Style at home Think big when decorating small rooms

December 06, 2008



Scripps Howard News Service

Years ago, when Dan and I were house shopping, one of the things that drew me to our historic fixer-upper was its unique mixture of grand common spaces and small, cozy private rooms. I loved how all the spaces, big and small, seemed to wrap you in a warm embrace. But I had no idea what a challenge it would be to decorate the smaller rooms, like the guest bathroom and the spare bedroom, so they appeared spacious and serene, not cramped and cluttered.

After experimenting in my own home and those of friends and customers, I've developed a sure-fire list of tricks you can use to help your little rooms live large.

USE FEWER PIECES OF FURNITURE: One of the guest bedrooms in my home is about the size of a postage stamp, and it took me a few tries before I figured out how to furnish it so that it looked larger, not smaller. First I tried using several pieces of small furniture, like a twin bed and an undersized dresser. But, to my surprise, this conglomeration of petite pieces made the room feel squished and chaotic. So I went in the opposite direction by using just three large pieces: a full bed, an armoire and a writing desk. It worked like magic. The small number of sizable pieces made the room feel calm and orderly.


INCLUDE ONE OVER-SCALED PIECE OF WOOD FURNITURE: Whether it's an armoire, like I used in my tiny spare bedroom, or a bookcase or hutch, when you furnish smaller rooms, include one big cabinet that will serve as the room's statement piece. Then, work the other furnishings around it.

SCALE DOWN UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE: I've never been a big fan of oversized upholstered pieces, especially in smaller rooms, because they gobble up too much floor space. To make your room look larger, hunt for smaller-sized and smaller-scaled sofas and chairs. For instance, if you're looking for seating for your hearth room, bypass the traditional 86-inch sofa and opt for one that's 72 inches. Some furnishings are also offered in different depths, so instead of selecting a 44-inch-deep club chair, go for one that's 36 inches deep.

ADD HEIGHT WITH DRAPES: To make a room with lower ceilings feel more spacious, hang draperies high on the wall, just below the ceiling line, instead of at the top of the window. To add to the visual effect, make the drapes long enough to puddle on the floor below. You can also make narrow windows appear wider by hanging draperies on the outer edge of the window, so the fabric covers the wall, not the glass.

CUT THE CLUTTER: When smaller rooms are filled with clutter and an overabundance of accessories, they feel congested and confining. First, dare to edit your accessories. Keep just a few well-placed accents and leave plenty of "negative" space on tabletops so the eye can rest. Then canvass the space every night to remove debris like newspapers, castoff shoes and piles of mail.

MASTER THE ART OF HANGING ARTWORK: How and where you hang artwork can have a huge impact on the visual space of your room. If you want to create the illusion of height, try arranging a grouping of artwork in a vertical band that extends from low on the wall up to the ceiling. Or, instead of pulling together a montage of smaller pieces above your sofa or mantel, pick one large statement piece of art that stretches to the ceiling.

AMP UP THE LIGHTING: Some designers warn against using deep colors in small rooms, but I love the look of rich hues like navy and brown in little spaces. The key to keeping these rooms from feeling dark and cramped is bringing in lots of lighting. Use window treatments that let in loads of natural light and gorgeous accent lamps with light-colored shades.

Mary Carol Garrity is the proprietor of three successful home-furnishings stores. She is the author of several best-selling books on home decorating. E-mail her at For more stories visit Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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