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home : Moving : Setting Up :

The Space Race

Feeling like a caged hamster in your new place? Try a few of these tricks for making your apartment look and feel spacious.


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If you're entirely happy with your new digs, you're in the minority. On a starting salary in a major city, even great apartments are likely to be "too" something: too small, too expensive, too rundown, too many roommates.

Luckily, there is something you can do about that "too small" part. Use a few of our space-saving tips to create hidden storage, employ some magic tricks to create the illusion of more room, and your apartment will appear to be a palace. Or at least a couple of square feet bigger than it really is.

Size Is Everything

Forthwith, the basic rules of bigness:

  • White is good. As is light yellow, light green, light blue, light (fill in your favorite color). In case you still don't understand: the operative concept here is lightness. White and other light colors help eliminate walls and floors and make rooms look larger and airier. When it comes to the dominant color scheme for your room, the rug, sofa, lampshades and seat cushions should all be in light colors (preferably the same one). Try limiting the number of colors you use to two or three, and repeat the color scheme through different rooms. But ask your landlord before painting your walls sky blue.
  • Be a minimalist. Instead of cluttering your space with lots of furniture, invest in a large, dramatic piece like a table or bed that will serve as the focal point of a room. It's even better if furniture can fulfill two functions (a day bed or futon that doubles as a sofa, for example). Resist the temptation to push all of your furniture against the wall. Instead, group furniture into attractive conversation pieces.
  • Place mirrors strategically. While mirrors directly over the bed can be good for some things, above the headboard is great for shadow puppets and makes more decorative sense. Mirrors opposite bookshelves make it look like college made you a well-read individual. Mirrors create the illusions that a room is twice as big by reflecting half of the room. Furthermore, mirrors reflect light better than blank walls or posters, thus providing you with a brightly lit room without that extra halogen lamp. Just make sure that you don't go overboard with the number of mirrors and create your own amusement park attraction. Also, keep in mind that a mirror should never be placed directly opposite the door (unless you want to freak out your visitors) or the TV set (unless you want to freak out yourself).
  • Keep it simple. Nothing can compete with the straight, clean lines of contemporary furniture when it comes to making a room look bigger. Elegantly carved, dark mahogany tables were meant for gracing 12-acre estates, not a 400-square-foot closet. In other words, until you can afford a bigger place, stick with skinny furniture.
  • Avoid busy patterns. This is along the same line as keeping it simple. A room will look more spacious if its colors and patterns harmonize. Don't know which patterns work together? Stay on the safe side with solid colors.
  • Make your window treatments work. Long, thin curtains will make windows look taller, especially if they blend in with your walls. A room will look larger and more elegant if curtains and treatments start several inches above the molding and extend out from the window. To create the illusion of a bigger apartment, hang a full-length mirror and dress it up with window treatments for a "pseudo-view".
  • Plants are good, within reason. You are not Tarzan, so you don't need those 7-foot-tall trees masquerading as plants. It's good to keep one or two low-maintenance plants (which will survive a week when you forget to water) to add life to your apartment and show that you are a responsible person should your parents or a significant other drop by to check out your place. However, too many plants or overly large plants will be difficult to take care of and take up a lot of space.

Space-Saving Savvy

Now that you have the basic tenets down, here are a few additional ideas for creating extra storage and floor space:

  • Ottomans, benches and chaise lounges provide extra seating, but don't take up much room.
  • For entertaining, try butterfly or director's chairs that can be moved quickly. Stools make an easy transition from the dining room or kitchen to the living room.
  • In lieu of a coffee table, use a wooden crate or trunk for additional storage space.
  • Use a serving cart as an endtable; wheel it into the kitchen for extra counter space or the bedroom for breakfast in bed.
  • For more room in your dining room, use a console table with an expandable leaf.
  • Create your own closet in the corner of a room by handing a sheet or flag from a rod attached to the walls.

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