Dividers don’t always work. KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

  • Decorating a studio apartment is a unique challenge.

  • Experts told Insider that people often make choices that actually make these spaces look smaller.

  • Bulky furniture, white walls, and not taking advantage of vertical space are common mistakes.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Studio dwellers miss out when they don’t take advantage of vertical space.

apartment dining room

People don’t take advantage of vertical space. Westend61/Getty Images

When you live in a small space, it’s important to make the most of the little space you do have. Experts told Insider that when you don’t use the vertical space your studio offers, you’re probably going to miss out on decor opportunities.

“You may not have a lot of square footage in your space, but you can make the absolute most of it by going vertical,” Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style for the online interior design service Modsy, said.

“It just feels like wasted space,” Megan Baker, the home projects editor for Apartment Therapy, said of not using vertical space, pointing to the spaces above cabinets and ceilings.

Shelving and artwork are easy ways to use vertical space.

kitchen open shelves

Think high when you decorate. Malkovstock/Getty Images

You can get larger pieces of art that will make use of the higher parts of your walls, or you can use shelving, which will do double duty as storage and decor.

For instance, Baker told Insider that the 2020 winner of the “tiny” category in Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Contest took the doors off of her kitchen cabinets, which made the space feel larger and more inviting.

“One of our favorite narrow space design ideas is using bookcases in creative ways,” Wood gave as another example. “Bookcases make use of your space vertically so you can maximize storage while minimizing use of floor space.”

The Small/Cool Contest will be virtual again in 2021.

Having a bunch of small furniture pieces might overwhelm your studio.

studio apartment

Small furniture doesn’t always work. Vostok/Getty Images

You obviously can’t fit anything too big into a studio apartment, but experts warned that filling your home with too much small furniture can overwhelm it.

“The biggest mistake in working with a small space is thinking it needs small pieces and measured solutions,” Liz MacPhail, the founder and principal designer of Liz MacPhail Interiors, told Insider. “Small and disparate pieces feel dinky and anemic in a space lacking square footage.”

Caitlin Murray, the founder and creative director of Black Lacquer Design, agreed.

“Too many too-tiny pieces can make any room feel cluttered,” Murray said.

Although it feels counterintuitive, it might be better to opt for a few big pieces instead.

studio apartment living room

Choose big statement pieces. LumiNola/Getty Images

The experts said it’s better to get a few larger furniture pieces that will fill your space, as they’ll ensure things don’t look too cramped.

“While I’m not suggesting a massive sofa can fit through a narrow stairwell in a four-story walk-up, I do feel the biggest piece you can fit through that maze will best fill the space,” MacPhail said.

“I think that probably what you’re going to want to do if you have a small apartment is invest in bigger pieces,” Baker told Insider. “If you have four small armchairs, it’s going to look a little more cluttered than one bigger couch.”

But at the same time, be wary of overly bulky furniture.


You don’t want your furniture to be too big. Mint Images/Getty Images

Murray also warned studio dwellers against “dark and chunky pieces that read inherently heavy.”

While too much small furniture in a studio can be overwhelming, overly large furniture can also make your studio look less spacious than it is.

Transparent furniture can make your studio look bigger.


Glass furniture can be good in studios. romakoma/Shutterstock

According to Wood, opaque furniture is a go-to for designers when trying to make a space look bigger.

“Opting for pieces made of glass or acrylic is a great way to trick the eye into thinking your space is larger than it is,” she told Insider. “Skip the bulky wooden coffee table in favor of a glass or acrylic option.”

“It’ll make your space look more open and airy – which in turn will help it feel larger,” Wood added.

You don’t have to leave your walls white.

apartment with white walls

White walls aren’t your only option. Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images

Although white walls can be effective in a small space, the experts told Insider that you don’t have to use white paint on your walls if you don’t like it.

“I think that a lot of people think that white is their only option for a small space,” Baker said. “But just because you’re in a small space, you don’t need to be scared to use color.”

Bright paint can actually help you create different “zones” in your apartment.


Color can help you differentiate spaces. Westend61/Getty Images

Although accent walls are a trend that’s on the way out for most spaces, they can actually be really effective in studios, according to the experts.

You can paint small portions of your walls to help differentiate areas of your apartment, which will make it feel bigger.

“Parsing out different spaces for different uses and taking a more is more approach in a small studio will not only make the space more efficient and practical for real, everyday use, but it will make the space feel bigger,” MacPhail said.

If you want to embrace colorful paint in small parts of your apartment, Baker suggested painting the wall above your bed to create the illusion of a headboard without taking up as much space.

If you only have furniture that’s low to the ground, your space probably looks smaller than it is.


Furniture that touches the ground looks bulky. Martin Barraud/Getty Images

“Nothing makes a small space look even smaller like a bulky sofa plopped right on the floor,” Wood said, as it almost makes it seem as if there’s nowhere but the floor for furniture to go.

It’s much better to get furniture with legs in a small space.

“Getting furniture that has a little bit of a leg to it to raise it off the floor really creates an airy feeling,” Baker said.

Furniture with legs can add dimension to your space.


Legs make a big difference. KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Any leg that lifts your furniture will make your studio feel larger, but you might want to go extra tall if you live in a small space.

“Pieces with long tapered legs are a perfect choice,” Wood said, adding that mid-century modern furniture is often made with these types of legs, helping to explain why the style is so enduring.

Baker told Insider that legged furniture also presents an opportunity for buying vintage pieces.

“A lot of older furniture will have skirts on it, and if you would just rip that skirt off, it’s a totally new piece of furniture,” she said.

Filling every available inch of wall space can make a room look cluttered.


You don’t want to overwhelm your walls. Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

Although artwork brings a lot of life to a small space, it’s important not to go overboard with your decor.

In particular, the designers told Insider that studio dwellers should think about negative space as they decorate.

“Make sure to keep negative space in mind and think about how artwork placement carries the eye throughout the room,” Murray said.

If one wall of your studio is entirely covered in artwork, it might be overwhelming to look at and make the space feel smaller.

Smart use of negative space can help to maximize your studio.


Negative space makes rooms look bigger. Joe Schmelzer/Getty Images

You don’t want to leave the walls blank, but making sure there’s negative space between your wall hangings will keep your walls from looking cluttered.

“It’s really all about balance,” Murray said.

You have to be careful with dividers.


Dividers don’t always work. KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Many people turn to dividers to help create different zones in their studios, but they might not be the best choice for your space.

“It’s a super great idea,” Baker said of dividers. “But I think that it can be dividing in a way that makes your space actually feel smaller.”

Because dividers literally cut off the space, they often make studios look smaller than they are, particularly if they’re dark and go from floor to ceiling.

You can use your furniture to divide up the space instead.

studio apartment

Furniture can be a divider. View Pictures / Contributor / Getty Images

For instance, angling your couch away from your bed can help to separate your sleeping area.

Baker also told Insider that rugs can help to create different zones in a studio by having them “anchor” your big pieces of furniture.

“If you had your couch and your bed floating on different rugs, that can feel visually separate,” she said.

And if you really want to figure out how to make a partition work in your space, Baker suggests investing in shelves that let light come through. They will separate areas of your studio without making things feel dark or heavy, according to Baker.

Dark studios look smaller – but don’t fix it with a floor lamp.

Floor lamp

Floor lamps take up too much space. Jon Lovette/Getty Images

Lighting has a big impact on how a room feels, no matter if it’s a small studio or a larger space.

Floor lamps are often a great solution for making rooms brighter, but they take up a lot of room, which isn’t great for people who live in studios.

Bulky table lamps do the same.

Lamps that don’t take up much room and natural lighting will make your space look larger.

bright apartment

Other lighting options are better. in4mal/Getty Images

“If you’re looking for small-space design ideas involving lighting, wall sconces are the way to go,” Wood told Insider. “These types of fixtures light up your home without wasting valuable floor space or table surface area.”

“Many wall sconce options can be plugged into the wall so you don’t have to worry about the whole wiring issue,” she added.

The experts also told Insider that it’s in a studio dweller’s best interest to take advantage of natural lighting.

“I’m a firm believer in window treatments only when needed for privacy or room darkening,” MacPhail said of curtains and blinds. “Let the natural light shine in as best you can and opt for light filtering shades — sheer drapes or roller shades — if privacy is a real issue.”

Putting your furniture against the walls is tempting, but ultimately, it’s a bad idea.


Don’t push your furniture against the wall. FilippoBacci/Getty Images

It might seem smart to put all of your furniture against the walls, because you think you’ll be maximizing your space. But Baker told Insider that it often has the opposite effect.

“It’s really, really tempting because you want to feel like you’re getting as much space out of your apartment as possible, but when you do that, you are creating a whole bunch of space in the middle of the room that is dead space,” Baker said.

She added that furniture pushed to the walls often has a dorm-room-like effect, which isn’t the vibe most studio dwellers are going for.

Try pulling a few pieces off the wall – even just by a few inches.


Furniture can be placed anywhere you want. Construction Photography / Avalon / Contributor / Getty Images

Pulling your furniture just six to 12 inches away from the wall can make the space feel warmer and larger, as well as less square, according to Baker.

Plus, it’s a way to transform your apartment without spending any money, which is always a bonus.

You can learn more about Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Contest here.

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