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Ask Miss Mustard Seed – Decorating a Small Space


“How do you paint/decorate to open up a small room? All of our bedrooms are very tiny (10×12 or smaller) and so it just feels very smushed. The kids are little, so their rooms have lots of toys plus beds, and then my bedroom is super tiny and squished. I just want a refined look that makes the room not look so claustrophobic 😉 Any tips?”

I grew up in military housing and our family of four lived in a 900 square foot apartment.  I currently live in a house that was built in the 1940’s, so most of my rooms are pretty small and the upstairs rooms have angled ceilings and dormers.  Basically, I’ve never lived in a huge home, so I feel your pain. 

(By the way, don’t you all love it when you read about a 3500 square foot “small” home in a magazine!?  That’s huge!  It always makes me laugh.)

Anyway, here are some tips to making your small space work for you.

Scale is Key
Make sure your furniture is the appropriate scale for the room.  I have seen so many people stuff oversized sofas and chairs, huge TV cabinets, and overwhelming four poster beds into tiny rooms and it just doesn’t work.  If your room is small, use furniture that is small in scale or that takes up little visual space.

This is a picture of how my guest bedroom looked before we bought our house.  It is a classic example of huge furniture in a small room with low ceilings.  The room feels cramped and dark. 

This is the same corner in the same guestroom.  I used a full-sized bed, a small night stand and wall mounted lamps to provide function without taking up a lot of space. 

 I know we’re all on a tight budget and it’s not realistic to go out and buy all new furniture, so here are a couple of ideas you can try…

Take a day and try moving the furniture around in your house.  Your husband may be using a slender high boy dresser that would work better in your teeny tiny nursery.  A small arm chair from your dining room might work better in your room than the overstuffed chaise lounge that blocks you from opening the closet door.  Get the idea?

If you inherited a huge couch and you can’t afford to buy one that is more appropriately sized for your home, see if your friends and neighbors would like to do a sofa swap.  You can even put an ad on Craig’s list offering a sofa for trade.

Maximize Your Storage
I see these adorable kids’ rooms and I wonder, “Where are all the toys?”  My son’s room has a small alcove that can hardly be called a closet.  For those who have nice closets, use them to the fullest.  The closet standard of one shelf with a hanging rod underneath doesn’t do that.  Install a built-in storage system that suits your needs or, if that’s out of your budget, use book shelves, dressers and cabinets to fill unused space and provide additional storage. 

Photo Source: Closets Plus

Buy pieces with lots of hidden storage.  A toy chest is a common thing for a kid’s room, but it can take up as much floor space as a tall cabinet, you can’t set anything on top of it, and doesn’t provide much practical storage.  Opt for an armoire, cabinet or dresser instead.  Use large baskets, old crates, and pretty boxes to hide smaller toys and necessities. 

Clear the Clutter
I think this is the best advice I could give and it’s the easiest to do.  If you don’t love it or need it, get rid of it.  The advantage of a small space is it forces you to edit.  Don’t waste visual or literal space in a small room with stuff you don’t like.  You’d be surprised how much bigger a room will look when you get rid of the broken toys, clothes that are too small, and things you don’t use anymore.  Hold a big yard sale and you might make enough cash to buy some smaller furniture pieces that work better in your space.

Again, I understand that you might have things that you love, but you don’t love them in your room.  I have a lot of really cool pieces from Germany – beer steins, Hummels, coasters, and dolls.  They just don’t really fit anywhere in my house right now, so I’m going to pack them away until I have the perfect place for them.  Just because I like them and I don’t want to get rid of them, doesn’t mean that I have to have them on display. 

Here’s another example of my house, although a little extreme.  This room was sooo cluttered! 

It now feels fresh, open, and much larger than it is.  All of my stuff is hidden away, so it doesn’t spill out on the floor. 

Make It Matter

Every piece you put in your small space should be one that you love or need.  Don’t muck up your space with a bunch of things you’re settling for or feel lukewarm about.  Instead of using tons of little things to accessorize, use just a few strategically placed, high impact pieces. 

Take this mantle.  There is way too much stuff on here.  This poor girl is suffering from a common thing.  Someone gives us a cute photo frame or candle holder and we feel the need to put it out.  Next thing you know, your tables, mantles and dressers are covered in a layer of little things that get lost amongst each other.

Photo Source: Merry Mishaps
I have a large mantle and it has only five things on it.  A large sign, a topiary, a branch lantern, and two concrete birds.  One large item that is a show-stopper is going to work much better in a small space than lots of little pieces.
I hope this gives you a few ideas that you can implement immediately in your home to make it feel spacious and comfortable.  There are dozens of decorating tricks (like using stripes to heighten a room), but I thought I would share things that are a little more practical.  Good luck!
Miss Mustard Seed

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  1. Wow, great post…I too suffer from the "cram too many things" in a small space syndrome. I love your mantel. I'm still suffering w/my mantel and it probably is still overstuffed.

    If you get a minute would you check out the latest changes (the third photo down in the post) of my poor mantel! I'd love to hear your suggestions to my latest changes!
    Thanks so much!!! Have a great day!
    xoxo Beth

  2. Oops, I forgot to leave you the link:

    Thanks again, Beth

  3. Great post! I live in a small house as well and these are great tips!

  4. wow- i felt like i could have written that email you quoted in the beginning. we have very small bedrooms, and well, the rest of 'em, as well! not to mention no garage, small windows with little light…. ok, so i don't live in a prison, but sure sounds like it! your post was very helpful asi am geting ready to work on some projects around my cell, i mean house. 😉

  5. I too live in a small house, at 960 sq ft, with three bedrooms; all I have are tiny rooms. I agree with your comment about a 3500 sq ft ‘small’ home. Bah! Or how about those articles about getting the best storage from your closet, and the closet is the size of my smallest bedroom? Anywho, if nothing else, it makes me feel better to know that you experience the same challenges of making a home in a truly small space. And you do it very well; I hope that means there is hope for me! Good info, thanks for the post.

  6. Great tips. Almost every month I pack a bag to take to Goodwill. I have a problem with letting things go all at once but this monthly purging helps me realize that a cramped-free space is….freeing!

  7. Great tips!!

    Thank you

  8. Great advice MMS. I've seen too many homes like Merry Mishaps.

  9. It's me again. You might want to take a look at: There are some cool chair upholstery w/ grain sack ideas.

  10. I love how you've done your mantle. Thanks for the tips.


  11. Great ideas for small spaces. I love the big vintage sign over the mantel. It sure makes a statement and looks so much better than a bunch of small things.


  12. Love this post. I am currently in a dead heat to get my house decluttered. I appreciate your tips on making the most of your space. Thank you for saying that just because you don't have room for the things you own to be on display doesn't mean you have to get rid of it all.
    Although, I don't believe myself to be a hoarder, my home is a work in progress. So the things I love must stay packed away until the perfect space is made for them.

    and about those 3500 sq ft SMALL homes…I just tell mysef I have a 1300 sq ft LARGE home…and go from there!

    It's all on how you look at it!

  13. love the vintage fan in that room! I'm on the hunt for one.

  14. Your post today motivated me ~ thanks! I know that I need to modify some of our storage closets & probably do some de-cluttering too, but I was lacking the motivation :) Needed that.

  15. Excellent advice for those of us who have small spaces {and those who have too much clutter, me also}. My problem is storage and I am making little dents in the the things I don't need and being more organized in how I store everything.

    How inspiring your post is!!


  16. Great post and lovely blog…I will be back often! All the best,Chrissy

  17. This post is just for me! I have an apartment with a lot of stuff. Some tiny spaces, some huge. I've been rethinking things-but the hardest is getting rid of stuff! I know what you mean about all the little stuff! I'm seeing more and more of it as things I don't want in my rooms. Goodwill is getting it all! I have to hang on to the sentimental stuff, but not the ugly duckling Christmas gifts!
    Great Inspiration! Sherry

  18. great pics and post! Thanks for the tips! Lezlee

  19. Thanks for the tips on the settee! I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly! I'm on the lookout for a cheap crib mattress!

  20. Please stop by my blog to get your Versatile Blogger award.

    I had to copy the button and insert it as an image.

  21. I also like the great ideas for my small living room

  22. We have a lot in common. By any chance, do you live in a cape home like me? The bedrooms are 10×12 or less and my kid's bedrooms have those angled ceilings as well.Great suggestions. I have a huge armoire in my bedroom too that has really helped me keep order in my bedroom. The space challenge forces you to be creative and disciplined. Great suggestions!

  23. Great decorating a small spaces. Nice work in there, keep it up!

    Philippines properties

  24. Don’t think I’ve ever seen your mantle before. Love it!

  25. Lovely tips as always – we are all tempted to hang onto things but I am getting good about donating to charity / goodwill shops knowing the things will have a new lease of life!

    As the nights draw in, it is time to bring in more Autumn things – I will be looking at my displays a bit more carefully – less is more, less is more …..

  26. What do you do about all the day to day “junk” that clutters up? Im talking about things that don’t really have a place but you don’t know what to do with them. I have a bar that is a “catch all” for everything!!! You can’t even use it cuz its full of everyones “stuff they don’t know what to do with”? Every once in a while i box up each persons stuff and tell them to take care of thier stuff and usually i find that box of stuff sittin somewhere else cuz they don’t know what to do with the stuff inside. :(

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