Home Decor for IndieDwell Container Homes

Recently, we were asked to stage a home that was made from a repurposed, steel shipping container for the Housing and Urban Development Innovative Housing Showcase in Washington D.C.’s National Mall.

It was going to be a challenge to make this 900 sq. ft. home functional and homey for a family of four, but we jumped at the chance—not only because we love a challenge, but also because there’s a big, important cause behind this home.

IndieDwell, the company who built it, has a mission to make affordable housing units much more functional, beautiful, and healthier for the families that live there. Currently, most affordable housing for low-income families is filled with problems like poor energy efficiency, mold growth, and the presence of lead. IndieDwell’s homes are built to be energy efficient, which means they stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and they come with significantly lower energy bills. They’re also clean, modern, and surprisingly roomy for multiple people, finally giving many families that feeling of a real home without the cost.

The HUD Showcase was an opportunity for IndieDwell to get this cause and their homes in front lawmakers and national media. So the pressure was on to stage this home quickly and beautifully—so that everyone could see just how stunning these low-cost, IndieDwell container homes could really be.

You can tour the final design and home here.

Here’s how we staged this unconventional home:

We made it functional for families of four by balancing separate spaces with open concepts

Since these homes are made for families, it was important that each room feel like a private retreat for different family members. At the same time, we also wanted the heart of the home to feel as big as possible, which meant not cordoning off spaces with bulky furniture.

By ensuring that all the furniture in the shared spaces was pushed against the walls and angled toward a central, open space, we created a living room/kitchen/dining area that you were able to freely move around in without feeling cramped.

On the other hand, we gave each room its own specific function—like a nursery, master bedroom, or sitting area—so that there was plenty of privacy for families.

The floor plan reveals how Tactic Staging balanced open-concept home decor with private spaces.

We used light-toned home decor and neutral color to make small spaces feel bigger

We’ve previously written about how to make your small space feel bigger and more functional just by using sneaky home decor tricks. And using those tips for this home was especially important since at least four people would be sharing 900 sq. ft!

The key design choices we made were to keep colors neutral for the furniture and accessories while incorporating natural textures like leather, wood, and real plants. This way, the space could flow without visual interruption (seeming bigger), but it won’t ever feel sterile or boring.

Home decor experts know that light colors and organic textures are a surefire way to make small spaces feel bigger and homier

We made this home appeal to everyone with contemporary and warm home decor

The biggest challenge with staging a home is to choose decor and furniture that feels perfect for each unique space, is modern and updated, and yet appeals to most people. You want the home to feel lived in and inviting while still coming across as something of a blank canvas for potential buyers to see themselves making their own.

This shipping container added another challenge: How do you make a home that initially seems “temporary” really feel like a permanent home?

To give this home a permanent look, we chose beautiful artwork for each room and sturdy furniture. Artwork doesn’t take up any additional space or darken a small room, but it does add those punches of personality that make a room seem less empty. Meanwhile, sturdy furniture like a cozy headboard can add some weight to a room.

How do you make a home built from a shipping container feel permanent? Choose sturdy furniture and punchy artwork

We overcame the narrowness of the home by creating “moments” through home decor

A significant challenge of shipping container homes is that shipping containers are much narrower than traditional homes. So, we had to get creative to make sure that walking through this home didn’t feel like you were running the length of a shipping container.

One of the ways we overcame the narrowness was by finding places to create moments through design, breaking up the length without taking up precious space. For example, we added a charming, mid-century modern-inspired sideboard and eye-catching piece of art at one end of the long living space.

We created a charming corner at the end of the living space to break up the length, making the home feel less narrow

Ultimately, this project was a joy to design! We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to contribute to the success of IndieDwell’s amazing mission for better, healthier affordable housing options. Even though we didn’t get to see the home before we designed it, the end result was better than we could have hoped for.

IndieDwell and their shipping container home picked up a lot of national media coverage, including an interview with the Housing and Urban Development secretary himselfinside the home!

If you’ve got an unconventional house or apartment in the Washington D.C. area that’s proving tricky to sell, contact us for a free home staging consultation.

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.