The first thing you experience walking into an IKEA is an overwhelming craving for cinnamon rolls, stemming from the sugary aroma that greets you upon arrival (Pro tip: They’re located in the cafeteria and worth every penny.) The second is a pang of jealousy at how expertly each staged “room” is laid out. Every picture ledge seems carefully considered; every bedside nook boasts an absurd amount of smart storage. While some of us are struggling to pull together our studio apartments months after moving in, IKEA designers are out there making decorating a small space look effortless—so we decided to tap one of the store’s experts.
Enter: Abbey Stark, senior interior design leader at IKEA U.S. and furniture layout pro. She and her team spend their days hunting down inspiration from design shows, magazines, art museums, and even restaurants, which culminates in a monthly meeting where they share their findings. We’re happy to report that she revealed some of their decorating tricks, below. If you’re navigating your own tiny floor plan, you’ll want to take notes.
Good Design Starts From the Ground
More specifically, the floor. “We look at floor and wall treatments to make sure they bring balance to a space,” explains Stark. “Scandinavian design uses a lot of blond woods and white, along with natural elements that help to make a space feel larger than it is.” If you can, consider refinishing your hardwood floorboards—or even painting them.
Every piece of furniture should work hard, whether that means it’s stackable, easily movable, or multifunctional. If a barely there kitchen is the problem, go for a rolling kitchen cart that can be used for extra prep space or even as a cocktail station come happy hour. “A sofa bed in your living room can be great for movie night, as well as a cozy place for a good night’s sleep,” the designer adds. “A laptop table can be a workspace in the daytime and a dining space by night.”
You’ll notice these flexible fixtures in most of IKEA’s staged rooms, and it’s completely intentional: “It’s not about having more things; rather, it’s about having smarter things.”
Make It Modular
“Modular furniture is ideal for small spaces. We build our storage solutions vertically and horizontally, trying to utilize every square inch,” shares Stark. Her go-to product for designing IKEA storage vignettes, Tetris-style? The Sektion kitchen range.
If You Can’t Go Out, Go Up
Stark calls it our walls’ “forgotten” space, ideal surfaces for adding storage and displaying things you don’t use every day. “We add hooks to the wall for folding chairs to be stored when not in use,” she says. A pegboard like IKEA’s Skadis is also a saving grace in cramped quarters, as it can be used for anything from hanging pans to storing office supplies.
Stark’s Favorite Small-Space Products: