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Make a small room seem bigger

Updated: 9/20/2013 2:29:54 PM
© iStockphoto.com / Susib © iStockphoto.com / Susib

By Natalia Macrynikola
From Ideas That Spark 

Two things mark your first year of living in New York City as a recent grad: The nervous energy that keeps you up at night, and your tiny first apartment. This miniscule apartment, often shared with strangers, is a rite of passage: Every city dweller comes to terms with it, and I did it too. In the tiny, 7'x8' room I called a bedroom, I found my sanctuary. It had no closet, and the walls were covered in the ugliest shades of dark brown and green you could possibly imagine. Its sole window faced into the kitchen of my neighbor, an unemployed, middle-aged Chinese man who liked to stand by the window in his wife beater and sip tea all day.

Looking back, you can probably say that my first city living experience was less than ideal, but I was actually happy because I and my diminutive surroundings were smack in the middle of the big city of big dreams. I knew I wouldn't be in that room forever -- just until those big dreams materialized into a big paycheck that would unlock a better apartment for me. Till then, I decided I would make the best of it … and a little research told me this was possible. Here are a few tricks I discovered can make a small room seem more spacious:

1. A fresh paint job
We recently wrote about choosing the best color for every wall. It's true that different colors affect your mood in different ways, but when it comes to a small room, the best choice is a light one -- preferably white, cream, or pale green or blue. These colors are more reflective, which opens up the space and makes a room feel more airy.

2. Big mirrors
A brief chat with my landlord quickly shattered any fantasy I had of living in a lightly colored room at the time, but my next trick worked just as well: I set up a network of mirrors that reflected so much light, I felt like I wasn't living in a prison cell anymore.

This step is easy -- you can find inexpensive mirrors at flea markets or garage sales and either hang them up or lean them against your walls. If you can't afford large-scale mirrors, a collection of small ones clustered together works just as well. Another nifty trick for the more advanced DIYer: Use mirrored cabinet doors to create an illusion of more space.

3. Minimalism
Clutter makes a small room seem to shrink, so it's always best to stay organized and opt for minimal décor. Lucky for me, as a recent grad who had packed up everything she owned into just one suitcase and flown from Georgia to New York, I barely had any possessions, so I had this step down pat, and it helped.

4. Multifunction furniture
These days, you can find a variety of elegant multipurpose furniture, from beautiful storage benches to creative folding beds. Of course, as a recent grad I could afford none of whatever was available at the time, so my idea of multifunction was covering a plastic chest of drawers with a patterned tablecloth to double as a bedside table. It worked!

5. Fresh flowers
A minimalist approach calls for one or two design elements that stand out. Make one a batch of fresh flowers. Like colors, scents affect our mood, and research shows that floral fragrances tend to promote happiness and relaxation. On the days when my elation of living in the city gave way to the dismay of being unemployed with only a view of a creepy neighbor for consolation, a touch of nature in my room always gave me hope. To this day, I still believe in the power that scents of nature can have on our perception and our outlook, and I've used this trick in every apartment -- big or small -- ever since.

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