her design studio Heidi Caillier Design, aren’t bound by a singular aesthetic, but are underpinned by a sense of intimacy. This continually evolving and almost anonymous signature is what makes her not only one of the most respected names in the industry but also a firm favorite with H&G.

Below, Heidi shares a selection of her favorite interior design tips for decorating small rooms to perfection. 

How to decorate small spaces the Heidi Caillier way 

Drawing on the sentiment of nostalgia, Heidi believes that decor and furniture should possess a timeless quality that evolves with the home. She places value on antiques, heirlooms, and hand-crafted pieces, and celebrates imperfections and patinas rather than masking them. Along with her confident embrace of pattern and color – for which she is universally revered – these elements come together to create rooms that are elevated, cocooning, and comfortable.

One of the 1st Dibs 50 2023 honourees, Heidi is making waves in the interior design world for a good reason. 1stDibs, the leading online marketplace for extraordinary design, has announced this year’s 1stDibs 50, the sixth iteration of the annual compendium of inspiring work by the world’s most talented interior designers and architects.

Here's why we are taking notice...

Heidi Caillier
Heidi Caillier

Heidi Caillier Design is a full-service interior design firm, with a project portfolio spanning the US and beyond. Heidi's design philosophy is based on the belief that homes should be comfortable and livable while at the same time beautiful and curated. 

1. Take inspiration from the past – and combine with the present

Neutral sitting room in 1920s Tudor revival house in Seattle

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

When Heidi Caillier moved her interior design firm from San Francisco to Seattle, she brought with her a signature look very much in favor of California’s laid-back community. Gradually, as a more northern approach to life took hold, her design language evolved, with her own home a clear example of where the journey led her.

‘When I was starting out, my style was very bohemian and bright with big pale sofas and blasted white walls – it was the look I was hired for,’ says Heidi. These days, Heidi is well-known for her layered, luxurious looks. 'If I had to describe my style in three words, it would be; timeless, layered, eclectic.' This is the look that perfectly describes this small living room

This timeless yet eclectic-styled living area could have been plucked from any decade in the last 50 years. The diverse assortment of furniture styles here is complemented by an ever-wider array of prints and patterns in the cushions, the intimately snug and comforting surroundings finely tuned for relaxation. 

The ‘mash-up’ of furnishings strikes a mood of eclectic coziness, while the jute rug and veining of the fireplace bring an organic twist. ‘I like the textiles to clash and avoid the temptation to have everything matching,’ says Heidi.

2. Try color drenching

Galley kitchen ideas with sage green and wood floor

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

Not all homes come with vast open-plan spaces. If yours is on the small side, there is plenty to feel positive about. Older homes, like the one pictured above, often come hand in hand with modest kitchens, small kitchen layouts are characterized by their unusual nooks and crannies. 

‘I love a classic galley kitchen,' enthuses Heidi Caillier. ‘They just feel so intimate and special, and there is something very appealing about them practically. They force you to be thoughtful in how you decorate and plan every inch, and I also like the mentality of using all of your kitchen space versus just that one corner between the range and the sink.

Once you've nailed the storage, to further maximize a narrow kitchen you should consider the color scheme. If you think you can't go dark or bold in a small room, you've probably heard that you should only ever paint a modest space in white or pale hues. These days, that advice couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, small or narrow spaces are often the most exciting spaces to decorate. 

Finding the optimum color is entirely evocative and personal, and we always suggest choosing one that will make you feel happier at home. One trend which is currently being adopted in small rooms is color drenching. 

This contemporary, cohesive approach delivers high impact by painting woodwork, doors, and joinery in the same color as the walls. This will create a complete scheme, treating each element similarly, and will deliver a design statement that sings. 

3. Set up a quiet corner for coffee

Neutral kitchen diner in 1920s Tudor revival house in Seattle

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

Carving out room for a table where floor space is at a premium will often require putting one in the corner. For that to work, there are two rules: firstly, the table should be round both to set a contrast to the right angles of the corner, but also to avoid anyone catching themselves on the table edges and, secondly, to use bench seating.

A breakfast nook is such a welcoming and cozy spot, so it should never be devoid of character and decorative flair. Don't be afraid to mix and match styles and eras to curate your corner either. 'We love to incorporate different design styles into our spaces, including mixing new with antique pieces – it helps to make the space feel layered and like it has been around for a long time,' says Heidi.

4. Embrace the darkness

Heidi Caillier blue kitchen

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

Navy has had a huge resurgence in interiors, bringing with it a sophistication that's easier to live with than black and more richly toned than turquoise. The end of the blue spectrum is generally suited to smaller rooms that are starved of natural light, where you can embrace the darkness. 

A brilliant foil for pretty much every other color, the darker the tone the sharper the contrast and that’s when we like it best. Plus, by enveloping the entire space in one shade, it adds a wonderful illusion of extra height and dimension. 

This dark kitchen by Heidi Caillier goes big on drama with units that appear to almost disappear. More interesting than classic white, dark surfaces are a way to make the kitchen feel like its own space. 

5. Be brave and bold with color in small spaces

full length purple panels in bathroom with ceramic sink and WC

(Image credit: Heidi Caillier)

Never one to shy away from a dramatic color choice, Heidi is a master at using color in small rooms, and there is no better place to experiment than in a powder room.

Bold color might not be the first element you think of when planning a new powder room, but it should certainly not be an afterthought. A good color scheme is essential for creating the look, feel, and design you want in this diminutive space. Introducing a statement hue will really lift the whole room, bringing this functional space into line with the rest of your decor. The good news is you don't have to play it safe. 

A popular color trend for 2023, purple shades are having something of a moment. Decorating with purple is sometimes overlooked but it can make for versatile and impactful interiors. 

Often associated with royalty and tradition, purple is perfect for adding drama and character to a room. Saturated shades envelop a room, so consider introducing the rich hue into a space that benefits from natural light to create an intriguing interplay of light and dark, just as Heidi has achieved above. 

Shop Heidi Caillier's edit

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.