apartmentMost urbanites know something about the problems of living in a small apartment –from friends or personal experience, or simply as general knowledge. Tiny living spaces are a constant reality in urban areas where square footage isvaluable, older buildings get split up into smaller units, and where your budget may only allow what used to be called an “efficiency” apartment. When it comes to furnishing these little places, the efficiency idea tends to disappear; there’s nothing time and labor-saving about a place where you feel constantly cramped and your belongings are piled high because you don’t know what else to do with them. It’s advisable to decorate a small apartment intelligently for 2 reasons: to make space for your necessary possessions, and to make space for your mind – in other words, to make the place feel bigger.

We’ll list some specific tips – but first note that phrase: “necessary possessions”! Only you can judge which belongings fall into the “necessary” category, but if you know you’ll be moving into a small apartment, or you’ve been living in one for a while, it’s wise to get real about taking inventory, and clearing out the unnecessary. On to the tips:

Dividing a long, narrow space. Many city flats take this form, a long, un-demarcated room very probably ending in a window. The trick is to define sections by function, using modestly scaled furniture groups. Thus, a small table and a pair of chairs is a dining room, a sofa or love seat and armchair with an occasional table create a living room, a desk that pulls down from a wall unit or set of bookshelves becomes a home office. Angle a low bookcase to make a visual room divider. It may be useful to consider custom made furniture. Many flats have odd little nooks, or a space like a bay window that shouldn’t be wasted just because it doesn’t match standard sizes in furnishings. A custom-assembled modular shelf/storage unit, for instance, can fit the space exactly yet not bust your budget.

Adaptable furniture. Colonial craftsmen were good at multi-purpose furniture: card tables reversed to dining tables, chairs turned into library steps, benches concealed storage. And look for folding or convertible furniture, like custom sofas and daybeds. If you have folding chairs or a folding table, and they’re light-weight enough, hang them on hooks when not in use.

Avoid a cluttered look. Choose furniture with clean lines and not too much fiddly detail, and keep the scale down. A mirror or two will open things out and bring light in.

Use color to create visual flow. Uninterrupted pale tones are best for reflecting light and expanding the visual space. Do this with paint and fabrics, choosing and coordinating carefully. It often happens that when you reupholster a couch it has an entirely different impact on the spatial feel of the room than it did before. Take advantage of this to get your existing furniture integrated with the modest space.