Make Space Matter! Tips for small apartments

Written by: roboguru

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Living in a big city generally means living in a small space with even smaller closets. It's a trade-off many people are willing to make, but if you plan well and use what you've got carefully, it doesn't have to be a sacrifice.

Step 1: Double Duty

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Multi-functional furniture

Every piece of furniture should have multiple functions, preferably with storage. Here are some ideas and instructables I've published which I hope will inspire you:

Use a bookcase rather than a speaker stand.

Make a headboard which also provides a reading light... this will clear up space on your bedside table!

Check out the coffee table I designed for storage, drinks, books and as a foot rest. It can also been used as a race car.

Build or buy a compact sofa bed which can still comfortably sleep two.

Divided Rooms

When it comes to double duty rooms, things can get complicated. When I lived in a small studio apartment (a single room for living, eating and sleeping, with a single window) I did not want to subdivide because it would make the space unbearably small and dark -- but I didn't want to feel like I was in my bedroom all day either! So I got a very low bed, which I placed in a corner behind some counter-height bookcases. These divided the space, provided storage and hid the "bedroom" but did not cut light or make the studio feel any smaller, because my field of vision was not obstructed, I could see the full size of the room even though the sleeping area was hidden.

Nowadays my office is also my dining room, which forces me to be more organized and clean up at the end of the work day (always a good thing). To keep it looking like a dining room I use non-officy furniture, put plants in the window to distract from the computer monitor and printer (placed in the corners) and hide most of my files, supplies and tools throughout the apartment. So... not ideal, but for the most part it works.

Step 2: Construction. Design for space

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Use the space inside your walls

Besides the classic recessed toilet roll holder, put as much as you can inside that beautiful space inside your walls. Even a few extra inches of free floor space make a huge difference visually -- and the extra hidden storage space will allow you to declutter your surfaces as well. A wall-mounted toilet (with the tank built into the wall) will not only make increase your precious floor space, it will be a whole lot easier to keep clean. The goal, when dealing with a tiny space, should be that nothing needs to live on the floor or on the working surfaces. You might not succeed 100%, but you can get close.

Mind proportions!

For example, if you have a small bathroom, don't use large tiles... they will make it seem much smaller. Don't put a large overstuffed sofa in a tiny living room (hint: vintage furniture tends to be smaller), and avoid a king-size bed like the plague unless you live in a huge empty loft. It will make even a large bedroom seem tiny. If you're too tall for a Queen, just don't get a footboard and let your feet hang over the edge. You'll get used to it.

Keep your furniture small and your circulation space unobstructed.

Step 3: Use all available space

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Everyone stashes junk under their beds, but what about all the OTHER out-of-the-way spaces? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Hide your flat supplies behind bookcases or cabinets. Or under sofas, if they can't be stored vertically.
  • Use walls for storage: kitchen knives, for example, are perfect on wall-mounted magnets: they won't cut your fingers in drawers, or eat up counter space in wooden blocks.
  • Use your dining table as a play fort. Most kids love to build indoor houses to lounge in, and there is no shortage of expensive kits on the market which are guaranteed to get in the way. Instead, drape fabric over your existing table so it reaches the floor (you can sew a few old sheets together for a custom fit in a couple hours), add a few pillows and you've got the coziest fort in the world.
  • Along the same vein, hang some fabric in a doorway or from the top bunk of a bed to make a puppet theater you can roll up (you can also go nuts with your sewing machine here, creating a beautiful theater with velvet curtains, and using dowels to ensure the stage keeps a nice rigid shape.

One word of warning

When your stuff is stuffed under, behind or on top of every piece of furniture, your space will look cramped fairly quickly. It will feel as small as it is. To avoid oppressive clutter, leave a few strategic spaces free and clear. If you've got a tiny bathroom, DON'T put a cabinet (or anything else) under the sink. If you have books or boxes stacked under every side table, take care to leave the most prominent one clutter free -- and hide as much junk as possible behind doors, or with simple drapes. You're trying to visually simplify your space so avoid busy, high contrast patterns, stick with solid colors and textures. And yes, also consider getting rid of those items you don't strictly need every day and which don't bring you joy...

Step 4: Fold it, stack it, put it in your pocket

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Now for the shameless plug:

Once upon a time I was hanging out with my young son when he asked me to build him a house. We had been playing with paper and boxes, but I realized that if I just decorated a box then I'd be stuck with a large, soon to be dusty piece of junk which he would never let me throw out. Instead, I decided to make him a paper house I could fold flat for storage -- a pop-up paper house! Thus began my career as a paper engineer.

If you want to save space, make your toys fold flat (or even your Menorah -- Instructable coming soon). You can see the house I build here but I also have a version of the kitchen on instructables. Plus I designed a foldable paper chess set, and there are lots of other paper toys on my website.