9 Small Space Design Mistakes to Avoid

Some design choices make a space seem smaller. Learn how to fix these mistakes and avoid them in the future.

Inadequate Lighting

Getting enough light in certain rooms of your home can be a struggle, especially if that room lacks overhead lighting. A few common small space design mistakes can exacerbate the problem. Blocking natural light, exclusively using floor lamps and buying the wrong light bulbs will all make a lighting situation worse.

To bring better lighting to your home, Maureen Stevens of Maureen Stevens Styling and Design suggests “adding light features, whether it be a table lamp, wall sconce, recessed lighting or a pendant.” Strategically mixing light sources will brighten your room and make it look larger. Opt for cool-toned daylight bulbs instead of traditional yellow.

Small Area Rugs

An area rug can bring pops of color and personality to your home décor, but the wrong size does more harm than good. Too-small rugs are a common small space design mistake.

“Avoid having a postage stamp-sized rug in the middle of the room,” cautions Lindsey Putzier, owner and principal designer of Lindsey’s Eclectic Interiors. Instead of tying the room together, an ill-fitting rug makes pieces of furniture feel disconnected.

Instead, use an area rug to create a conversation space. Putzier says it should be large enough to extend beneath the front legs of each furniture piece. This creates a larger, more cohesive section of the room.

Low, Heavy Drapes

It seems natural to hang drapes directly above window frames, but that can make your ceiling appear lower than it actually is. Hanging drapes too low wastes vertical space. Dark, heavy fabrics and patterns will also visually shrink a room

Instead, Putzier recommends hanging drapes near the ceiling to elongate the room. Light, airy materials provide privacy without eliminating all natural light or weighing down a room.

Oversized Furniture

Showroom furniture looks smaller due to the size of the store. When it’s finally delivered, it might be too big for your home. “Scale is really important for furniture — it’s why sofas often come in multiple sizes,” Putzier says. “Stuffing large-scale pieces into a small space just makes the room feel overcrowded.” Skirted sofas and solid tables can do the same thing.

Measure your space before heading to the store so that you know exactly what size you need. If you like to spread out but don’t have space for a sectional, Putzier suggests swapping a coffee table for an ottoman, especially one with built-in storage. And keep in mind that items with legs take up less visual space.

Too Many Accessories and Knickknacks

Gifted candles, souvenir seashells and little antique shop finds are tough to relinquish. But filling “tables and bookshelves with a million tiny items makes any space feel cluttered,” Putzier notes. If your small space is feeling a little too small, consider cutting back on the accessories. Sticking to a few favorite pieces lets your personal style shine without taking up valuable space.

Furniture Pushed Against Walls

We’re always sharing ideas for how to use wall space, but pushing everything up against the walls creates dead space in the center of the room. Jordan Collins, a home renovation expert at Two Lions 11, says that such a void “draws people’s attention to the fact that the room is small.”

This design mistake has an easy fix: Try floating some furniture away from the walls. This is also a useful trick for spaces that are too large, since it helps create zones in an open-concept home.

Not Enough or Too Much Color

Collins also cautions against painting every wall white. While white paint can brighten a small, dark space, too much of it can fall flat. Conversely, too many colors make a room look busy and cramped. Large spaces can handle more daring color palettes.

To avoid making your small space look smaller, Collins says to curate your color palette carefully, sticking to the nuances of a single color. Be intentional with accent colors.

Only Using Horizontal Space

Breaking up a room horizontally can make it look smaller. “Always aim to draw the eyes higher up and farther out,” says Megan Dufresne, founder of MC Design. Dufrense explains that, like with low curtains, tiling the bottom half of a small bathroom draws focus toward the floor.

Using vertical space is practical and attractive. It’s a great way to get more lighting and storage space, and it can be a purely stylistic choice to make a room seem larger.

Too Much Unused Furniture

Furniture accumulates over time. Family members move and give away unwanted pieces, and they get packed into already-full rooms. Collins explains that too much furniture “will certainly make the area look even smaller than it already is.” Unused items take up valuable floor space, creating a smaller environment.

Consider which pieces are part of your daily routine. Seating for 12 is unnecessary if you never have more than eight guests at a time. Sell or donate the excess furniture that is just collecting dust.

Mikayla Borchert
Mikayla is an assistant editor for Family Handyman, specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening, organization and décor. She has one cat and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, she likes running, skiing, hiking and tending her balcony garden.