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Last updated: September 15, 2021 • Home Improvement

Downsizing 101: 6 Tips to Create a Spacious Design in Your Small Apartment

You’ve really enjoyed your 3500 square foot suburban home but now with all of the kids out of the house, being an empty nester, and retirement approaching, you’ve found that you just don’t need all of the space you have now. You’ve always dreamed of living downtown in the center of the city, and the opportunity has arisen for you to buy a prime condo at a great price. Your living space will shrink to 1500 square feet, however, and frankly, you’re worried about space restrictions.  Let’s look at ways to best utilize the space you have, and also at designer hacks designed to create the illusion of space.

Before You Move

With downsizing imminent, you need to understand that some of your stuff has just got to go. If you are a saver/hoarder, this might be difficult but if you can answer the following questions truthfully, you’ll have an easier time deciding which items are essential and which ones can be disposed of:

  • Do you really need your old cassette tapes and your collection of VHS movies?
  • We know you’re a planner, but are three lawn mowers really necessary?
  • Are you ever going to fix that old blown out Peavey solid state guitar amp?
  • Is there a reason you save almost every empty paint can?
  • Do you have to keep five old bikes just in case you need the parts?
  • Have you really visited your storage unit in the past two years?
  • Is it necessary to own three printers “just in case”?

Have a yard sale, an estate sale, a rummage sale, sell stuff on Craigslist, take it to Goodwill, or if you have to, call a junk removing service to just pick up your unneeded things. If you diligently take this admittedly difficult first step, it will make the following design hacks even easier to implement.

Paint It White

roller brush painting

Even if you were frustrated while at your previous home because you didn’t have the opportunity to experiment with multi-colored walls, don’t start painting the rooms of your compact apartment purple. Don’t use beige paint and resist the temptation to tint your white wall paint with even a faint trace of pink. 

Dark and dingy walls make your living space look smaller—it’s as simple as that. Bright white walls will make it seem larger, so buy a high quality bright white paint and cover all walls with it. Also, stay away from heavily textured surfaces as these also can work against your goal of presenting perceived open space.

Except the Ceilings!

white couch sitting upside down against the wall

Remember when you took your mom with you to help decorate your first college apartment and she promptly painted the ceilings white? We’re going to be counter-intuitive here, because savvy designers use the dark ceiling paint hack. While they agree that walls should be painted bright white, top decorators suggest that you try to paint the ceiling a rich black or blue color. The effect—combined with the beautiful white walls—can be astounding as a deep dark ceiling can create a wonderful illusion of space. Try it–you can always paint over it if this doesn’t work for you–but we stand by our suggestion.

Respect the Light

In a small living space, light is your friend and darkness is your enemy. Therefore, make sure that nothing blocks any natural light source. 

  • Don’t put dressers in front of bedroom windows.
  • If your front door has a window, make sure that if you have to you cover it, use something that can be fully opened. 
  • Don’t use heavy curtains or clunky blinds on kitchen windows.
  • Use something like this if you have to hang utensils in front of a window:

Follow the rule—don’t block the light.

Resist the Urge

painting the ceiling with black paint

You’ve now got a small family room and some larger pieces of furniture that you felt were essential, so you brought them with you. Your first inclination is to shove everything tightly against the wall so that you can preserve every possible inch of floor space. Unfortunately, scrunching all of your big furniture items directly against the wall will only make the room look heavy and unforgiving. 

Instead, try this:

Place all large pieces of furniture at least three inches away from the walls. This will amazingly create a breeziness and a positive flowing feeling that will counteract the negative effects that can result from large furniture pieces being placed in a compact room.

Use LED Lighting

beautiful living room with led design on the ceiling

Incandescent bulbs can produce a yellow artificial light that will not help create an illusion of space in your home. Fluorescent lighting may be brighter, but it can be harsh. Our solution is to go with modern LED lighting fixtures paired with a smart app. LEDs are becoming more cost effective every year as their prices come down and the lighting situations they can handle increase. With a smart LED system, you can change hues and intensities depending on outside light and weather conditions and you can control everything from your mobile device.

And did you know that some LED fixtures—like door entry-way lights—are now constructed so that they will last up to 40 years? Now that’s real value!

Vertical Shelves

small vertical book shelve

Rather than use traditional shelving that takes up lots of room, we strongly suggest that you use vertical units like those pictured above. This saves valuable floor space while making great use of blank wall space.

Also consider hanging closet storage racks and above the door pot and pan holders. Vertical shelves are a great way to save up space and there are more interesting ideas and tips on how to organize your closet that you might like.

Bonus Tip: Multi Use Furniture

If you have a traditional bedroom furniture set, there may be six inches of unused space underneath your bed. We congratulate you if you use that space to store guitars or other flatter objects that might fit, but there are more efficient methods to create storage like this one below:

bed with extra deposit storage under it

Remember those old cartoons that had a fold-up bed or ironing board in a closet? While kids may still think that getting slapped by an in-closet bed or ironing board is quite funny, the storage concept is sound. 

We do understand that moving from a large home to a much smaller apartment, like a cheap place in Chicago for example, can be daunting. Any life change is difficult, we know, and while it may be exciting to move, it may be painful to part with treasured possessions even if you no longer use them. 

The challenge of a smaller living space can be overcome if you pay special attention to the hacks we have listed above.

And finally, we’ll leave you with yet another bonus tip. As a kid you probably were taken to a fancy restaurant with a room that looks like it went on forever. When you looked at the wall, all you saw dozens of diners—some that looked just like you. Of course, what you were looking at was a floor to ceiling full length mirror that created an amazing illusion of space. While a custom-made wall-covering mirror may not be the least expensive item on your list, it certainly will create a unique deception.

Good luck with your transition to smaller quarters. Continue to think creatively and keep an open mind because you will soon become accustomed to your smaller but very functional new space.


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