How to decorate a small apartment – 5 lessons I have learned in balancing space and style

Decorating a small space is all about balancing practicality and style

small apartment decor ideas
(Image credit: Walls in Mylands Maugham White No.2, Sydney Jackson, Piglet in Bed)

As an interior design writer, understandably, the decor of my own home is something I take great enjoyment in. I live in a fairly small apartment, around 700 square feet, and so something that's always been central to how I approach its decor is considering how to balance functionality and style. 

I would say that for the most part, I'm more of a minimalist than a maximalist, which no doubt helps when working with a smaller space. That doesn't mean I don't love decorating with color, I just like my home to feel understated with a focus on standout pieces.

I've lived in my apartment for over two years now, so I thought I'd round up what I've learned along the way with decorating small spaces. I've followed these five simple apartment decor ideas which have allowed me to create a home that feels personal and homely while maximizing on space. 

1. Choose furniture that sits off the floor

White living room with Midcentury furniture

(Image credit: Walls in Mylands Maugham White No.2)

The type of furniture you choose is arguably the most important decision you'll make when decorating a small apartment. The walls can be changed over time as color trends change, but furniture is costly so it's not something you should switch often. I'm a huge fan of midcentury furniture, and this is reflected in almost every room of my apartment. Not only do I love the understated look of midcentury furniture, but I find that its low profile works incredibly well in small spaces. 

Any furniture that is bulky and boxy can really dominate a space, looking overpowering in a small room and making the space appear even smaller. By comparison, opting for furniture that is lifted off the ground helps make the room appear more spacious. 'Select furniture with legs that are narrow and sit off the floor,' says interior designer Samantha Ashley. 'This helps to maintain a sense of openness.'

2. Add color with artwork

Small white living room with corner couch and wall panelling

(Image credit: Future)

As with many rentals, decorating with paint on the walls is off-limits for me. While I'm lucky that the backdrop colors of my apartment are soft neutrals, the ways of incorporating color can feel limiting. I've found that decorating with art is an effective way of uplifting a space with bold colors, and have hung artwork in most rooms of my home, even the kitchen

I've opted for graphical artwork with bright colors to add a point of interest to each room, but you can choose so many different styles depending on the look you want to create. 

3. Avoid clutter

contemporary new york living room with sofa and armchair and light and artwork


As someone who naturally loves a clutter-free environment, I've definitely seen the benefits of this approach when living in a small space. Storage ideas can often be limited in small apartments, so I find that being as organized as possible and not keeping excess items really helps to keep the whole apartment looking tidy.

This approach also works well for any open shelving. I have open shelves in my kitchen and living room and while they're of course a practical storage solution, keeping items limited means they don't end up looking cluttered and can be stylishly arranged. 

4. Decorate with mirrors

Round mirror above a wooden console at the head of a neutral living room with white couches

(Image credit: Joshua Smith, Lance Gerber Photography)

Not only is decorating with mirrors a practicality, but it's also a great way to maximize natural light and make a space feel larger, perfect for smaller spaces. In my apartment, I have a large mirror above the fireplace and find that this acts as a focal point in the room while helping to create the illusion of more space. 'Include mirrors to make the place look bigger and even more bright,' says interior designer Artem Kropovinsky, founder of NYC-based Arsight

5. Add pattern through textiles

Small living room in pink with sectional

(Image credit: Henry Prideaux)

Lastly, adding different patterned textiles to your small apartment can elevate each room while of course helping to create a cozy feel. I've opted for an oversized rug in my living room with a subtle pattern, and I find it's a great way of adding interest to the space without decorating the walls. Alternatively, choosing patterned and colorful bedding or other smaller furnishings such as cushions allows you to break up the neutrals, and they can easily be swapped out over time if you fancy a change.

While small apartments can be restrictive in some ways, they're also a great opportunity to get creative with finding practical ways of reflecting your style. Consider your apartment as an opportunity to display the decor items that you love most, without worrying so much about interior design trends and you'll no doubt create a cozy and personal space. 

Paint & Color Editor

Emily is H&G's Paint & Color Editor, covering all things color across interior design and home decor. She joined the team in the summer of 2023, having studied Fashion Communication at university before working in various creative roles ahead of making the leap into interiors. She lives in Glasgow where she loves admiring the city's architecture, frequenting her favorite coffee spots, and sourcing vintage furniture for her tenement apartment. Emily's interior style is inspired by the simplicity of midcentury design, mixed with more playful modern pieces that inject small (but bold) doses of color.