Best small apartment living tips from small space design experts
After nearly three decades of airy residency in Southern California, I’m officially a New Yorker. In March 2021, my partner and I moved from a one-bedroom Venice apartment to a cramped two-bedroom in Manhattan. With a bedroom sans closet and a kitchen without drawers, we had to quickly adjust to new constraints while prioritizing efficiency… and attempting not to break the bank.
Apparently, we're not the only ones retreating to small spaces. Over the course of 2020, the pandemic emptied New York City of a net 70,000 residents for more airy abodes and less densely populated towns, according to location-analytics company Unacast. But by March 2021, New Yorkers had returned to the Big Apple in droves: According to Douglas Elliman’s March rental report, apartment contracts had ballooned by 89 percent from their March 2020 levels, and a recent report from CBRE shows that consumer spending in New York City has almost returned to pre-Covid levels after falling in March 2020. Across the country, too, former suburban residents are cashing out on their homes and giving the metropolitan lifestyle a try.
To ease the transition for new and returning city dwellers, we consulted interior design experts across the country about how to optimize small spaces. The interior designers we spoke to offered several tips for making the most of your space, plus recommended some of their favorite pieces of furniture and accessories for opening up a smaller apartment or room. We also consulted a trend expert at Etsy, who offered some guidance on how to make the most of every inch of your space. With just a little bit of research and some small space style tricks from the pros, you can curate a space that feels like a homey personal style haven, all within constricting parameters.
Vertical storage for small spaces: Bookshelves, hanging shelves and more
Shavonda Gardner, designer and founder of the SG Style Blog, starts out each personalized design process by encouraging her clients to look at their small apartments as an opportunity for heightened creativity and optimization, as opposed to an obstacle.
“I really try to encourage people to embrace their small spaces and realize that there's so much that you can do with them,” Gardner said. As she sees it, small spaces can be a blessing in disguise. “It really gives you this opportunity to activate your creativity and lean into living in such an authentic and personal way because you're not able to do the things that you would do in a larger space,” she said.
To maximize the space they have, Gardner tells clients to take full advantage of the walls. For example, you can attach floating shelves above doors to store baskets of blankets or seasonal items.
Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s resident trend expert and a judge on NBC’s craft competition show “Making It,” lives by a similar rule: “Think vertically.” The designer recommends using tall bookshelves and floor-to-ceiling curtains, both of which can make ceilings appear much higher than they actually are, and mounting whatever furniture you can (even the TV console) to free up space on the floor. “You’ll give yourself additional storage, while also giving the illusion of a larger space,” she said.
The takeaway? Every crevice, corner, door and wall of your home can be used in more ways than one — you often have more “space” to work with than you realize.
Wrought Studio White Bookshelf
Interior designer April Luca recommended this 71-inch tall corner bookcase, which can fit in inconvenient corners of the room, serves as a great home for plants and books and helps to visually elongate the ceilings. Positioned next to a desk, it can also serve as storage for office supplies if concealed in aesthetic fabric drawers or cubes.
Floor to Ceiling Curtains
These sheer linen curtains are offered in multiple sizes, but the 108-inch offering accentuates windows and brightens up small rooms. The extra length can help the space appear taller and more dynamic. Plus, providing the eyes with multiple levels and textures to take in can help bring a cramped room to life, according to Johnson.
Multi-functional investment pieces for small spaces: Storage ottomans, daybeds and more
When beginning to plan out your space, Gardner recommends being as intentional with your floor plan as possible. Evaluate your lifestyle: If you don’t have friends over for dinner parties or wine nights often, you don’t need to prioritize a big dining or coffee table (and you may not need one at all if you’re constantly on the go). She also advises against purchasing smaller versions of the things you used to have to fit everything in one room, which can create a “dollhouse effect.”
Ariene Bethea, a vintage reseller and the owner of Dressing Room Interiors, recommends investing in a sturdy couch; however, for one-bedrooms or studios, she said daybeds or Murphy beds are also a stylish alternative. She likes disguising daybeds as a dining nook: You can pair it with a bench and a tulip table, then flip it down when hosting guests for the weekend.
Bethea is a huge proponent of multi-functionality. One of her favorite furniture hacks is using a storage ottoman in lieu of a coffee table to provide additional seating and simultaneous storage for blankets and magazines. The key, however, is to reframe the ottoman in your mind as a piece of art or a “statement” piece — it’s worth the investment if it’s something you love and provides color and character in the space. “Top it with a tray for fresh flowers and your TV remote for a finished look,” she suggested.
Luca similarly believes every piece should be versatile, which is why she is a fan of fold-up or secretary desks. She also recommends investing in either a flip-up table or a pedestal table that can be tucked away in the corner of the room. “Pedestal tables provide flexible seating numbers, and that is absolutely key in New York,” she said.
The Inside Fawn Storage Ottoman
This eccentric storage ottoman, recommended by Bethea, is proof that you don’t have to sacrifice style, personality or décor in a small space. Trendy patterns warm up the space, while the hidden storage option allows for a less cluttered closet, plus provides a convenient place to store books, games, blankets or home workout equipment.
Urban Trundle Daybed
This trundle, also recommended by Bethea, can serve as a bed, couch and dining space all in one. Though it’s relatively pricey, the experts we spoke to said you may want to invest in high-quality, central pieces for comfort and durability. This daybed, which pulls out on wheels for easy access when you’re ready to hit the hay, is something you can keep for future apartments, too.
Branff Pedestal Table
Luca likes this round table, which works well in multi-function rooms and flexible dining arrangements. Use it as part of a dining nook in the corner of the room for two people, or pull it out into the center of the room for up to four or five seated guests. Adorned with a vase, fresh flowers and a candle, this shiny white table can appear both decorative and functional.
Storage for small spaces: Bar carts, shoe racks and more
With just a small wardrobe and a miniature coat closet for two people, storage quickly became a sticking point in trying to organize my new apartment. But, according to Johnson, conjuring up new space isn’t as difficult as it seems.
“Aesthetics and functionality need to get married,” said Johnson, noting that screen partitions are great for dividing rooms or disguising additional storage. I heeded her “disguise” advice and purchased a bar cabinet that masquerades as a coffee cart — the booze is hidden below (along with some miscellaneous, eye-sore items), while antique mugs and a Chemex are displayed on top.
While Bethea can get on board with open storage when done properly, she said that random items everywhere often end up cluttering small spaces. “Hidden storage is key,” she noted. “It doesn’t distract the eyes.” Hiding items in bins and baskets can help promote cohesiveness in a room, as opposed to displaying the odd knick-knacks you’ve collected over time. When it comes to storing shoes, Bethea similarly recommends hidden, behind-the-door shoe racks. But, if you insist on displaying shoes outside of the closet, she recommends only displaying your absolute favorites, then storing the rest elsewhere.
Luca, a former New York resident, also loves using under-the-bed organizers to store clutter or clothes. She recommends selecting a product that can be zipped up or covered, just in case critters or bugs are present in pre-war buildings.
Swasey Bar Cabinet
This mid-century modern cabinet is small enough to fit on a misshapen wall or in the corner of a room. With its multiple shelves, glassware racks and six-bottle wine rack, you can hide a plethora of barware, dishes or any items you don’t want displayed elsewhere.
Vacuum Storage Bags
These GONGSHI vacuum storage bags, which come in multiple sizes, are great for seasonal items you don’t need regular access to. In the summertime, you can stack your heavy winter coats in a bag, remove the air and safely stuff the pieces under your bed to be retrieved at a later date.
These organizers with adjustable dividers are another great option for additional “drawer space” or storing seasonal items, workout attire or extra bedding. The product also comes with a clear top to protect your belongings from dust and, as Luca warned, unwanted pests.
ZOBER Hanging Shoe Rack
This shoe organizer with 24 pockets is a great way to create more space in an already-cramped closet. If you have a tiny bathroom, you can also throw extra toiletries or hair tools in the pockets.
Kitchen storage for small spaces: Pot racks, kitchen carts and more
Having a kitchen with minimal storage space might not be ideal, but Johnson said you can dream up more space on the walls — she recommends adding hooks to the backsplash for mugs and cookware, or displaying knives on a magnetic board.
Luca also loves the idea of hanging pot racks and spice racks, but warns they could get greasy if they’re situated too close to the oven. A rolling kitchen cart is also a great substitute for drawers, although she prefers a closed storage option to give off a cleaner, minimalist look. As for those piles of stray lids, Luca recommends universal pot lids as a functional fix — just make sure they fit with the vibe of the rest of the kitchen, or store them out of sight.
As an additional storage hack, Gardner suggests floating shelves on the wall or across a window — she likes to use these to display her flatware and dry pantry items in uniform mason jars. But her favorite kitchen essential is her pegboard, as inspired by Julia Child. “They're super inexpensive, and you can paint them the same color as the walls,” she said. “It gives you so much opportunity to hook things like your textiles and aprons.”
G-TING Multi-Rung Pot Racks
This pot rack, which can be installed two ways, comes with eight hooks, and you can also use it for kitchen tools (like your salad tongs) or your oven mitts. This version is relatively durable: The brand lists the rack’s weight capacity at 35 pounds.
Hanging Spice Rack
This mesh spice rack can be hung on the wall or you can rest it on your countertop (if there’s space). In addition to spices, you can use it to store tea packets, jam jars, cooking oils or vitamins. Be sure to hang the metal rack out of range of your oven, so you won’t have to clean it daily.
Rolling Kitchen Cart
This kitchen cart, approved by Luca, is great for kitchens lacking in storage space. In my drawer-less kitchen, it added two deep drawers and two additional shelves for kitchen storage. My partner and I store our utensils, Crock Pot, blender and other large appliances here. Plus, it can easily be rolled out to the center of the kitchen (or anywhere there’s space) for additional meal prep room.
Universal Pot Lid
This transparent pot lid is designed to fit 10-inch, 11-inch and 12-inch pots. According to the brand, it’s dishwasher-safe and can withstand temperatures up to 428 degrees Fahrenheit. It also comes in a smaller size for pots that are 6 inches, 7 inches and 8 inches.
Kitchen Pot Storage
If you’d rather hang on to your beloved pot and pan lids, Bethea recommended this over-the-door organizer. It can hold up to six covers or lids, and you can hide it behind a cabinet or pantry door, or mount it on the wall for additional space.
This durable floating shelf adds more storage to a tight kitchen space. It can also be used to display your cookware or favorite cookbooks. When you eventually move again, pack it up and use it in a different room — the driftwood material is versatile enough to work in virtually any environment.
Finishing touches for small spaces
All of the experts we spoke with said that mirrors are a must for small spaces. “Mirrors are a great way to trick your eye into thinking that the space is larger than it is,” Bethea explained. “Strategically placing a mirror on the opposite wall of a window will bounce that light around the room.”
The interior designers we spoke to also agreed that a good way to make the most of a small apartment is to fill it with items you absolutely love, whether that’s temporary printable art or as many plants as your heart desires.
Hollywood Regency Trompe l'Oeil Mirror
Though this large mirror with a silver gilt finish is certainly decadent, Bethea sees it as a functional piece of art. When selecting a splurge decorative item, just make sure it’s something that reflects your personal style, and that you’ll want to keep for a while.
Catch up on the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations and download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.
Emily Leibert is a former freelancer for Select on NBC News. She is a freelance gender and culture reporter with bylines in Teen Vogue, Jezebel, Fast Company and more. Emily writes regularly about NFL cheerleaders, the intersection of gender and sport, wedding culture and politics.
By Laura Duerr
Oct 13, 2021 at 9:18 AM
Tired of leaning over your sink, trying to do your makeup in subpar lighting? It’s time to treat yourself to a vanity. Makeup vanity tables offer plenty of storage for your makeup collection and tools, plus a mirror, perfect lighting and the space you need to work.
What to know before you buy a makeup vanity
Floating vs. freestanding
Traditional vanities resemble desks, but for a space-saving, modern look, consider a floating vanity. Floating vanities offer all the storage of a traditional vanity but without legs that can get in the way. However, they’re not as common and tend to be smaller.
Whether your style is more traditional or more modern, it’s possible to find just the right vanity for your space. Vanities can be sleek and simple or ornate and glamorous. They can even be customized by changing out the drawer pulls, painting them or covering them with contact paper.
Do you want to display your favorite makeup on top of the vanity, or do you want everything neatly stored in drawers? A vanity can be as simple as a table, while some offer five or more drawers for storage. If you have specific products that you want to store in drawers (like formulas that shouldn’t be exposed to sunlight), check the drawer dimensions to make sure your products will fit. It’s also possible to find drawers that are sectioned into compartments for extra organization.
One of the best perks of a makeup vanity is that it offers better lighting than your bathroom, thanks to natural light, lighting around the vanity’s mirror or both. Even if you’re able to place your vanity next to a window and get that coveted natural light, a vanity with built-in lighting can compensate for a dim room or help you get ready after dark.
Attached mirror vs. no mirror
While the majority of makeup vanities come with attached mirrors, it’s possible to find a vanity without a mirror if you want to hang your own or use one that sits on the vanity’s surface. Attached mirrors may also offer built-in lighting.
One of the advantages of a vanity as opposed your bathroom is the lighting. Harsh fluorescent bathroom lighting and lighting that’s too yellow or pink can lead to over- or under-applying certain products to compensate for how the light makes your skin look. Warm white light is the best option. Look for lighting that goes all the way around the mirror to avoid casting awkward shadows on your face.
Many makeup vanities come with a coordinating stool or chair, but some do not include seating. Shop carefully if you don’t already have a seat you want to use with your vanity.
Most vanities are made with manufactured or solid wood, while some higher-end models feature metal legs and glass tops. Some vanities are designed with pull-up or flip-top mirrors that fold down when not in use, allowing the vanity to multitask as a desk or table. This can help it look less cluttered, but it limits your ability to store things on top of the vanity.
Get a better angle on your makeup application with a vanity with a tri-fold mirror. It can help distribute light more evenly and let you see your entire face more easily.
Depending on the construction quality, materials used and vanity size, vanities can cost less than $100 or up to several thousand dollars. Many popular, good-quality vanities can be found for $150-$300.
How big should a makeup vanity mirror be?
A. The mirror size may depend on personal preference and how tall you are, but it should be comfortable enough for you to see what you're doing without having to hunch or move around too much. Most vanity mirrors are around 20 inches tall, while tri-fold mirrors offer more width. Some vanities even come with full-length mirrors.
How big should a makeup vanity be?
A. While some luxury makeup vanities can take up an entire wall, most are 30-50 inches long. If you have a small makeup and jewelry collection or if you're confined by space limitations, you should be able to find vanities in the 30-inch range with at least one sizable drawer. If you have lots of space to work with or if you have a lot of makeup to store, you'll be able to choose from vanities with lots of drawers and shelving.
Which makeup vanity should I get?
Best of the best makeup vanity
House of Hampton Soares Vanity Set: available at Wayfair
Our take: This model offers tons of storage and traditionally classic style, and it comes in two colors.
What we like: It has seven drawers and six storage cubbies, plus eight necklace hooks behind its tri-fold mirror. It's available in white and dark brown.
What we dislike: Some vanities arrived with chips or scratches.
Best bang for your buck makeup vanity
ARTETHYS Vanity Set with Adjustable Brightness Mirror: available at Amazon
Our take: This compact, mid-century-inspired vanity has a mirror framed with an adjustable LED light.
What we like: Choose from three different light settings by touching the mirror. One of its two drawers is sectioned into storage compartments. At 31.5 inches across, this vanity fits easily into small spaces.
What we dislike: Some users expressed concerns about the quality, particularly regarding the mirror light.
Honorable mention makeup vanity
Darby Home Co. Andalusia Solid Wood Vanity with Mirror: available at Wayfair
Our take: If you're DIY-inclined, consider this solid wood model, which is available unfinished so you can stain, paint or decorate it to perfectly match your decor.
What we like: It comes with two felt-lined drawers and storage cubbies hidden under the flip-top mirror. A cord management hole in the bottom of the main compartment allows for the addition of lighting. It also comes in white and espresso finishes, but these cost more.
What we dislike: It doesn't come with a stool or lights. Some users had trouble getting the mirror to stay up, and the mirror is a little small.
Laura Duerr is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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When it comes to shopping for your home, it's no secret that things can add up quickly. Fortunately for you, if you love a good sale, it's your lucky day. Right now, Wayfair has a ton of your favorite home items on sale on the down-low. Think gorgeous velvet accent chairs, fun throw pillows, and super soft sheets you'll love sleeping in at discounts so low you'll think Black Friday and Cyber Monday came early this year. (P.S. If you're looking for more details on what to shop for this year on those holiday shopping days, check out our handy guide here!)
Since searching through pages and pages of deep discounts can be time-consuming, we rounded up some of the best deals below to shop now that will give your home the finishing touch it needs. Whether it's a new coffee maker that'll make you not dread the sound of your alarm to futuristic-looking mirrors, Wayfair's secret sale has everything your space needs. Happy deal hunting!
1Cotton Lumbar Pillow
$39 AT WAYFAIR
Add an easy touch of color to any room with this multi-color pillow with fringed ends.
2Tetbury 20000 Thread Count Sheet Set
$32 AT WAYFAIR
Up your bed sheet game with this sheet set made of a super soft double-brushed microfiber that's also wrinkle-resistant.
3Walnut Evonne Solid Wood Floating Shelves
$54 AT WAYFAIR
Need more storage, but don't have the space? This set of floating shelves will do the trick. Stash your favorite knick-knacks, books, or any other small items on top of these with ease.
414 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker
$100 AT WAYFAIR
Pour a hot cup of coffee every time with this programmable coffee maker. The warming plate will keep the pot warm as long as you want it. Plus, it includes an automatic shut-off feature to make sure the coffee is hot but never burnt.
5Gold Bensonhurst Beveled Accent Mirror
$85 AT WAYFAIR
Swipe out your usual circle mirror for this fun and psychedelic geometric style. (It's available in a black option as well!)
6Siterra Painter's Palette 16 Piece Dinnerware Set
$69 AT WAYFAIR
This earth-toned dinnerware set comes with four sets of dinner plates, salad plates, cereal bowls, and rice bowls. (Just think about how stunning these will be at your next dinner party!)
7Hillsby Oriental Area Rug
$29 AT WAYFAIR
The right area rug can change the mood of a room in a flash. If you're seeking a rug to help make your digs feel calmer, opt for this blue and cream-colored area rug.
8Cricklade Cheese Board
$57 AT WAYFAIR
Create the charcuterie board to end all charcuterie boards with this bamboo setup. How cool is that serving knives compartment?
9Harshbarger Writing Desk
$93 AT WAYFAIR
The side shelves on this writing desk are perfect for those who like a clean workspace but still want all their other supplies nearby.
1010" H x 4.5" W x 4.5" D Thermopolis Ivory Ceramic Table Vase
$25 AT WAYFAIR
Just think of all the stunning floral arrangements you can display in this chic, neutral vase.
11Lilly 26.4'' Wide Velvet Armchair
$206 AT WAYFAIR
Available in five other bright jewel-toned shades this accent chair is sure to be the center of attention in any space. Don't forget to add your favorite throw pillow for a special touch.
12Adger 23" Table Lamp
$94 AT WAYFAIR
Add these on top of a contrasting colored end table (think primary-colored hues) to let the navy paint splatter design really shine.
13Gold Non-skid Bookends
$30 AT WAYFAIR
Leave all your favorite novels in good hands with these out-there stretch-resistant bookends.
14Microfiber Down Alternative Comforter
$44 AT WAYFAIR
There's no such thing as owning too many comforters, especially when they are as lightweight and cooling as this option.
15White/Gold Enright Iron Nightstand
16Bissell AeroSwift® Compact Bagless Vacuum
$88 AT WAYFAIR
Say goodbye to all that pesky dust, pet hair, and other crumbs with this lightweight vacuum. Feel free to use it all over your home, as its extension cord stretches up to 30 feet.
Bianca RodriguezCommerce EditorBianca Rodriguez is the Commerce Editor/Writer at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, where she covers fashion, beauty, home, and more.
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