How to Make a Small 500-Square-Foot Apartment Feel Airy & Spacious

Time Several Hours

Budget $ $$$

Skill Level

WORDS BY Kelsey Clark

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Published on February 8, 2022

From 200-square-feet studio apartments to actual tiny homes, decorating a small space presents its obvious challenges. Furniture shopping becomes stressful instead of fun (the beautiful sofa you’ve been eyeing is four feet too long), twin-sized mattresses become an unwelcome reality, and a dining room table is simply out of the question.

While these may be ugly realities, we promise it is possible to make a 500-square-foot condo feel just as homey and design-forward as any three-story brownstone. Not only are there countless furniture brands specifically devoted to small spaces and urban living (hello, West Elm and Article), we have more than a few designer tricks up our sleeves to help you pull off the seemingly impossible – in signature style.

Ahead, Havenly designer Brady Burke shares his top small apartment decorating ideas, from color palette to artwork selection and beyond. You won’t believe the difference even a simple lighting decision can make…

Tip 1: Simplify the palette

small apartment ideas

Stick to a simple, neutral color palette so as not to overwhelm a small space. Focus on adding pops of color, pattern, and texture through the details, like pillows. rugs, throw blankets, and greenery. A Warm Minimalist room recipe is always a safe bet when decorating a small space! 

Tip 2: Prioritize smart storage

small apartment ideas

We love a good organizational hack, but a simple drawer divider or aesthetically-pleasing toilet brush isn’t going to cut it in a tight space. In addition to regularly purging your belongings and donating furniture, decor, clothing, and kitchenware that you no longer use, invest in versatile, storage-focused furniture to keep your space from devolving into mass chaos. Think: a chic bench that doubles as a linen closet, a drop-leaf dining table that functions as a desk, and a bar cabinet that houses extra dinnerware. Finally, don’t forget to utilize every square inch of existing storage space in your home— we’ll never be above an under-the-bed hack!

Tip 3: Invest in light-framed furniture

small apartment ideas

Furniture selection is incredibly important when decorating a small space. Not only do we suggest measuring 10-plus times (and then one more) before ordering a thing, your chosen silhouette can make a difference, too. Consider couches, tables, and chairs with thin or raised legs to give the space an airy, open feel — mid-century modern and Scandinavian homes are all about this look. While we love modern, low-slung pieces that sit flush to the ground, these clunky silhouettes can sacrifice flow and make a small space feel overly cramped.

Tip 4: When in doubt, go up

small apartment ideas

Any designer will tell you that the best antidote to limited floor space is to look up — literally. By decorating your walls with beautiful artwork, floor-to-ceiling drapery, or styled shelving, you draw the eye upward, create the illusion of a larger room, and utilize all that formerly untapped wall space. While we love reserving the living room for more decorative, aesthetic pieces (and yes, that includes an open shelving bar vignette), go all-out with practical wall storage in the kitchen, bathroom, and beyond. We’re talking over-the-door hook racks, drop-down desks, hanging baskets, spice racks, wine racks, pot racks, and the like.

Tip 5: Use lighting to your advantage

small apartment ideas

Honestly, there’s nothing a gorgeous chandelier or a sculptural wall sconce can’t fix. Invest in statement lighting to draw attention to your favorite areas, set the mood, and create intentional design moments in your home. Even if you’re in a rental, swapping out builder-grade light fixtures or investing in a beautiful floor lamp is a surefire way to make the space feel more like your home. Finally, add mirrors to reflect the light and create the illusion of a larger layout. 

Tip 6: Create separate "zones" in studios

Small apartment ideas | Small space design tips

Whether it’s an ottoman, bookcase, or kitchen island, use strategically-placed furniture to break up an apartment space and create the illusion of separate rooms. This is especially helpful in open-concept spaces of all sizes — a strategically placed sectional or low open cubby number can function like a mini room divider and help to create separate “zones,” so to speak.

Tip 7: Hang oversized artwork

small apartment ideas

An intricate gallery wall with countless tiny picture frames and hanging knick-knacks can easily overwhelm an already jam-packed room. Sometimes, making a small space feel larger is all about paring back and tricking the eye. Just as floor-to-ceiling drapes make ceilings feel taller, oversized artwork can give the appearance of larger walls and by extension, bigger rooms. 

Decorating a small space can be incredibly challenging, to say the least. Our designers are here to help transform a limited footprint into your dream home — check out our design packages to get started!

Words by Kelsey Clark