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Interior designer shares how to make a tiny apartment look bigger

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  • An interior designer told me how to make my one-bedroom apartment in New York better accommodate three people.
  • She said full-size furniture looks better than smaller pieces in a tiny space.
  • She suggested that I divide my room into more spaces and get more pieces with storage.

In 2019, after spending two years living in new cities every month, my husband and I decided to sublease a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

We only planned on staying for six months, so we simply furnished it with spares from my husband’s parents’ basement to make the space livable for two adults. We ended up staying longer than we planned and our apartment ended up becoming our work from home offices, our new puppy’s home, and our gym.

We are now months away from adding a newborn to our family. Not sure how we would manage to fit so many different aspects of our lives and another person into such a tight space, I reached out to Kristy DeGina, an interior designer who specializes in small spaces.

Here’s what DeGina suggested I do to make my tiny apartment bigger and more suitable for two adults, a dog, and a baby.

She said we should divide our main room into ‘mini rooms’

When you walk into my apartment, you see a long rectangle where we have our eating area, living room, my husband’s office, and our exercise space.

I struggled to figure out how to make a space used for so many things look both presentable and functional.

Our main living area has to serve many functions.

Jen Glantz

DeGina suggested that I divide the area into “mini-rooms” to better utilize and define the space. A simple way to do this is to add a rug in the middle of the room under the sofa.

“Adding a rug is not only helpful for a baby when they start to crawl, but it also makes the space cozier and more comfortable,” she said. “Plus, he’ll define specific areas in this room so it’s clear where your workspace is and where your living room is.”

DeGina said I can buy any rug I want but suggested I avoid a light color that shows dirt and stains easily because I have a baby on the way and a dog.

It’s also good to take inventory of the furniture and be open to repositioning it.

She also suggested that we take inventory of the furniture we already have before bringing in new pieces. We must decide what we can get rid of to make room for the baby items and reposition the rest.

In our main room, I planned to donate our gym equipment and kitchen table. In our room, let’s get rid of the desk and bench.

The interior designer said we should put a rug under the couch.

Jen Glantz

From there, DeGina and I discussed the items she planned to buy for when the baby was born, including a crib, changing table with dresser, and recliner.

Based on that information, she mapped out how I could seamlessly incorporate everything.

Kristy DeGina’s representation of what my space would look like if I made the changes she suggested.

Kristy DeGina

To better define the living space in our main room, she suggested pushing the sofa, media console, and TV closer to the window. This would allow space for a recliner and crib if I decided to keep it in that space.

Since we’re getting rid of our dining room table, DeGina suggested we just add some bar stools to the kitchen counter. She said we can put a bigger table where the kitchen table was so my husband and I have a space to work.

We need to invest in items that have storage

Because our space is used for so many different purposes and is about to become a nursery for the baby as well, DeGina said it’s important to have furniture that doubles as storage.

She recommended that we replace our small media cabinet with a larger one with more storage. We can then use the closet to store toys for dogs and babies, small gym equipment (such as weights and bands) and various household items.

She also suggested that we get side tables next to the sofa, storage beanbags, or a coffee table that opens up and allows you to place items inside.

When it came to our room, she mentioned that we could add under-bed storage using plastic bins.

I hope to add a chest of drawers just for baby stuff.

Jen Glantz

If we have more money in our budget, we can invest in a bed frame with drawers at the bottom to store bedding, baby items and even off-season clothes.

Also, after we remove the bench and desk from the bedroom, we can add an extra chest of drawers (with a changing table on top) for baby’s clothes, toys, diapers, and other essentials.

Let’s get rid of the desk and bench, which do not add space for storage.

Jen Glantz

She said it’s okay to keep our walls bare

When we moved into this apartment, we didn’t have a plan to design and style the place. We just wanted to focus on making it functional, so over the years we’ve left the walls pretty bare.

I asked DeGina if there are any opportunities to add storage or style by adding something to the walls.

We don’t hang anything on the wall above our TV.

Jen Glantz

She mentioned that we could add floating shelves above the sofa, but it would be more for decorative purposes. Storing too many items in them can be impractical or visually cluttered.

Anyway, she reminded me, I shouldn’t hang anything above the crib or changing table for safety reasons.

If we wanted to use decor to update the space, she said, we could add a large floor mirror or two side-by-side behind the sofa to make the room feel larger.

I shouldn’t be afraid to buy full-size furniture either.

Finally, DeGina told me to avoid buying small furniture, a common mistake people make when decorating tiny spaces.

“When you have a small space, sometimes smaller pieces can shrink the space even further,” she said.

In my living room, she noticed that I have a small mirror, a desk, and a media cabinet. If I replace that furniture, she said, I should buy it like I’m decorating a medium-sized room, which will make the area look bigger.

Overall, I had a lot of great ideas for optimizing my space.

Kristy DeGina’s rendering of what my apartment layout could look like with a few tweaks.

Kristy DeGina

Ultimately, I understand why it can be helpful to work with an interior designer to map out a space.

It’s part of their job to make the spaces work for different people by understanding their priorities, floor plan and the items they want to ensure they fit in the space.

Many of DeGina’s suggestions are things I would never have thought of on my own, even spending so much time in my apartment.

I’m looking forward to moving the furniture around, investing in some new pieces, and adding more storage solutions.