Room above designed by Doherty Design Studio

One half of The Block: Glasshouse’s winning duo, Shannon Vos of VosCreative, names and shames the five big mistakes people make when styling their petite spaces.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, big is not always better. And with housing options shrinking by the second, that’s a good thing. But this means we need to be clever with our design choices. Here, I expose the five faux pas of, let’s call it, ‘cosier’ living.

1. ‘Meh’ lighting

Small is one thing, but small and dark is another thing altogether. Almost nothing has the power to transform a room like good lighting can, but all too often I see people disregarding one of the most important elements of design. A single lighting option just won’t cut it for me anymore; every room needs to tell a lighting story. Light can give the illusion of space, and the way to do this is with multiple sources. Please, steer clear of a square of downlights. Referring the light is a great solution to softly create a glow across a ceiling or a wall, then mix it up with a floor lamp and a pendant light to create a bit of drama. Subtly creating multiple lighting zones shows that a room has different functions, and make it seem larger than it actually is. Work with the natural sunlight available to you by keeping any furniture relatively low (and therefore out of the lit path) and using window treatments that let in as much sunshine as possible.

Design: Hecker Guthrie

2. Rude walls

The biggest surface area in any room (especially small ones) are the walls, and far too many of us leave them naked.  I get it – you might be afraid that filling the walls with anything will automatically make the room feel tinier. A smart solution is to hang art but make sure it’s ‘visually light’. Don’t choose art that will impede on your space – go for monochromatic or text-based pieces as they don’t have the ‘heaviness’ that a bold and colourful artwork does. Also, use your walls to your advantage with storage options; shelves, cabinets and even simple pegboard racks will keep all that paperwork organised without taking up limited floor or bench space.


Design: Neila Hutt Design

3. Doll-house furniture

We often make the mistake of creating miniature versions of the bigger rooms we really want. Stop it! Know your space. Own it. Create it. A small room with a tiny rug and a teeny-tiny sofa is a terrible combination. You’ll create a space that feels cramped, and I’ll bet you don’t really need everything that a larger room has in any case. Pick the statement piece you love, make sure it’s big and bold, and create your room around that. A giant, sexy sofa can be enough if there isn’t much else fighting for attention, and using an oversized piece of furniture can actually make the space feel larger, as long as it’s a considered choice. Also, don’t push all your furniture against the walls; doing this can make an already cosy room feel more confined. Even a few inches of space between a sofa and a wall can give the illusion that the room has the luxury of excess space.


Design: Doherty Design Studio

4. Throw that sh… tuff out

No-one wants to see your snow dome collection from that trip to South America in 2003 (yes, this is a self confession) and, if they do, stop being friends with them immediately. Seriously though, you don’t need to display everything you’ve ever been proud of. Especially in small spaces, clutter can easily take over and make your home feel even smaller than it already is. Get it under control and take back your space, no excuses. Or maybe just a few…


Design: Hecker Guthrie

5. The ‘white’ myth

Sure, painting a room white is safe but it’s also boring. While the general rule is that lighter walls and floors give the illusion of more space, our aim is to create depth and to do this we need to layer tones and textures. Creating a subtle disparity between surfaces will do just that – think white-washed timber with grey walls, a white ceiling and pale fabrics, where all the tones are generally light as opposed to being all white. It might seem contradictory, but a warmer, darker shade can improve a room that doesn’t get much light as white can create a dated look – this is even more reason to be bold and take risks. It’s easier and less expensive to be dramatic in a small space – just don’t go overboard. Have fun with a feature wall, wallpaper or a timber-panelled wall (just not all together). Take a leap!”

Design: Doherty Design Studio

Check out these 9 compact kitchens for more clever small space ideas…