Interior design mistakes that make a home feel smaller – and 8 simple rules that designers say will increase the sense of space

We spoke to a few of our favorite interiors people to find out their solutions for increasing space in a small room – and the mistakes to avoid

Small room mistakes
(Image credit: Becca Interiors / Rikki Snyder Photography)

Increasing the sense of space in rooms that are small in stature is a design issue everyone wants to solve. 

Though small rooms can present many interior design challenges, there are several benefits to compact living. But, before you begin a complete home renovation or even a minimal update, there are a few fundamental interior mistakes that can, in fact, make a small home feel smaller.

While there's certainly no one size fits all formula for decorating small rooms, there are still a few basic interior design rules we should master if we want to curate a beautiful small home that is fit for family life. After all, the whole purpose of interior design is to create a room or rooms which answer the needs of the individuals living in them, whilst also reflecting their personalities with good design, space, and functionality. 

Interior mistakes that make a home feel smaller

A well-planned home not only looks beautiful but should also improve your quality of life. Even if you’re not currently renovating or redecorating, these interior design tips could help inform your existing space.

If your small room feels, well, small and uninteresting, then you could be making interior mistakes that you may never have thought about. Make the most of a small room by planning a hard-working small room layout, investing in multi-functional furniture, and picking the right color scheme. 

So whether you're working with a small living room, small kitchen, or a small bedroom in a family home, you can make the space work best for you by avoiding these common mistakes.

1. Too much furniture and furnishings

living room with white walls artworks and wood floors with rug

(Image credit: Ema Peter for Stephanie Brown Inc)

Overcrowding a small room is one of the most common ways to make a small room feel smaller, however, that doesn't mean your bijou space should be completely devoid of any. 

‘Furniture plays an essential role in how a space is received,' says James Thurstan, founder, of Thurstan. 'When working with less spacious small living room layouts, we recommend a considered curation of essential pieces – spreading a large rug as an anchor for the scheme and then building out from there, picking out tones from the rug and embellishing these throughout the room. A central table can create a focal point in a smaller room, best framed by inward-facing armchairs, which help create depth and volume.’ 

If you have a small living room, for example, think about how you plan to use – and move around – in the room. The goal of space planning is to create efficiency. For designers and decorators, this means eschewing current trends and dictums, including unnecessary or impractical additions.

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2. Choosing the wrong colors

Black living room with white sofa and natural materials

(Image credit: Project by Sean Anderson / photograph by Haris Kenjar)

In a small space, color choices are key. However, it is just not just about choosing the right colors, but also about how you use those colors to visually expand your room.

While some people use specific colors to make a small room look bigger, Mike Fisher, creative director and founder, of Studio Indigo suggests waylaying this advice for a bold pop of color to add character. 'Small spaces can be treated in a grand way – “be bold” is my advice.'

'Painting the space a light color will not make it feel bigger,' he says. 'Use strong colors to make a statement and give personality.'

It is a common misconception that small rooms should only be painted in pale colors. In fact, this small space is a fantastic place to experiment with imaginative color and paint tricks for small rooms.

3. Not planning for storage needs

Colorful living room with bespoke blue shelving, red patterned sofa, ottoman, side tables,

(Image credit: Sarah Brown)

Good storage ideas are a common factor in some of the most successful – and beautiful – interior-designed rooms. Therefore, not considering storage in the first instance will be your room's undoing. 

In a small room, storage should restore calm, provide display space and be suitably chic. For many, storage is a dirty word, but storage done right is not only practical but it can be pretty, too.

If there is a nook or a niche in a room, use it. ‘Make awkward corners a point of interest,’ says Camilla Clarke of Albion Nord. ‘Don’t be afraid to use unusual furniture pieces: a bookshelf doesn’t have to be a bookshelf, you can stack books on a bar cart, on the fireplace mantel, or on a windowsill.

In our opinion, bespoke solutions are the best option for a tiny room. When commissioning a piece of bespoke joinery, consideration is needed to ensure that the cabinetry style complements the room’s aesthetics as well as being of the correct scale and proportion, says cabinetmaker Ed Keyser. 

‘Built-in cabinetry is not only an investment and will hopefully add value to your property but is also personal to you as you will be living with it every day. Although more expensive than shelving, drawers, visible or behind doors, are a much more efficient way of storing and accessing items. If drawers are not possible, then sourcing (during the design stage) boxes or baskets which fit into the cabinetry is a good option, especially for deep or hard-to-access spaces.’

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4. Getting your curtain length wrong

red and white striped curtains in living room

(Image credit: Tori Murphy)

This may seem inconsequential, but figuring out how long a curtain should be will transform a small room immediately.

When your window treatment includes curtains, focusing on length is essential since otherwise, the draperies can look old-fashioned and awkward rather than super chic. Equally, though, curtain length needs to be practical for the particular room in which they’re hung, and to fit the window itself.

'As for a general rule, floor length or just a little above is an interior designer's favorite trick to maximize a small room,' says Maggie Griffin, founder and principal designer of Maggie Griffin Design, ‘The drapery panels should skim the floor.’

However, there is one exception to this rule. Curtains that aren’t floor length should end at the windowsill if the dimensions of the sill are too deep for them to hang to floor length. This length might also be necessary if the curtains are to be hung in a kitchen or bathroom where floor-length curtains just aren’t entirely practical.

5. Not using scale to your advantage in a diminutive space

Neutral home decor ideas

(Image credit: Project by Becca interiors / photograph Rikki Snyder)

‘People often assume they should buy small-scale furnishings for small rooms, but that actually makes a space feel smaller,' says Becca Casey, of Becca Interiors. 'Don’t be afraid to fill the room – get a rug that fully sits under all your furniture. Not only will buying larger scale furniture look better, but it will also make your experience of the space so much more comfortable: win-win!’ 

Interior designer Lonika Chande agrees: ‘It is worth noting that a pair of armchairs can often take up more space than a small sofa. Certainly, a smaller armless sofa, complete with a little side table to put down a drink, and a floor lamp rather than a table lamp can be a much better use of space.’ 

The rule here is to think bigger and fewer; not smaller and more.

Becca Casey of Becca Interiors
Becca Casey

Becca Interiors is a full-service interior design firm rooted in Greenwich, Connecticut. Becca has an unrivaled ability to blend the reclaimed with refined and the ordinary with ornamental and has developed a unique design ethos rooted in nature.  

6. Overusing ceiling lights

A large bedroom with sofa beneath built in bookshelves

(Image credit: Kitesgrove)

‘Some people often feel the need to flood small spaces with ceiling lights to make them feel brighter and therefore larger,' says Claire Sa, director, of De Rosee Sa. 'However, I think atmosphere and dimension can be added to small spaces with different levels of controlled lighting. The lowest level might be lamps on side tables; the next would be introducing lamps on a desk, console, or chest.'

'Finally, add fewer rather than more directional ceiling lights, positioned closer to the walls and angled away from the center of the room to create a feature glow on, for example, a piece of wall art.’ 

Our number one rule is to add dimmers to all light switches so you can adjust the mood and ambiance in a cozy room

7. Not investing in multi-functional furniture

Small room ideas with integrated storage and furniture

(Image credit: Sophie Ashby)

Earlier we mentioned that good storage is key to a successful small room design, but this same rule applies to our furniture choices too. 

In smaller homes and rooms, ideally, you want to be looking for multi-functional pieces to save on space. Ottomans with integrated storage and sofa beds are some of the most widely used.

Ottomans are a decorator’s secret weapon when it comes to packing storage space into a room. Whether buying one off the shelf or commissioning one bespoke, don’t be afraid of making it too big, says decorator Katharine Paravicini. ‘It’s a mistake a lot of people make but the bigger the better and it will obviously give more room to store things.’ She recommends elevating the design from a standard storage box but focusing on the fabric and trimming details. ‘It’s important that they look decorative. I like to design them with vintage textiles on the top and maybe another fabric around the edge.’

Living spaces, especially, will really benefit from multi-functional pieces. Think about the function of a space. A living room might be doubling up as a guest room, a home office, or a playroom, so will need to cater to all of these.

8. Not using nooks or niches to your advantage 

natural boho living room with bookshelf built into an alcove

(Image credit: Michael P.H. Clifford)

If there is a nook or a niche in a room, use it. ‘Make awkward corners a point of interest,’ says Camilla Clarke of Albion Nord

‘Don’t be afraid to use unusual furniture pieces: a bookshelf doesn’t have to be a bookshelf, you can stack books on a bar cart, on the fireplace mantel, or on a windowsill. 

Be sure to light the shelving or bookcase area, too, as this will ensure it becomes something of a decorative focal point for the eyes. ‘This can be done in a number of ways,’ says Sally Storey, creative director of John Cullen Lighting

‘Highlight specific items with a miniature spotlight or using a linear LED strip concealed within the depth of the shelf for an even glow at the front of the shelf or at the back for a dramatic backlight effect.


What can I do with a very small room?

If you have a small room, don't fight against its size – work with the proportions of the room and embrace its diminutive size. 

If a full remodel isn't on the cards, you might want to rethink your existing lighting scheme. Well-planned lighting, designed by a specialist will make a fundamental difference. A small room can be incredibly inviting and considered efficient lighting can take a room from feeling stark and pokey to sweet and cozy in an instant.

How can I decorate my small room on a budget?

The most affordable to decorate a small room is with fun soft furnishings. 

'I like to play with pattern and color in a small space, says Eva Sonaike, creative director, Eva Sonaike. 'For example, I might use patterned scatter cushions on a sofa alongside occasional chairs and poufs upholstered in fabrics of your choice. These playful themes can then be echoed in accessories such as ornaments with colorful designs.’ 

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.