Small rooms, narrow hallways, cramped powder rooms, tiny vestibules – all are common to houses old and new. Useful spaces are not always big, but big spaces are easier to decorate. Here are a few guidelines for bringing color and atmosphere into those trickier small rooms.
Conventional wisdom has long held that small rooms should be painted white to make them look bigger and brighter. While in many cases that is true, strong, saturated colors can turn a small space into a magical one. For example, applying a moody shade or hanging deeply-hued wallpaper in a small powder room can transform it from a ho-hum, functional space into a jewel-box-like sanctuary. Again, go against the common wisdom in this room with bold pattern: floral, geometric, abstract or landscape-based wallpaper in saturated colors can turn the powder room into an exotic hideaway.
Or consider the impact of deep color in a small living or sitting room. Rather than fighting with the dimensions, play up the cozy aspect with deep or bold colors, and avoid contrast by painting the trim in a similar or even the same shade as the walls. The consistent color, unbroken by sharp contrast, will actually keep the walls from closing in. It will also impart instant personality, while white walls can appear sterile and institutional.
Those same saturated hues can be overwhelming in a large space, where drama and impact can be achieved with a colorful feature wall or with well-chosen art. But if all of a large living room, including the trim, is treated to a dark, oceanic blue, for example, the room can feel like a vast, featureless black hole.
In small spaces, it is generally best to avoid too much contrast, which chops up the space. Combinations like blue and orange or purple and yellow can look exciting, but they’re also quite harsh. Most of us want a more restful sensibility in our living rooms; if you do love high contrast there, confine it to one area and add neutrals to soften and bridge. This will provide rest to eyes surveying the room.
If your small room has lots of natural light, then white can be a great choice to make it look airy. But if you do opt for white, use warm shades in small spaces. Pure brilliant white is devoid of all pigment, which means the color reflects nearly all the light that hits it, making the room seem stark and characterless.
If your room has natural light coming in from west-facing windows, use a gentle shade of cream. To your eyes, the walls will appear white, but with warmth. Pair this color with pure white woodwork for a refined, classic look.
Northern light tends to bring out the cooler tones within a color, so if your room has north-facing windows, avoid anything with a green or gray base. Yellow based colors like will help to bounce as much light as possible around the room. If you have the space, hang a mirror to reflect the light.
South-facing rooms are blessed with plentiful natural light and are the easiest to decorate. Play up the natural light with soft, pale tones that maximize the feeling of light and space. Blues create a calming aquatic feel, while red-based neutrals like will create a warmer feel. For a crisp, fresh look, no matter the wall color, try a bright white on woodwork.
In east-facing rooms, embracing the cooler evening light with light blues and greens can have a beautifully soft and calming effect
In personal style, we have learned to accept and embrace our natural attributes. We should do the same in our homes. Instead of wishing a room was larger, make the most of its best features, whether those are natural light, graceful proportions or fine architectural elements. As with people, beauty starts with loving what is.