How to get the most function out of your small D.C. apartment

If you’ve ever wondered how you can possibly live comfortably in your tiny apartment, you’re not alone. During the past decade, rents have risen 28% for most cities, but spaces have shrunk nationwide.

That means that more people than ever before are living in small, urban apartments. In the Mid-Atlantic, the average size of a rental apartment is 877 square feet. That’s not exactly roomy.

Whether you’ve just moved into a small space or you’re trying to sell or rent out your smallapartment, there are some simple ways you can make it look and feel bigger.

In this article, I’m sharing my best interior design tips for getting the most function out of your small apartment.

How to make a small apartment look bigger

Keep colors neutral, light and consistent

Paint each room the same color, ideally a light shade like beige or eggshell. This way, transitions from room to room feel seamless. This is important because different wall colors for every room create a visual divide that can highlight how small each section of your apartment is.

For the same reason, choose accessories in a similar neutral shade. That includes rugs, throw pillows, blankets, furniture and wall art. And if you have the opportunity to update your flooring, opt for tiles or carpeting in a similar neutral shade.

Light-colored walls throughout your small apartment can make your space feel more open. Photo from Unsplash.

Hang mirrors on your walls

You’ve probably heard before that mirrors can make spaces look bigger, and it’s true. A few large mirrors in place of wall art can help your tiny apartment feel less cramped.

When possible, use mirrored doors for closets for a chance to incorporate a floor-length mirror in your main living spaces.

Add lighting wherever possible

Well-lit spaces feel bigger than dark rooms. Especially if your apartment has terrible natural light, you can install additional lighting to give your rooms some dimension.

This can include recessed lighting, undercabinet lighting and floor lamps.

Choose simple and organic-feeling furniture

Furniture pieces that have slightly round shapes can help your space feel more harmonious. Stay clear of loud patterns or complex designs. That’s because statement pieces can overwhelm a small space quickly.

I recommend choosing acrylic furniture—also known as ghost furniture. The minimalist style of acrylic pieces helps furniture disappear into the background of your small space.

Acrylic furniture, like this bookshelf, can make your small space feel light and airy. Photo from Pinterest.

Get rid of your drapes or curtains

If your apartment is tiny, you don’t want visually heavy drapes closing in. Plus, you want to encourage as much light as possible to come through your windows. Instead of drapes, invest in blinds for each of your windows.

How to make your small space more functional

Get furniture with hidden storage

In tiny apartments, you likely don’t have the luxury of spacious closets or cabinets. You can make up for this by choosing furniture that does double the work with hidden storage space.

For your coffee table, you could use a large chest with plenty of space inside. The same goes for end tables or side tables. When choosing a bed, look for frames with built-in storage underneath.

Install pocket doors

A pocket door is a door that slides to open. This can be a major space-saver for small apartments. You can leave your pocket doors open without compromising any space in an adjoining room.

Pocket doors slide into your wall, so they don’t take up any precious space! Photo from Pinterest.

Make sure your furniture is apartment-sized

Large furniture will only make your space harder to move around in. Instead, look for pieces that are slightly smaller than average, or that are designed especially for small spaces. For example, choose a full bed instead of a queen or king and small sofa chairs instead of a full-sized couch.

Build shelving for extra storage

Common opportunities for out-of-the-way shelving include underneath the stairs, above your bed and above the sink in your bathroom or kitchen. You can use shelving to replace floor-standing furniture like end tables, side tables and even dressers or countertops.

Get drop-leaf tables and desks + stackable chairs

Drop-leaf furniture has sections that can fold out. This means you can make your surfaces bigger when you have guests. Add folding chairs that are easily stackable to save space in your kitchen or dining room when you’re not using them.

Drop leaf tables can hang flat against your wall when not in use. Perfect for small kitchens. Photo from The Kitchn.

Be organized & reduce your stuff

In small spaces it’s important that every item has its place, because you just don’t have room for clutter. In addition, every item should have a clear purpose. You don’t have space for things you don’t need or clothes you’ve outgrown.

Home organization expert Marie Kondo advocates for organizing by categories like clothing, books, papers and sentimental items. Pick each item up and evaluate how you feel—if it doesn’t “spark joy,” then discard it.


How to deal with common small space challenges

Challenge #1: You wish your apartment had an additional room

You may want another room to use as a home office or guest room, but your small apartment leaves little opportunity for building in an extra room.

Instead, you can opt for using permanent or temporary room dividers to give guests or yourself some privacy. If your apartment has high ceilings, you can construct a mezzanine floor, which is like a loft, to serve as a semi-private office or bedroom.

Adding a mezzanine floor to your apartment gets the feel of a separate bedroom or office. Photo from Pinterest.

Challenge #2: You don’t have space for a dining table

A lot of small apartments have a kitchen and living room, but no proper place for a dining table. Many people don’t want to eat dinner on their couch every night—and they also don’t want to have a table in the center of their living space.

If this is your situation, you should look for a wall-mounted drop leaf table. This way, your dining table can be tucked smoothly against your wall when not in use.

Challenge #3: There’s no place to store bulkier items

Not everything you need has a daily function. For example, you have some extra pillows and blankets on hand for guests, or you want to store your big winter coats away when the weather gets warmer.

When you simply have no additional storage space, you can use vacuum bags to reduce the size of your clothing and bedding. Then, you can easily tuck it under your bed or at the back of a closet.

Challenge #4: You don’t have a closet

Especially if you’re trying to sell or rent out your small apartment, having no bedroom closet can be a deal breaker for many buyers and renters. It’s best to be proactive about offering an alternative that won’t take up too much precious space.

I recommend installing an open rack and shelving unit. In addition, a tall bookcase could serve as shelving for accessories or shoes.

Not having a bedroom closet can be a deal breaker for renters or home buyers. Stage your home with open shelving to proactively offer a solution–and save your sale! Photo from Pretty Designs.

Above all, focus on natural light, organization and function

Each space is unique, so you should experiment with the strategies I’ve included here to determine what’s best for your small apartment. You might even come up with your own ways to save space.

If you’re finding it overwhelming to know where to start, when it comes to small spaces, there are three guidelines you need to remember to guide every decorating decision: encourage natural light, be very organized and opt for functional pieces over purely decorative.

If you’re interested in staging your small apartment to sell—fast—contact us for a consultation.