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10 Secret Decorating Tips to Make Your Home Feel Larger

Decluttering, paint, flooring and fabric choices make a difference

Tess Leeds-designed living room with light colors and white built-in bookcases make the room appear larger
Courtesy JARED LEEDS

Some people are spending more time at home, often sharing that space with family members for more hours than before the pandemic. Others are downsizing their homes as children move out and nests empty. Whatever the situation may be, rooms can feel crowded.

But a few simple tricks can make your home feel more spacious.

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Last year, Hershelle Burton moved from Brooklyn, New York, to a 1,200-square-foot house in Queens that she inherited from her parents. She remodeled the space to reflect her own style and make it appear larger.

“It’s very different — it’s lighter and brighter than it used to be,” she says. Burton, 52, knocked down a wall between the kitchen and living room, added more lighting, repainted in light colors, installed hardwood floors throughout and kept pathways open to create a sense of flow.

“It’s all about tricking the eye,” says Tammy Bolden, a Montclair, New Jersey interior designer and owner of Bold Interior Designs, who often works on spaces in New York City. “[Here] space is at a premium, apartments are small and rents are high, so it’s very common to make a small space feel larger and serve multiple purposes, especially during the pandemic.”

Here are 10 simple ways to make your home look and feel larger:

Before: This basement den was dark and felt cluttered. After: Recessed lighting and one neutral color for walls and furniture created a bright space. 

1. Paint with one light color.

A monochromatic palette helps a space look airier and more open. If you have an open floor plan, one color will tie it all together. And white or lighter colors like grays and creams reflect light.

Before/After basement family room design by Tess Leeds
Courtesy Tess Leeds

Tess Leeds, a Newton, Massachusetts, interior decorator and owner of Tess Leeds Redesign, recommends ordering peel-and-stick color samples from Samplize.com. The large squares are painted to provide a more accurate color match, she says. Each 12-inch-by-12-inch sample costs $5.95, about the same as a small paint jar plus supplies.

“I moved them all over and looked at them during different times of day,” says Ginny Packer, 76, who bought 16 samples from Samplize when she wanted to repaint the living room, dining room and foyer of her Bedford, Massachusetts, house. “That whole space looks so much bigger because it doesn’t look like separate rooms.”

She chose a light gray for the walls and two types of white for the trim and ceiling.

2. Spend time decluttering.

Take the less-is-more approach to make rooms feel larger. Start by removing little-used items or goods that belong elsewhere. Instead, focus on texture and color, with accent pieces like throw blankets and pillows. If you have collectibles you want to showcase, limit them to one nook or bookcase.

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3. Use lighter fabrics.

Fabrics lighter in color and weight, such as linens and cottons in neutral shades, make a room appear lighter and airier. Think light gauzy curtains instead of heavy velvet drapes. “You want fabric to feel like it’s blowing in the wind,” Bolden says. The same goes for furniture and accessories.

Burton painted all but one wall in her house white and hung creamy linen curtains throughout to create airiness.

4. Install just one kind of flooring.

Use the same flooring throughout a home to make the space look larger and display a cohesive style.

5. Keep pathways open.

Avoid placing furniture against the walls to keep pathways clear so you can easily move around and have a clean sightline through the room. Making space around furniture creates a sense of roominess.

6. Focus on reflection.

Mirrors give the illusion of more space by reflecting light and the view from across the room. Popular locations are near doorways, at the end of hallways or opposite windows.

7. Shine a light.

Adding lighting is an easy way to make a small space feel more open and brighter. Recessed lights require no extra space and provide directed light.

8. Go vertical.

Use vertical items, including floating shelves, a floor lamp or vertical shiplap (wood planks), to create a sense of space. Another trick, says Leeds, is to place curtain rods higher and wider: 2 to 3 inches down from the ceiling and 6 to 8 inches beyond the trim on the sides.

9. Use built-ins.

Built-in furniture like bookshelves or a Murphy bed is not only functional but it also creates space and adds storage to smaller rooms.

10. Scale down.

Avoid bulky, dark furniture that can overwhelm a room and make it feel smaller. Furniture that shows some leg, so you can see underneath, creates a sense of openness and movement, Bolden says.

In her redesigned living room, Packer replaced two overstuffed leather couches with two streamlined couches in grayish-beige twill fabric. “When you come in and look at this room, the furniture is much more to scale to make the room seem more open,” she says. “The couches also have leges that show off the hardwood floors.”