Small apartments can be tricky to decorate. With less square footage and the constraints of a lease, you're working with some design limitations right off the bat. But that doesn't mean you can't make your rental feel like home. You just have to be a little more strategic. That means looking for ways to update your decor that are both temporary and multifunctional.
"In a small apartment, you need small spaces to serve multiple purposes — a bedroom might also be an office space, a living room might also be a dining room and a playroom," says Nicole Alexander, founder and principal designer of Siren Betty Design. "Functionality is a challenge. You need pieces that do double-duty."
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For multipurpose spaces like these, you can create designated zones using room dividers, area rugs, or strategic furniture placement. When it comes to home decor, add color and personality through plants, textiles, and peel-and-stick wallpaper. Many of these items can even move with you to your next place.
Read on for more ways to make your small space feel truly yours.
20 Small Apartment Decorating Ideas
1. Add a pop of color.
Bringing in a burst of color is a great way to make your apartment feel like home. The apartment shown here is pretty neutral, but the teal love seat and orange throw pillow make it look lively and fun. "One easy trick is to be very strict about your color palette and stick to varying shades of the same color," Alexander says. "This makes everything in the space look visually congruent and intentional."
2. Bring in plant life.
You can instantly give any room a lively makeover just by adding some greenery. Let the lighting conditions of your apartment guide you and place plants in spots with the best natural light. If your space is on the darker side, try one of these plants that need only a bit of sun.
3. Create multifunctional spaces.
When square footage is tight, functionality becomes extra important. "My favorite design trick for small apartments is to include furniture that can serve multiple purposes," says Nadia Watts of Nadia Watts Interior Design. "For example, a console and an accent chair can serve as a cozy seating area or as an impromptu work space." In this apartment by Zoe Feldman Design, a corner bench serves as both a dining nook and extra seating for the adjacent living room. When lots of friends come over, the chairs can easily be moved outward to connect the two spaces.
4. Add privacy with a room divider.
For small apartments, room dividers can be a game-changer. Use them to separate your sleeping space from your work space, or just to create a layer of privacy wherever you need it. In this small bedroom by Chloe Berk, a set of wooden slats creates a cozy nook. They can even be closed for extra privacy. If you're crafty, you can make a DIY divider, using anything from bed slats to macrame.
5. Use furniture to break a room into zones.
Room dividers aren't the only way to separate a space. You can also use furniture placement to turn one open room into two or more defined zones. Take this living space by John McClain Design for example. The combination of the couch, narrow table, and pair of floor lamps creates an enclosed seating area. Use the rest of the room for dining, a home office, or whatever suits your needs.
6. Hang plants from the ceiling.
You don't need tons of surface area to display a lush collection of plants. Take a cue from Caroline Reichel and hang greenery from the ceiling instead. Choosing pots and hangers gives you another opportunity to express your personal style. You can even DIY a hanging planter for a fun afternoon project.
7. Surround your bed with curtains.
If you love the look of canopy beds but don't want to buy a whole new piece of furniture, try simply hanging curtains around your existing bed to create a cozy oasis for sleep. "Hanging a rod and adding curtains can instantly change the vibe of a room," says Kara O'Connor of Kara O'Connor Interiors. "In addition to adding interest to a space, window treatments can help with insulation, and of course, light control and privacy."
8. Try removable wallpaper.
Traditional wallpaper is not usually the best match for a rented apartment, since it requires lots of time and effort to take off. But you can get a similar effect with a removable alternative. "[Peel-and-stick wallpaper is] easy to remove, so you won't risk losing your deposit when it's time to move," Alexander says. "Don't be afraid to use it in unexpected places — a backsplash, inside a closet, the back of built-in bookshelves."
9. Make use of tall shelves.
Make the most of your vertical space by taking your shelves from the floor to the ceiling. If you're lucky, your rental unit might already have built-ins, but if not, consider DIY-ing or buying a set of tall shelves. Not only are they excellent for storage, but they also draw the eye upward, creating the illusion of extra height and space.
10. Maximize your natural light with mirrors.
One easy trick for opening up your space is to add a large mirror. Not only will it give you a place to check out your outfit before leaving the house, but it will also reflect light around the room, creating extra brightness. Choose a mirror that suits your style or DIY this one with a tutorial by Trisha Sprouse.
11. Add shelves in the kitchen.
Use those nooks and crannies for storage when you can. In this kitchen from Home at Ivy Corner, a shelf and hooks over the stove add extra storage space. Use a setup like this one to hold your most frequently used spices and kitchen utensils. To save even more space, you could also hang a magnetic knife rack on the wall.
12. Define your space with an area rug.
Area rugs are perfect for creating designated spaces, especially in studio apartments and other open floor plan layouts. "A small apartment is a wonderful opportunity to use very special (and perhaps pricey) finishes and furnishings because you won't need a lot of them," Alexander says. "You can splurge on one incredible rug. I like to think of this as a 'jewel box' approach to decorating — a tiny space, but every inch of it is filled with treasures!" (Also, it is possible to find affordable area rugs that still pack a visual punch!)
13. Place your shelves up high.
If you don't have the space for floor-to-ceiling shelves, consider just hanging shelves up high. This will get your trinkets and books out of the way while also creating the illusion of height. In this cozy space, Chloe Berk wisely installed a shelf high on the wall to bring the eyes up. Just make sure to check your lease agreement before drilling any holes.
14. Create a gallery wall.
One way to make a big impact in a small apartment is with a gallery wall. For a balanced look, take a cue from Chloe Berk and mix a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. "I love to use every wall by creating vignettes that are aesthetically pleasing while offering a practical usage," Watts shares. "A wall of art or favorite photographs can serve as an interesting Zoom background for work calls." Or, if you're tired of the gallery wall look, consider one of these alternatives.
15. Keep shelves sparse.
When you don't have a lot of space to work with, clutter can add up quickly. While it might be tempting to fill your shelves to capacity, try to keep them sparsely decorated to preserve a sense of visual calm. To store more objects while avoiding clutter, look for storage baskets and boxes to keep things contained.
16. Use a space-saving TV mount.
Mounting your TV on the wall is a great way to free up space, as you can see in this serene bedroom. It does involve making holes in the wall, though, so be sure to check your lease and ask your landlord before you commit. Some landlords may be okay with you leaving the mount installed for the tenant who comes after you.
17. Stow your bed away.
There's a good chance your bed is the biggest single item in your apartment, which means that if you choose one that can be tucked away, you'll be left with that much extra space. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to find a studio apartment with a built-in Murphy bed, but if not, other options include daybeds, futons, or roller beds, like this one spotted on Fantastic Frank. You could also opt for a storage bed to save space on drawers and shelves.
18. Hang a large piece of art.
Create a focal point in your small apartment with one striking piece of wall art. Use it to inspire or pull together your color scheme while also expressing your style. Rather than overwhelming your space, a large painting or print will actually look more streamlined than many small pieces.
19. Don't be afraid to use the floor space.
You don't always have to put your things on a table, shelf, or wall. In this Instagrammable apartment from @house_ismr, two framed pieces of art are placed right on the floor, next to a beautiful plant. While you'll want to be careful not to take up too much floor space in a small apartment, a vignette like this can create a warm, artsy vibe.
20. Opt for glass or lucite furniture.
When you use furniture pieces made of glass or lucite, they practically disappear into the room. These see-through furnishings feel unobtrusive because they trick your eyes into thinking they're not even there. In a small apartment, choose a glass coffee table or lucite bookcase to give the illusion of more open space and less clutter.