10 Mistakes to Avoid When Decorating a Small Space

living room
credit: Anthropologie

Whether it's a shoebox-sized urban apartment or a powder room in a larger home, nearly everyone has to deal with decorating a small space. While there are many virtues to tiny living quarters — after all, you need fewer items to make a design impact — the challenge comes in making sure that every piece of furniture works without overwhelming the space. And all too often, this hefty challenge can lead to its fair share of mistakes. Here are 10 of the most common pitfalls when decorating a small space, and more importantly, what to do about them.

Mistake #1: Going crazy with storage accessories.

underbed storage
credit: IKEA

In a small space, organization is crucial. However, too many storage bins can take up more room than the clutter they contain. It's better to restrict your organizational accessories to the bare minimum, and then using them to capitalize on unseen space (like under the bed or sofa). Opt for a sleek storage box like the VARDO ( $29.99 ) from Ikea.

Mistake #2: Choosing nothing but small-scale pieces.

Armless Sofa
credit: Joybird

Just because you have a small space doesn't mean everything in it has to be tiny. Though choosing a little loveseat instead of a sofa will free up floor space, it's often not the most practical choice. Instead, select key pieces in a size that works for your lifestyle. While you can't fit a full-size sectional in a studio, you could opt for a more comfortable armless sofa like the Percy Sofa ( $1,199 ) from Joybird and pair it with an ottoman that can be moved out the way when not in use.

Mistake #3: Going large in the wrong places.

Round coffee table
credit: Anthropologie

A too-large coffee table makes pathways difficult to navigate while not offering much in the way of function. It's much better to pair your sofa with a smaller table like the Lirit Coffee Table from Anthropologie ( $1,168 ). Or, you can use two side tables placed side-by-side, which can be easily separated and used next to the sofa when you need the extra room.

Mistake #4: Cramming too much into too little space.

Modern secretary desk
credit: Target

It's all about priorities: If you want to have a king-sized bed in a small room, you'll probably have to give up on nightstands. And if you can't fit a big desk into a small corner space? Try a secretary-style desk with a fold-down surface, like the Loring Secretary Desk from Target's new Project 62 line.

Mistake #5: Being afraid of color and pattern.

The old adage that strong colors make rooms appear smaller is a little misleading. Though white or light walls can make a room seem brighter and perhaps a little bigger, the effect is negated by the darker hues of the furniture most of us select. Instead, experiment with brighter shades that make you happy. A great place to start is with removable wallpaper, like this one from Urban Outfitters ( $39 ).

Mistake #6: Forgetting to add enough lighting.

An overhead light might not be enough to illuminate your space, leading to dark corners that make a room seem even smaller. Floor lamps can solve the problem, especially sleek designs like the IC F1 Floor Lamp ( $995 ) from Design Within Reach.

Mistake #7: Placing all of your furniture against a wall.

slim console table
credit: Pottery Barn

In the tiniest of rooms, you may not have a choice. However, if you can, pull the sofa a few inches away from the wall. This is a decorator trick to make a small space seem bigger, but it also gives you an opportunity to sneak in a thin console, like the Leona console table from Pottery Barn ( $479 ), which gives you a space for storage or displaying a collection.

Mistake #8: Hanging curtains too low.

Speaking of designer tricks, here's another one that can work in your favor: positioning your curtain rod as close to the ceiling as possible. This helps visually "lift" the ceiling to create the illusion of height. To maximize this trick, opt for a clear rod like the acrylic single rod hardware set ( starting at $79 ) from Ballard Designs.

Mistake #9: Not taking advantage of wall space.

west elm floating shelves
credit: west elm

Walls are not just for art. They can be put to use with wall-mounted shelves, like the reclaimed wood floating shelf from West Elm ( starting at $79 ), expanding storage without taking up a single square inch of floor space.

Mistake #10: Overlooking double-duty pieces.

dual purpose coffee table
credit: CB2

Less is more when you select pieces that can have more than one function. Though we all know about the wonders of sofa beds, there are a few other pieces that can pull double-duty. A desk can be used as a dining surface, a low stool can be used as a side table, and an ottoman as a coffee table (just add a tray). Then there are the specialty dual-purpose pieces, like this round storage coffee table from CB2 ( $699 ).