Designer Tricks for Living Large in a Small Bedroom

Is your small bedroom cramping your style? We have 15 can't-fail insider tricks from top designers and architects to make your small bedroom feel larger — no contractor required.

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November 25, 2014
By: Davida Sidrane Hogan

Photo By: Photography by Tracey Ayton

Photo By: Photography by Stacy Z Goldberg

Photo By: Photography by Matthew Millman

Photo By: Photography by Bruce Damonte

Bring the Outdoors In

So your bedroom has access to outdoor space? Lucky you! Maintain the connection to the outdoors with drapery panels and window treatments that frame the view instead of distracting from it. "Use window treatments made from fabric with subtle details and texture, and make sure you can pull the panels all the way back," explains Karla Amadatsu, founder of the British Columbia design company Kerrisdale Design. The length of the draperies should just barely touch the floor; this allows you to see the continuity of the floor under the drapery panels connecting the indoor space to the outdoor space. When window treatments break and puddle on the floor, she explains, they give your eye a place to stop and create a division.

Think Horizontal

Minimizing color distraction on the walls, floors and furnishings is one of the ways that Linda McDougald, lead designer at the South Carolina-based firm Postcard from Paris, made this tiny bedroom feel bigger. The other major visual trick she employed was to add horizontal wood planking to the walls. "The room already had a lot of height," McDougald says, "so to balance it out we added planking, which fools your eye into thinking the space is wider than it is."

Get to the Art of the Matter

Strategically hanging art is one of the easiest ways to make a room look bigger. The art gives your eye something to focus on beyond the physical perimeter of the room and has the effect of expanding space. "Don't overload the walls," cautions Allison Marvin, an art consultant whose business, Sightline, is based in Washington, D.C. "The more you put on the walls in a small room, the smaller the space will feel." Instead, choose a few larger pieces and place them on different walls around the room. Doing so makes your eye move around the space and you notice the architectural constraints of the room less. When hanging art above a bed, Marvin recommends keeping the art within the width of the bed itself and hanging it about six to eight inches above the headboard. Design by J.D. Ireland Interior Architecture+Design

Emphasize Height

If you are blessed with high ceilings, take full advantage of them and choose a tall bed to anchor the room. "The height of the bed calls attention to the volume and height of the ceilings," explains Melanie Miller, ASID, president and founder of The Design Atelier in Atlanta. To pull off the effect, choose a delicate bed with a lot of architectural interest to add height. A bed without a footboard, which visually marks the end of the bed, ensures you won't be adding heft to the space. "A wooden four-poster bed would look heavy and command too much attention," she explains.

Choose Cool Colors

We've said it hundreds of times before: Cool colors make walls recede and have the effect of enlarging a space, while warm colors make rooms look cozier. But did you know that white paint comes in cool hues and warm hues too? "Using cool white on the walls is crisp and makes the room feel spacious," says Miller who paired the white walls with blue tones and earthy neutrals, giving this bedroom a beachy vibe. As she puts it, the color scheme is really what makes this room feel light and airy.

Be Bold

Pale walls and furniture that is light in scale naturally make a room seem larger, but that doesn't mean that big, bold furnishings don't have a place in small rooms too. In fact, according to Los Angeles-based interior designer Betsy Burnham, adding drama with color and choosing furniture that's slightly oversized can help give a sense of spaciousness as well. "Using color in chunks on furniture with increased scale makes you pay attention to the pieces in the room, so you're not thinking about how small the room actually is," she explains. By emphasizing one or two items, your eye will go to those pieces and not the constraints of the space. "Embrace the space you have," she says, and pair super-dramatic colors with simpler bedding and accessories.

Work Pattern

The same goes for pattern: A deliberate application in a small room can help the flow of the space and trick your eye into thinking there is more to the room. To pull it off, you have to get a lot of natural light in your room, advises San Francisco designer Angela Free, and be very restrained with the placement of pattern. Skip putting pattern on the bed, which would be overwhelming in a small space. "The patterned rug and window treatments are tonally related," she explains, "so there is a connectedness that makes the room feel calm and not busy."

Be Understated

Avoid large applications of pattern, like the wallpaper above, and choose motifs that are subtle and less visually jarring. Too many accent colors and wood tones chop up the space and make you notice where one architectural element (like a door) ends and another begins.

Hang a Chandelier

If you're set on a more traditional bed with a headboard and footboard, lighting is another way to emphasize the high ceilings. "Dropping a ceiling fixture down is a great way to enforce height in a room and make the space feel bigger," says New York-based interior designer Jana Happel. The chandelier draws your attention up and makes your gaze bounce around the room. Choose a fixture with simple lines that's big enough to make an impact.

Get a Leg Up

Who isn't looking for a way to eek out more storage in the bedroom? Bedside tables don't have to be wimpy little stands that are barely large enough to hold a stack of books. Substantial pieces with drawers add needed storage, help to keep surfaces clear and also provide plenty of room for a reading lamp and decorative touches like a calming picture. But be careful when selecting these pieces; a chest that sits right on the floor will make your small room look even smaller. Instead, look for tables or dressers on legs, advises Laurie Woods, ASID. "If a table is up on legs," she explains, "you see the floor extending under the furniture and that helps to visually expand the space." Same goes for a table that has an open shelf through which you can see the wall: It gives the piece a floating feel and takes your eye to the back wall instead of stopping your gaze at the front of the table.

Stash Extra Stuff

"Nothing closes you in more than clutter," notes designer Betsy Burnham. "It's really important to keep surfaces clear and have room to breathe or for your eye to go," she adds. Furniture that has hidden storage is a great way to keep things neat and tidy. Avoid heavy pieces like leather storage benches that sit right on the floor and opt for a footed bed with storage drawers like this one from Crate & Barrel. The built-in storage is like gaining six dresser drawers, and because the bed is on feet you still get air circulating underneath, so it won't visually overwhelm the room. Keep your bedding tightly tucked under the mattress to maintain the streamlined look.

Get Floored

To achieve a more spacious feel in just an afternoon, switch out your patterned rug for one in a light color. The pale oatmeal-colored carpet that San Francisco designer Martha Angus chose for this bedroom has a subtle interlocking diamond and tassel pattern. "It moves the light around the room," she notes. "It's like a bounce light at a fashion photo shoot. The light from the windows reflects off the carpet and onto the shiny furniture, which makes the room seem airy and light."

Reflect the Light

When designer S. Voula Goutsos of the Vancouver design firm Olive E+O took on this room, the mirrors were already in place. "We decided to keep them and work around them, because they reflected what was going on outside," she explains. (What was going on outside was an amazing harbor view, on which anyone would want to capitalize.) "The mirrors carry the sightlines beyond the boundaries of the actual physical space of the room and, of course, they reflect light, but I also liked them because they lent a sparkly feel to the room." To achieve this look, apply mirrors directly to the surface of the wall, then frame them with molding. Go for a symmetrical arrangement, Goutsos recommends, to create balance and calm and, of course, only place mirrors in a spot where they will reflect something beautiful.

Connect With the Rest of the House

That big dark panel at the back of this bedroom is actually a sliding barn door. Architect Ron Sutton installed the large doors at the entrance to his bedroom instead of a more traditional framed door. "The door opens up the entire room to the stairwell and other parts of the house," he explains. "It expands the space because the landing becomes part of the room, but more importantly, it creates another direction of light that dances around the space and makes the room feel really big." Of course, Sutton was able to design his own modern dream home, but creating a more open room can be done in a traditional house too. If you have the ability to change the entry door to your bedroom, opt for a wider-than-average door or even a pocket door, both of which will make you feel like the space is physically larger than the room itself.

Skip Table Lamps

"If a lamp comes off the wall," says Sutton, "it frees up space on the bedside table." Meaning, if you really don't have room for big nightstands, don't clutter them with lamps. Sutton recommends choosing sconces with adjustable arms. "You don't have to be as accurate about placement, if the lamps themselves can adjust," he says.

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