I Asked 7 Interior Designers For Tips on How to Upgrade a Small Space

Small Home Upgrades to Make During Quarantine Recommended by Interior Designers

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What happens when two preoccupations—daydreaming about decorating an apartment and seeking new approaches for at-home exercise—merge into one idea? For me, this manifested in the brief and ludicrous consideration of whether a Pilates reformer can double as a twin bed (the most beautiful ones look like—and are priced like—an estranged cousin of an original Le Corbusier chaise longue).

Nearing the 100-day milestone of puttering around inside our homes, lots of people who live in small spaces recognize that they’re in dire need of a minor reinvention. In the same train of thought, inspired by my ever-pending move into a studio, I’ve been considering how, ideally, every piece of furniture I acquire can be as versatile as possible (ex. a dinner table that doubles as a desk) and trying to strategize a layout, with the help of tiny furniture stickers, that maximizes the room so I’m able to entertain, work, read, and cook, all in the same space.

Who better to ask for advice than some of my favorite interior designers? Below, they deposited a few insider tips on ways people in small spaces can upgrade their interior, whether it’s a storage trick, a well-dimensioned piece of furniture they’d been eyeing on Chairish, a cool multi-tasking product for a kitchen, or a large-scale photo that adds depth to a small room.

Young Huh*

A great piece of furniture to have as a multi-tasker is a bar, bar cart, or console with shelves. They tend to be narrow in depth, but you can use it for entertaining, or as extra storage for dishes or supplies. I’m using mine as an additional surface area to hold drawing supplies and papers as well as some pretty vases and flowers to cheer me!

If you can fit a small occasional French side chair, or any side chair, in a corner instead of leaving the space empty, this can be a game-changer. You can place books and boxes on the seat, and underneath you could have additional storage boxes stacked nicely to hold extra papers and supplies.

*(you might recognize her room from last year’s Kip’s Bay Showhouse!)

David Netto

Get the biggest, most theatrical piece of furniture you can find and put it in the smallest space it can fit. Like a front hall where you aren’t USING the space, just walking through it.

Put it somewhere it will surprise you—and make you feel, for a while, anyway—like a visitor in someone else’s exciting house. Invest in this piece of furniture: It will give you the storage, the desk, and the beautiful object you need all at once.

For the kitchen, install two of these wall-mounted pot racks, one over the other. Hard to say why, but two widely spaced is cooler than a double:

Beata Heuman

Life becomes hopelessly dull without variation, and finding it is a bit of a challenge during lockdown. But I’m not one to give up, and there are quite a few things you can do in a small space to create a bit of tension and newness.

Small Home Upgrades to Make During Quarantine Recommended by Interior Designers

Furnishing your home with colorful items that serve more than one purpose is a great way to change things up. I use our Marbleized tray to balance cocktails on my living room ottoman in the evenings, and then pair it with our Metal Tray Stand whenever I need a side table to place my book or morning tea out in the garden.

Rearranging decor around the house, such as artwork, will help you appreciate the pieces you love that over time literally become part of the furniture. The aim is to make your home feel a bit more mysterious and exciting—you know, the kind of effect you get when you light a candle.

Lastly, you can try to elevate even the smallest things. It sounds a little ridiculous, but decanting washing-up liquid [Ed. note: British for dishwashing soap] into a glass bottle will add an element of beauty to an otherwise menial task. It can all help jolly things along, in my opinion!

Ariel Okin

When designing apartments that are lacking in the size department, the main thing to consider is using pieces that are multifunctional. Think: a console or dining table that can also serve as a place to work, or a side table that can also serve as a place to stack books for a creative interpretation of the word “library.” Milking the most of your pieces is the best way to stay efficient in small space living.

A kitchen item that I absolutely love for space-saving multi-functionality is the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer—it can do everything from air fry to roast to make bread or pizza or even dehydrate fruit to make your own fruit roll ups (now that we have the time…). I know I sound like I’m on QVC, but I probably use this four nights a week in the city!

Small Home Upgrades to Make During Quarantine Recommended by Interior Designers

My recent furniture collection that launched with Society Social in April has two pieces designed with small spaces in mind: the Franny side table was born because I literally could not find any side tables that fit next to the glider in my daughter’s nursery, which is the size of a thimble, so I took a tape measure and figured out what would fit. The other table, the Amy, is a scalloped console with measurements I based on what could fit in our very small galley entry in our apartment; it has a super narrow depth and short length and can house a basket underneath it for hiding shoes (or anything you need to store) with a clearance space of 27″. Both were born out of necessity with my own small space, and are fully customizable in any Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams paint color.

Sasha Bikoff

The key to storage solutions is not the shoes in the oven, but an étagère. An étagère is tall and has open shelving. This kind of furniture is great because generally they’re not so deep but they are tall, so you can utilize a lot of space for things like shoes, handbags, and folded sweaters. This one’s a great example because you get that natural texture that adds a little something to your fashion.

Chiara de Rege

I tend to try to maximize apartment living as much as possible. As much as I love a formal dining room, I’ve found that often in a NYC prewar building, for example, the dining rooms are very gracious. So I turned my dining room into a dining room, home office, and family room, all-in-one. During the day (prior to Covid-19), my design associates would sit around the dining table with their laptops. I snuck my desk into a corner of the room and at 5 p.m., the associates would leave, and I’d set the table and sit with my daughter to have dinner. In a cozy corner of the room, I put a comfy sofa that faces a TV (hiding behind a pair of lamps). I remove the lamps and watch movies with my daughter and friends in that area. So, in this one room, we get three uses.

This has become invaluable during the time of coronavirus. While we do not have guests or any of my design team, I can still work from my desk and my daughter can do Zoom school next to me. When the day ends, we can watch a movie or play a board game. I love having a space that is multifunctional like this. You can only be in one room at a time, so why not make that room serve a lot of purposes?

Photo by Jessica Antola.

Off of the dining room, there’s a hall to the kitchen and entryway. Its width is 42”—generous enough for my daughter to have a play kitchen and table and toys there to play with in the hallway. This is ideal when I am in the small galley kitchen, as we can see and hear each other but not feel on top of each other. I love that she has a place to play family or school or restaurant, a space all her own. I know it sounds odd, as it is literally just a hallway, but I covered the walls in wallpaper and gave her a chalkboard paint wall as well. Now the space is very defined and feels like a teeny room instead of a hall.

Stefanie Scheer Young 

And now, some rapid-fire, no-bigger-than-a-bread-box tips for ways to improve your immediate surroundings, from our in-house interior designer, my mom!

“Our dish towels have been through a lot,” (I nod knowingly) “so I just got new ones. Refreshing your dish towels is going to feel like you just washed your hair. I recommend these classic striped ones from Williams Sonoma.”

“Topiaries are a fun and slightly less predictable way to spruce up your apartment with some plant life. The only downside with topiaries is that they’ll die if you don’t water them every day, but now, since you’re home all the time, that shouldn’t be a problem. You can order them from Atlock Farm, Snug Harbor Farm or New York Topiary.”

“I found these cordless table lamps with rechargeable batteries that are perfect if you want some atmospheric flexibility around the house, or even outside, if you have a back patio or a fire escape. They come in a handful of fun colors, but the white and grey versions are dimmable, the ultimate jackpot!”

“Sometimes you just need a pitcher with a little owl perched inside to bring you some joy.” Co-sign.

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