How to Decorate Small Spaces

On a recent episode of Good Morning America, celebrity Interior Designer, Jonathan Adler took on the challenge of decorating Lara Spencer’s small dressing room.  The room was tiny, cluttered and lacked style. Lara, GMA co-host known for being design savvy and author of “I Brake for Yard Sales” was stumped on how to begin to decorate her own space. That happens to a lot of us, even designers who design and decorate other people’s homes for a living. The process began by de-cluttering, a must for small spaces. Then Spencer’s dressing room was transformed by adding a mix of patterns using wallpaper and fabrics. He replaced basic open shelving with two yard sale find chests which were refinished and repurposed as storage units. He covered her Formica dressing counter in contact paper which instantly transformed it. What a great idea! Draperies were added to surround a daybed. Decorative pillows and a patterned throw were added on top of the bed. A small chandelier was hung over the bed which added a bit of glam and sparkle to the room. And finally a graphic rug was added to rug anchor the room. There is a lot of pattern and color in the small space but it works.  Lara asked Adler what his number one tip would be for decorating a small space. His answer was, “make it personal and it will make you happy”.


Small space decorating whether it is an apartment, condo or small home has its challenges but learning some professional tips to make the most of your square footage can help you create a stylish and functional space. Like Adler, I agree that color and pattern will add style and personality to a room. Do not be afraid to use wall colors to visually expand the space and mix patterns that are cohesive and complement your design style. The floor plan is critical for a small space. Your furniture arrangement should be functional for your daily life. You can always bring in pieces from other rooms when entertaining. Do not clutter your room with too much or inappropriately scaled furniture. Consider smaller scale furniture and pieces that can be multi-functional. To keep a small and open space from feeling closed in, avoid tall pieces of furniture so the sight lines extend across the room.  Tall pieces such as bookcases should be placed along walls. Glass top tables with minimal bases add little visual weight to a room as do open back chairs so they are good choices for a small space. Avoid heavy, oversized pieces.

For your dining area, choose tables with leaves. The table can stay small on a day-to-day basis and not overwhelm your dining area. When extra space is needed for entertaining or projects just add the leaves. A drop leaf table works too. Built-in banquettes are a great way to provide seating in a small kitchen or dining room. They also offer extra storage beneath the bench.  A rolling island cart is portable and can be used as an extra work surface and storage for pots or dishes. In small bedrooms, limit the amount of furniture. Choose the appropriate sized bed and smaller night stands. Take advantage of the walls for lighting and shelves. Wall mounted sconces are great for lighting on either side of the bed. In secondary bedrooms a wall bed is a smart option. They can be pulled down when needed then tucked up and out of the way when not in use. They are available with shelving and desks units so they are a great solution for a guest bedroom/office situation.

Finish your rooms with art and accessories. Do not decorate every wall. Create interest on focal walls. Remember, my motto is-restraint is best especially in small spaces.  Mirrors are a great way to visually expand a space. They can literally make the room look twice its size when placed in the right spot like a focal dining or living room wall. This is the one piece that I would say go big because of the impact they can have on a room.  As always when in doubt consult an Interior Designer for help.  Choosing colors and patterns that work well together as well as the proper size and scaled furniture is not easy for most homeowners.  A design consultation would be well worth the money and time invested to create your lovely small space.

Cynthia Champness Cuellar is the owner and principle Interior Designer of Rancho InteriorDesign.

For an appointment call her at 951-956-0661 or email her at