What I Wish I Knew Before Living in a Small Space
Experts weigh in on the mistakes to avoid.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:42 AM
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Going small is big right now. From high-tech tiny homes (a 3D-printed house? An abode you can assemble in under seven hours? A solar-powered option that sort of looks like a spaceship? The world is your pint-sized oyster!) to small apartments, downsizing has never been trendier.
Despite all the perks that come withsmall space living
less clutter, less to clean, and more intentional decorating—we would be lying if we said there were no challenges. And so would these experts, who either live in or are pros at designing tiny spaces. We tapped them to lend their advice on all things small space-related; from their biggest regrets to the one thing they would do differently.
Nix the open shelving
Turns out, while the aesthetic appeal of open shelving cannot be understated, they may not be the most practical storage solution for a tiny space. Lauren Gerrie, a professional chef who uses her 265-square-foot NYC apartment’s kitchen to house her many tools, learned this first hand: “Though exposed shelving forces you to always be clean and organized, it’s pretty nice to hide stuff,” she shares. “If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t haveopen shelving
in my kitchen or closet. It’s all about beautiful functional storage in a small apartment.”
Pare down your belongings
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes that great multifunctional storage find can actually be detrimental to your small space. “I wish I’d realized from the onset that the trick to small space living isn’t primarily to find storage. Instead, it’s to re-evaluate your existing belongings, analyze your future purchases, and determine what you can live without,” sayswhitney leigh
Morris, whose 362-square-foot Venice Beach cottage is the stuff that dreams are made of.
She advocates donating the items you don’t actually need and being more intentional with your decorating; after all, downsizing your home means downsizing your lifestyle, too. Check out her kitchen makeover for all the inspo you’ll ever need.
Less really is more
Ashley Petrone fit her family of five into a 180-square-foot RV—and while that may not seem particularly roomy, she credits the open feel of her unconventional home to one thing: leaving space. “Allow yourself room to grow and breath,” says Petrone. “Simple things like using forks instead of having salad tongs, using a spoon instead of an ice cream scooper… and my biggest thing: Removing all of our grocery items out of the boxes. They are simple things that are big space savers.”
Know what you’re working with
“I often wish I had known how much stuff someone really has before the design process begins,” says Meagan Camp, a designer who frequently works with tiny apartments (including this neutral-hued 300-square-foot studio). “We’re often trying to squeeze clients’ personal items into a finished space. Knowing how much storage you need upfront is key.”
And if you don’t think you have space for all your design visions, get creative. Need to use all your walls for storage? Turn your dreams of a statement wall upwards: “I’m determined to utilize the ceiling as a fifth wall; anything to bring the eyes upward in a small space will give the illusion of a much larger space,” says Camp.
Don’t be afraid to splurge
For those of us not necessarily living in a small space by choice—hello, city rent prices—going all out with more expensive versions of items that are otherwise fairly cheap isn’t always in the cards. However, according to Casey Zhang, whose 600-square-foot Brooklyn apartment is the manifestation of all our minimalist dreams, small splurges go a long way.
“I like to invest in nicer versions of the small functional things I tend to use every day, like wooden hangers or glass soap dispensers,” she says. “In a smaller space, everything is more visible and plays a more prominent role. It’s one thing I wish I knew before buying all plastic hangers.” So treat yourself—within reason, of course.
Carefully consider how you’ll use the space
To the third party observer, Nick Glimenakis’s 500-square-foot apartment looks pretty perfect; however the photographer says it’s missing one key thing. “I certainly feel the absence of a work station. When it comes time to sit at the computer to edit, I’m usually clearing space on the kitchen table or balancing gadgets on the sofa,” he says. “One thing I wish I had done differently was incorporate a small, collapsible desk or multi-use bookshelf. This way, I could still display my personal things and work more comfortably.”
And while we think the contemporary space is impeccably decked out, a whole different set of requirements besides style come into play when you work from home. Be mindful of this when figuring out how to incorporate a tiny office space into your house.
“As a self-proclaimed maximalist, I wish I had known how satisfying it feels to downsize!” says Abigail Stone. “After weeks of kicking and screaming, I begrudgingly got on the Marie Kondo bandwagon and eventually realized how much unused stuff I had accumulated. You’ll feel a certain lightness when you get organized in a smaller space—you’re surrounded by things you love and no longer have to frantically hunt when you need them.”
Decluttering to accommodate her 262-square-foot apartment meant prioritizing—and for Stone, artwork and personal mementos got to take center stage.
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