How To's

How To: Make a Small Space Look Larger

When square footage is tight every piece counts, well-picked modern furniture and handy objects can transform a shoebox-sized interior. For tips on how to manage small spaces, from cramped modern studios to tiny guest rooms, we turned to expert Philip Gorrivan., who launched his namesake New York-based interiors firm in 2001. Since then he has brought his unique sense of glamour and fresh style to projects from New York to Toronto, layering each room with special pieces, unexpected texture, and colorful accents.

YLiving: What’s your top piece of advice when decorating a small space?

Philip Gorrivan: Small rooms deserve special attention. They’re an opportunity to create something really unique, whether it’s a modern studio in the city or a cozy welcoming space in the country. Treat them with the same care you would any other room in your home.

Gus* Modern Atwood Sofa | YLiving
Atwood Sofa from Gus* Modern

YL: What are the most common mistakes people make in small rooms, and how can they be avoided?

PG: The single biggest mistake people make is with scale; people often use furniture that is designed for bigger rooms. Nothing kills a small space more swiftly than furnishings that are out of scale.

YL: What’s a smart approach to furnishing a small living room? Do you select smaller, compact pieces, or do you go for bigger pieces that anchor the room?

PG: Think of a cabin in a ship, where every inch of space must be optimized. That’s my approach to small spaces. Custom-sized upholstered pieces, designed to fit perfectly, work well, as does built-in cabinetry, such as a commode or bookcases with glass doors.

I Iove the scale of the Lobby Three-Seater Sofa by Linteloo, the Atwood Sofa by Gus Modern, and the classic lines of the Florence Knoll Lounge Sofa, ideally with a pair of marble-topped Saarinen Side Tables.

I also like to incorporate a bold, sculptural piece that makes the room feel distinctive, like the Womb Chair by Eero Saarinen, or an Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen, the ultimate in modern comfort.

Tom Dixon Cast Shoe | YLiving
Cast Shoe from Tom Dixon

YL: Any advice about using color in a small space?

PG: Small spaces are a special opportunity to introduce color — especially with a finish like lacquer — and then use rich fabrics for upholstery and curtains in earth tones or patterns. I like plenty of accessories and books and YLiving has interesting cast objects in neutral tones, like the Saikai Owl Mimizuku Paper Weight and Tom Dixon Cast Shoe, which can offset the colors.

YL: What are some pieces that can help you get the most out of a small bedroom, without making it feel claustrophobic?

PG: I like to keep bedside tables clean for books, and have wall sconces flank a bed. Built-in dressers and mirrored cabinets can also help make the most out of a sleeping space.

Pure Rugs Japanese Cowhide Rug | YLiving
Japanese Cowhide Rug from Pure Rugs

YL: What’s a good approach to floor coverings in a small space? And what should you not do?

PG: I prefer floor coverings that are thick and lush, and ones that cover most of the space, if not wall-to-wall. This is important in increasing the usable space of a room. Small rugs don’t work in small rooms. YLiving has some great “comfort rugs” like the Greenland rugs and Nordic rugs from Linie Design. A cowhide rug would be great, too.

YL: What to do with the walls in a small space? Any advice about hanging mirrors or art?

PG: I often cover walls in pictures and art, or a mix of media. Mirrors are also very effective, such as a mirrored wall with a layer of art on it, or mirrored cabinets. I really love these Wall Stickers, and the Wall Flats by Inhabit add great texture without overpowering a small space.

Inhabit Chrysalis Wall Flats | YLiving
Chrysalis Wall Flats from Inhabit

YL: What’s your approach to storage in a small space?

PG: Ideally storage optimizes the available space. I like the LAX Series Floating Shelves, or the Modular Cubes or the Wally Trolley from Cattelan Italia.

Cattelan Wally Trolley | YLiving
Wally Trolley from Cattelan Italia

YL: Any other considerations?

PG: Like any room, small spaces need a focal point, whether it’s a great window, fireplace, art, or decoration. I once was asked to design a room in a show house in Long Island. Each room was as vast as the next, and I chose the smallest room I could find — a laundry room — and turned it into a luxurious sitting room. It ended up being the room everyone wanted to be in! That’s proof that small spaces matter and are needed in every house, no matter its size.

Lisa Li

Lisa Li

Lisa is one of the Merchandise Managers for YLiving with a long merchandising career in both fashion and home. As native of New York City, Lisa is still getting acquainted with the gleaming California sunshine. She is also on the volunteer board for a handful of non profits committed to creating social equity and sustainability in businesses around the world.

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