It’s not just your imagination; apartments actually are getting smaller. Spaces our parents wouldn’t have considered fit for kindling storage are now renting as $2000-a-month one bedrooms. But just because a living space is small doesn’t mean it has to feel small. I inherited my present apartment from a friend of mine, and I’d moved in with a distinct feeling of dread. Every time I’d visited, the place had seemed claustrophobic and cramped, but when I actually took the space over, I found that it was, while still on the smallish side, quite reasonable in its proportions. It had only seemed small because he’d done almost everything wrong; just to give one example, he’d had a massive, bulky sectional sofa of the sort you see in homes with, like, nine kids. He’d arranged this sofa in a diagonal line across his living room, and then used the space behind the sofa for storage. Essentially, he’d reduced the room’s area by half, and then further reduced the usable space by having an unnecessarily puffy, XL sofa. (I actually once suggested to him, when he still lived there, that since he lived alone, he might swap out his battleship-sized sofa for something more modest. His reply was, “it’s from West Elm. My mom bought it for me.” The lesson, as always: do NOT let your mother buy you furniture. Especially from West Elm.)
When I moved in, I set about maximizing the space, and these are the tips that worked the best.
HANG MIRRORS EVERYWHERE
This is a well-known but super effective way to make a room look less small; experts say it’s because the mirrors reflect light, and thus make a space look brighter. I went to Goodwill, bought a huge 4 foot by 4 foot mirror, and mounted it on my living room wall, and if I Windex it, it looks like a portal to a whole other room. I can’t wait until one of my friends comes over really really high and tries to get to the kitchen by walking into it. Hopefully I’ll have the presence of mind to be recording video of it.
Mindful of the cost of large mirrors (even at IKEA, the full-length ones are a couple hundred dollars), designers say you can get the same effect by grouping a bunch of smaller mirrors on the same wall.
DECORATE YOUR CEILINGS
This was a surprising tip. I guess we don’t really think about most of our space above eye level, but ceilings have a huge impact on our perception of the size of a room. And leaving all that surface area an amorphous blank isn’t doing the room any favors. Experts recommend decorating or even wallpapering the ceiling to draw attention upwards. If you’re feeling lazy or nostalgic (kind of the same thing, isn’t it?), you could just slap some of those adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars onto the ceiling, the ones every single teenager in America used to stare at while lying in bed and thinking about what they would be when they grew up – a pro athlete or a famous musician? God, adulthood is depressing.
You could also go with some small bookshelves, mounted up near the ceiling. Not only is it super-efficient, it looks nice and classy. Although really you’re just telling your guests, “hey, see these books? I never ever read these books.”
GO FOR LIGHT COLORS
This may come as a surprise, but making your apartment look like Nosferatu’s crypt by painting the walls a dark color is not going to make it seem like a warm and inviting space. Crazy!
Experts recommend “citrus” colors like bright oranges or soft yellows, or “seafoam” colors like light blue or green. Of course, the most dependable color is white, which you could then enhance by painting your trim a different color, or for going for an entire accent wall. I actually went for the accent wall idea, and one night when I was very motivated (i.e. I’d eaten a lot of Adderall) I started in on a Hieronymus Bosch-meets-Where’s Waldo-style mural, which, of course, I’ve never finished. Maybe just go for a solid color for your own accent wall.
INVEST IN SPACE-APPROPRIATE FURNITURE
Not only should you go for sleek, minimal furniture, but it should NOT just be pushed up against the wall. It seems counter-intuitive, but pushing all your furnishings against the wall just makes a room seem smaller. One trick that works well is to put a small table or shelf between, say, your sofa and the wall; I have no idea why, but it has a pretty pronounced visual effect.
DON’T FORGET THE CANTALOUPE RULE
Though it sounds ridiculous and perhaps vaguely sexual, the Cantaloupe Rule, which states that you shouldn’t put any item smaller than a cantaloupe in a small space, is pretty useful. I have no idea why; maybe it’s because we have an internalized aversion to clutter. In my living room, which other than my furniture, is dominated by two very oversized lamps, I get a nice comforting vibe. Whereas my bedroom, which is cluttered with all kinds of thrift store miscellany (latest acquisition: a large bust of Mao Zedong that is actually a CANDLE), gives me a vague tickle of anxiety when I look at it. Try it out yourself, you’ll see.