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Making Small Feel Big

Small spaces don’t have to cramp your style. Here are 10 strategies to create the illusion of floor-to-ceiling spaciousness.

By Sharon Cutler

There are ways to live large, no matter how small your space. It’s all about illusion and tricking the eye, so try these tips from local design professionals.


Start at Ground Level When trying to make a space feel larger, start with the floor. Large-format tile makes small rooms feel open, because there are fewer grout lines to distract the eye and cut up the space. To create these long lines, Ben Cartwright of Cartwright Distributing in Denver recommends installing large-format tiles (10-by-20, 18-by-18, 20-by-20 or 24-by-24 inches) in either a Versailles pattern (a set pattern that incorporates tiles of different sizes and shapes) or a brick pattern. The same philosophy holds true for wood flooring. “Using planks that are 4 or 5 inches wide will have a more dramatic effect than standard-size planks,” he says. But be careful with tile: If the room is fairly small, a 20-by-20-inch or larger tile will overpower it.

Dining Room

Pick a Pleasing Palette Paint all four walls the same color. “Light, cool colors work best,” says interior designer Linda Klueber of Niwot Interiors, “or wallpaper all four walls the same.” That way, there are no defined corners, so you’re not as psychologically aware of where the space ends. The same trick applies to the kitchen: Light countertops will make it look larger. Avoid dark, warm colors, which absorb light and make a room look smaller. Alternatively, paint three walls a light shade and one wall a dark shade, which tricks the eye into thinking the dark wall is receding, making the room appear larger.

Pass on Patterns Avoid dark prints, crazy patterns and busy fabrics, which make a room look, well, busy, which translates to small. Instead, make a statement with bold colors and “use accessories and accents as a way to pop other colors or elements,” says Ron Werner of HW Home in Boulder.

Big Is Beautiful Although it seems counterintuitive, a few large pieces of furniture, instead of several small ones, make a small room look larger. “Small rooms, small furniture is an old way of thinking,” says Barbara Bork of Boulder Interior Design Co. “Nowadays, people want larger pieces, which can live happily in a small space and lend themselves to creating a cozy and inviting feel.” Bork says the trick is to place the big pieces first and then “layer” things in a way that “pushes some things to the background and pulls other things to the foreground.” But don’t block walking pathways. The more floor you see, the better. So reposition urns and pots on shelves and furniture instead of on the floor, and heave large area rugs.


Get the Light Right Install recessed lighting close to the walls to “illuminate the walls and create the illusion of more floor space,” says John Hasse of Boulder’s Splashlight. “Recessed lighting makes the ­ceiling seem higher, because you’re lighting the walls, which creates more depth and pulls that space out. If you use this technique on opposing walls it really stretches the space.” He recommends installing energy-efficient, dimmable LED cans 8 to 12 inches from the wall to maximize the effect. The closer to the wall, the higher the light footprint and the higher the ceiling appears.

Reflect on Reality Mirrors reflect light and brighten a room, making it appear larger. And the larger the mirror, the more light it reflects. Instead of the typical wall-mounted mirror, try something different, like leaning an oversized mirror against a wall or placing a floor mirror in a corner. Or hang a mirror opposite a window to reflect the incoming light and pleasant view. If you have no windows, place two thick-glassed mirrors on facing walls to create the illusion that the room goes on forever.


Furniture Fixes Pick furniture that can do double duty, like a drop-leaf console that can double as a dining-room table or a drop-leaf cabinet that can be used as a sideboard. Pull-down desks are great for storage, and for hiding a workspace. Other popular multitasking pieces are ottomans and cocktail tables with built-in storage where blankets, books, toys and other items can be placed. Corner bookshelves are great space savers and clutter killers. Furniture with exposed legs and open arms opens p a room, along with glass tables, which make it appear airier.


Clear Clutter Don’t let your entry become a drop spot for the kids. Proper storage in this area instantly makes a space feel bigger. “Not all houses have mudrooms,” says Chad Parker, production manager at Closet & Storage Concepts in Longmont, “but you can get the same functionality out of your entryway.” Hang a shelf with hooks to hold books, coats, backpacks and purses, and buy a bench for removing shoes. Slide baskets beneath the bench to store shoes, toys and other goods. Just make sure these options are visible and accessible, so the kids will use them.

Tip-Top Shape A white ceiling may give a room an airy, spacious feel, but that’s not always the case. If the walls are a dark color, a white ceiling draws your eyes to the transition between walls and ceiling, creating boundaries, says Megan McCarthy of Guiry’s Color Source in Boulder. “Painting the ceiling a slightly darker shade won’t make a room feel like it has more height,” she says, “but it will make the space feel bigger.”

Bring In the Sunshine Pass on window coverings and pull in the natural light and beauty of the landscape. This tricks the eye into thinking the room has more depth. If you need privacy, consider sheers instead of curtains. And if you don’t have natural light, add lighting features.

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