Making Every Inch Count in a Tiny Apartment

Table for two with green cupsIf you find yourself considering a tiny apartment, you’ll probably be thinking most of all about the downsides: there’s just not enough space for your stuff, or even your friends. Three really will be a crowd because no more than two people will fit in this living room! And, sure, that’s a shame. But small, of course, has one huge advantage – lower rent.

Small can even be fun, because it forces you to adapt and be creative, as you work to make the space feel cozy but not cramped. (This may help put your situation in perspective: the narrowest house in Amsterdam is less than seven feet wide. Ponder that.) Guest blogger Sarah recently got the small-apartment discussion started with some great tips on organization. Here are some other suggestions to make the most of your precious millimeters.

Make your furnishings multi-functional
As we noted a while back, when space is limited, try to make everything count double. Get a bed that has storage drawers built in or raise your bed off the ground and store seldom-used items in low plastic tubs that slide below the bed (available at IKEA, The Container Store, and many other places).  Alternatively, get a futon or even a chair that converts into a bed and you’ll have another “two-fer” – daytime seating and nighttime sleeping – in one piece of furniture.

In the living room, consider getting a small ottoman–ideally one with internal storage–instead of a bulky coffee table. It’ll serve the same purpose, while also being available for seating.  And if you love to entertain, consider getting a few stackable stools like these $5.99 ones from Ikea that can serve as extra seating or side tables.

… But don’t take the double-duty thing too far
Don’t go overboard in your quest for one-size-fits all, or you might end up with a situtation that is cumbersome, inefficient, or uncomfortable.  The bedroom is tiny but the bathroom is huge, so you could put your bed there! No. (I actually had a potential landlord use that last one on me, in an oddly-configured apartment. Absolutely true story. And I absolutely did not rent that unit.)

Another example: in a crowded kitchen, a ceiling-mounted pot rack can be a huge space-saver. But if you’re on the shorter side, and you’ll need to get a step stool every time you want to cook an egg … well, that’s really just making your life more difficult. Also, you’re going to have to find space for a step stool. Pass. Do you space-saving elsewhere.

The key is space that works, and that doesn’t mean it’s styled after a Swiss Army Knife but rather that it fits your needs and everyday life.

Plan efficient layouts and curate your stuff 
These two go hand-in-hand. Think very carefully about what goes where–and if you really need it at all. If you have a sofa and a loveseat, but they don’t fit easily, or make for awkward flow, sell one of them or put it in storage.

Figure out how you can create a good relationships between the things you can move (e.g. tables and chairs any anything else you bring in) and things you can’t (appliances, doorways, etc.). In one apartment I lived in, we had a breakfast bar area, with stool seating, between the kitchen and the small living room. Initially, this area was dead space, neither here nor there. But we soon figured out that if we arranged the living room furniture to be oriented more toward the kitchen–and this made sense because my roommates and I were constantly having conversations between the two rooms–the breakfast bar felt like it fit more, and when we had extra guests, they could sit on the stools without feeling like they were out of the loop.

Use focal points and light colors in decorating
If your walls aren’t white and you’re allowed to paint them, get some light colors on there, stat. And keep the blinds and curtains open. More natural light will help the apartment feel more open.

Thoughtful layouts also apply to what’s on the walls. Bookshelves offer lots of storage, obviously, but can also create a cluttered feeling if they’re overflowing with stuff. Keep some open spaces, particularly at eye level. Similarly, consider getting a piece of art–or even a poster–to put in a place of pride in each room. This will add character while creating a focal point that draws the eye and helps enliven the space. An empty room can feel even smaller than a lived-in, well-organized, well-curated room, simply because it’s harder to know where to look or how to interact with the space.

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Doug Mack is a writer based in Minneapolis and the author of the travel memoir Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide (Perigee Books/Penguin). He has lived in apartments large and small, historic and modern, in Minneapolis and Chicago. Visit his web site at or find him on Twitter @douglasmack.

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  1. Admin Admin

    There is small and then there is truly tiny, like this apartment In New York City. Monthly rent under $1,000 (cheap for NYC) for princely 90 (!) square feet of space.