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Design Element 101: Space

No matter how large or small it always feels as though we don’t have the space we need or the layout we want. Most people have too little while others have too much. Either way, the space in our homes is the jumping off point to any good design and each comes with its own unique challenges.

Here are a few tips on how to think like a designer when evaluating your space and maximizing your home:


The easiest way to make a space appear larger is by painting it a light colour – ideally white. If you paint the ceiling and floor as well as the walls the eye can’t distinguish a beginning or end, making even the smallest spaces appear larger.

If a room is too big or awkwardly shaped it’s human nature to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable – almost as though someone might sneak up on us from behind. That’s why we tend to prefer sitting in smaller rooms even though large open concept homes with taller ceilings are on most people’s wish list – at least until it comes time to decorate.

Painting a large room in a dark colour has the reverse effect in that it makes a room look smaller and feel cozier. By emphasizing the ceiling and/or floor with a darker finish you lower its height and ground an expansive space.

Another trick is to paint the furthest wall in a dark colour. This immediately widens a space while painting or wallpapering both sidewalls lengthens it creating more of a long corridor like feel. You may notice designers love to wallpaper entrances and hallways. This is because it defines the zone but also elongates. If your hallway is long to begin with, try painting the wall at either end a bold colour to shorten the space.


Having too much of anything is a sure way to make a room look and feel smaller. That’s why designers love custom built-ins and multipurpose furniture with storage – both hide a multitude of sins.

Before you paint or make any other changes minimize the clutter in your home to make it feel larger. A large room has more leeway but that doesn’t mean you want to completely disregard size or scale.


An abundance of natural light makes any room feel larger, that’s why we all covet big windows in our homes and condos. If you’re lucky enough to have a view, a window can also double as a great focal point.

If you don’t have a lot of natural light, painting your home a light colour will once again help. You can also create additional light by adding windows, layering artificial lighting or using mirrors and shinny surfaces to bounce the existing light. Higher gloss paint, reflective surfaces, even shinny, light coloured ceilings and floors help reflect instead of absorb light.

If your room is large with lots of natural or artificial light, play with dark colours – maybe even black, burgundy or indigo blue – all of which are popular choices these days. Dark colours help absorb light to make a room look and feel smaller.


How you lay your flooring also impacts how large or small your space feels. If you want a space to appear longer lay your flooring vertically, if you want it to seem wider lay it diagonally.

The same can be said for stripes on your wall. Vertical stripes tend to be more formal as they draw the eye up making a room appear taller. Horizontal stripes are more casual and add to the perceived width. If you have high ceilings and want a room to feel cozier or less formal horizontal stripes are a great way to lower its height.

Last but not least, try not to line your walls with furniture. Contrary to what you may think, doing so is a sure way to make a room feel smaller. It can also appear awkward if your room is large to begin with.

From a space planning perspective people feel most comfortable when they’re about 1 meter apart. Clustering furniture also helps set up zones – something that’s more important than ever as people adapt to open concept living.

Space is a challenge for homeowners and designers alike but one that can be overcome. Use some of these tricks of the trade in your home to maximize your space.

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