No Space Too Small is a brand new column by Laura Fenton that celebrates the idea that you can live well in a small home. Each month, Laura will share her practical findings from years of observing how people live in tight spaces, and her own everyday experiences of living small—from the hunt for the perfect tiny desk and managing everyday clutter to how to smooth the frustrations out of cooking in a galley kitchen.
“20 Small-Space Hacks You've Never Seen Before!” “The 50 Most Clever Small-Space Hacks of All Time!” Headlines like these get me every single time. If I see an article that promises space-saving ideas, I always fall for the bait and click through. As a long-time small-space dweller, I am forever hoping there’s some new trick or tip that’s going to help me make better use of my space (and occasionally there is!). And while I love reading about a good space-saving hack, sometimes the advice I see doesn’t quite fit right.
Just because a hack lets you fit more into your home, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea—in fact these “space savers” often result in a room that feels cramped. I know because I’ve tried several. For example, the advice to use a wall-mounted pot rack is, in fact, a good way to store more in a small kitchen, but when I hung a pot rack in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen years ago, I quickly discovered that crowded walls make a kitchen feel tiny (and that I was better off editing my kitchen tools down and stashing some skillets in the oven).
I’m sharing eight small-space hacks I’ve tried and found lacking. However, what didn’t work for me, might work for you, so take the advice you find useful, and ignore the rest! I’ll give you my reason, so you can decide for yourself.
The hack: Use the wall space for kitchen storage
My experience: Beyond the pot rack, any vertical storage in the kitchen walks a fine line between maximizing your storage and crowding your spaces. (Apologies to Julia Child, but her famous pegboard gives me claustrophobia) To make this hack work, be very selective about what you hang and where you hang it. In my own apartment, the wall-mounted knife rack and pot holder hooks are all strategically out of view of my living room, and I’ve still got a stack of skillets stashed in the oven because I’d rather shuffle them out on the rare occasion I bake than look at them hanging on the wall.
The hack: Hang hooks to maximize storage in the entryway
My experience: A row of hooks or a peg rail in the entryway is a clutter magnet. I feel like I should apologize if you tried this hack and were disappointed. For years I worked at lifestyle magazines and helped produce photographs of entryways with hooks that featured a cute backpack, one perfectly draped jacket, and a scarf. But in real life stuff is much less lovely to look at than the props stylists spent hours choosing—and therefore is better hidden behind closet or cabinet doors—and we have way more stuff than you see in those magazine photos.
The hack: Divide a room into zones with area rugs
My experience: Lots of little rugs look dinky and cluttered. The thinking behind this advice is that area rugs can create rooms within a room, but guys, I’ve tried it, and a bunch of smaller rugs just makes the room look busy and jumbled. I’ve come to believe one large area rug will always make a room look more spacious than several small ones. If you have a smaller area rug that you love, consider layering it over a larger rug that fills the room—this will soften the visual islands small rugs create.
The hack: Paint everything white
My experience: All-white everything looks flat—and that can make a room feel small. Don’t get me wrong, I love white: Elsie de Wolf’s famous quote ““I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint,” could easily have been my own (I even included it in my book!), but a full-on white out can go awry. I’ve always favored white walls and I have painted many thrift store furniture finds white, but what I have learned over the years is that you also need contrast and texture to give that white-on-white depth. In my own apartment, we opted to paint the doors a glossy black—not only for the contrast, but to disguise the 75 years of paint that was more visible when the doors were white. If you’re really committed to all white, play with texture in your textiles, use different sheens of paint for walls and trim, and layer different shades of white for some depth.
The hack: Use a rolling cart to store arts & crafts supplies
My experience: The cart is an unwieldy space hog. I’m calling this one out because someone suggested it in a comment on my first No Space Too Small column, and I too once believed this was a good idea. Upon the recommendation of organizing experts, I wrote about this “solution” in magazines, but when I went to try it out in person it was a total fail. First of all, those rolling carts? They actually take up a lot of space! The hack promoters (myself included) will say “roll it out when you need it” but from where? I personally do not have that much spare space in a closet. Worse still, I found the popular rolling cart to be a terrible way to store my family's arts and crafts supplies: There was way too much wasted space.
Remember my earlier advice that what works for some doesn’t work for all? Arati Menon, our editorial lead here at Home52, loves her IKEA rolling cart, which she uses to store all her cleaning supplies!
The hack: Use mirrors to give the illusion of more space
My experience: A well-positioned mirror can indeed make a room look larger, but a mirror can also make a room feel cluttered—it all depends on what it reflects. The key here is to pick the right spot for your mirror: The very best place to hang a mirror is opposite a window so it reflects the light and view. But you must also be mindful about what you place in front of the mirror. We have a huge mirror I scored for $20 on Craigslist that opens up our windowless entryway, but when I let our mail, packages, books, and other daily detritus pile up,the mirror doubles the visual effect of the clutter. Also, be wary of mirrored pieces of furniture, which can make a room look cluttered.
The hack: Hang shelves above your toilet for storage
My experience: Something will inevitably end up in the toilet if you place objects on a shelf above it. When I queried my Instagram community about small-space hacks that had failed, my friend Julia brought this one up. Mounting a few shelves on the wall space above your toilet seems like an efficient use of space, but when I did this in a long-ago studio, a make-up brush ended up going down the toilet without me even noticing it, which resulted in a plumbing bill I would have rather avoided. If you must use this space for storage, consider a cabinet with a door and try to get in the habit of closing the toilet lid every time you use it.
The hack: Buy specialty hangers to store more in your closet
My experience: An overstuffed closet can’t be solved with new hangers. I touched on this briefly in my first column when I mentioned that I’ve given up on the slim-velvet-flocked style of hanger in favor of sturdy wooden ones, but I’ve also ditched almost every other specialty hanger too, like those pant hangers that claim to hold five pairs of pants in the space of one. In my closets, these hangers just seem to make clothes harder to access. Paring back my wardrobe is the best solution I’ve found to a closet that feels too full—and it doesn’t cost a thing!
Have you tried a popular small-space hack only to find it made your space feel smaller? Or is there a hack that worked like a charm? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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