Small space doesn’t require small pieces

Dear Gail, We’ve decided to downsize since it’s just my husband and I. We’re sorting through our things to create a more minimal design. At this point in our lives, we’re OK with less than more. There is less to stress over and take care of.

We don’t want to overwhelm our rooms with what we have, so we’re open to purchasing new things to make the rooms appear and feel bigger. We’d love your thoughts as we feel it will help us decide on what to bring. — Katy

Dear Katy: Many of my clients are downsizing as their children move onto their next stage in life. And as you said more of a minimal design brings less stress on taking care of things. Making small spaces appear larger doesn’t mean you have to buy all small pieces. While some of your things may not fit as well in your new home, here are a few tips that can make a big difference.

One easy way to expand a living or dining room is to use glass table tops. Instead of a solid top stopping your eyes, glass opens the space giving the illusion of more space and allows your eyes to continue to see other things in the room.

Depending upon your style, Lucite has made a big come back. I like Lucite for coffee and side tables as many are also smaller in scale. Definitely, consider a nesting side table. Can’t go wrong with three tables in one.

If you have a breakfast bar, I’d opt for backless or low back bar stools. They will open the visual space into your kitchen versus stopping at the backs and looking over them.

Keep your window treatments simple. Shutters are my favorite, especially with 4-inch slats. I know some feel they close in a room since you can’t pull them off the window, but not everyone wants others to have a clear view of their home. With the larger slats, you get plenty of view to the outside.

If you have windows where sun and privacy are not a concern, do without them completely. You can just use a simple roll-up or pleated shade that you can put down when you’re gone.

I don’t have any on my family and dining room windows. They look out into my backyard and I love how it expands the space. We do have Rolladen Shutters to close when we’re not home.

If you want drapery treatments, mount side panels so they are just covering the edges of your windows and mount up to the ceiling. This makes your ceiling appear higher and the room grander. You’ll notice this is done in most model homes.

Do watch your fabric choice so that you don’t weigh down your window. Soft and airy are a good choice.

Of course, mirrors are a staple in opening up any room. Along with being a decorative piece, they’re all about function. They can double any space by expanding your view with their reflecting properties as well as adding more light into your room.

Generally speaking, the larger the mirror the bigger your space will appear. If going with an oversized mirror in a small room, consider a frameless style so that your eyes don’t focus on the frame, but the reflection it’s creating.

Keep your windows clear of any tall pieces of furniture. You don’t want a sofa higher than the window or tall cabinets flanking the window. Keep the area under and around your windows as simple as possible. No console tables under the window cluttered with lots of accessories or plants.

In mentioning clutter, keep what I call “eye clutter” to a minimum. I find any open shelving — whether bookcases or built-ins — are notorious for eye clutter as they seem to become storage versus display. If you have a lot of books, place them in attractive containers of the same color or group them by color.

This is one area where less is more. Don’t overaccessorize. You don’t need to display every accessory that you have. We don’t notice those things around us after a month, so refresh your decor every six months by switching them out.

If you’re considering buying new furniture, think about a sectional instead of two upholstery pieces. For accent chairs look for ones with lower backs and arms. If they will only be used on occasion, armless would be the best choice.

Finally, in any space, but especially small spaces, lighting is key. You truly can’t have enough light, be it natural or artificial.

Now I’m not saying to fill every table and empty space with light. Instead, make sure you have the three basics: general, task and accent. Look to form a triangle in your rooms, leaving no corner dark. Then layer from there.

Pay close attention to the light bulbs you use, not everything needs to be 100 watts. For table and floor lamps, I like three-way so that I can adjust how much light I want.

Katy, I hope this gives you some more guidance and ideas for your new home.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to Or, mail to 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is

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