written by:
February 13, 2013
On a budget but want a cool pad? Struggling with a small space? We chat up Maxwell Ryan, founder of the popular Apartment Therapy blog, for his advice.
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For a small apartment, what are four or five tips to really maximize your space by room?

I have always agreed with Charles Eames that compromises stink, but constraints can unlock all sorts of possibilities, and this is exactly what small spaces are. Here are a few tips that always work for me:

1. Stain your floors dark. It makes your floors warmer and your walls seem taller. 
2. Remove as many hard doors as you can. They take up space and are not always necessary.
3. Install at least three points of light in every room. Space is a largely a visual/emotional response, so allowing your eye to travel around a well lit room does wonders.
4. Keep your walls in lighter colors, but not plain white! Off whites are full of color and add warmth and character while reflecting a lot of light.
5. Clean your windows. It's easy to do, but often overlooked. Clean windows let in more light, allow your gaze to travel out and reflect interior light at night, which expands your space like a mirror.
6. Mirrors are great. Use them everywhere.

Where is a good place to start if you have an expensive aesthetic, but are on a tight budget - someplace other than eBay or Etsy!

Our Apartment Therapy Classifieds are growing by leaps and bounds and are full of beautiful stuff that people want to get rid of for way below retail prices.

How would an expanding family need to readjust an already tight apartment - what are 3 or 4 smart tips?

Little children don't need much space nor do they need much stuff, so the first thing to do is to relax and realize that being close knit in a family home is a good thing in the early years.

Small rooms are fine for small kids, but sound is important, however, and I would make every children's room as sound proof and quiet with textiles as possible. Adding curtains, a thick rug and upholstered furniture will help with this.

Move your office to the office. I found that paying all of our bills and doing all the household filing at work at days end was a great way of removing all of this from our home.

Put all of your lights on dimmers. With children you are up at all times of the night and day, so having control of your lighting is a great small luxury that will ease your burden.

For people who hold onto a lot of stuff, how can they know what to purge vs. what to keep?

I always tell people to adopt my Outbox Method, which allows you to decide to get rid of something on one day and not have to do the getting rid of till a week later. This makes it far easier to remove things from shelves, drawers and closets if it doesn't pass the simple test: "Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I love it?" If it doesn't pass those three questions, then it goes right into the Outbox. A week later, 99% of the Outbox will easily find it's way out the door.

My landlord won't allow me to paint my walls, but I want to bring color into my apartment. Tips?

I like to paint accent walls and then paint them back, as it's easy and not too expensive, but if you really can't brave doing this there are a good number of temporarily adhered wallpaper, which you can find on our website for exactly this problem. Just search for "temporary wallpaper."

In addition, large pieces of art, colorful pillows and bedding, as well as rugs and curtains will all dramatically affect the color balance of your apartment as light bounces off of them and gets sucked up into white walls. Some of the most "colorful" rooms I've seen has totally neutral walls!

I live in a open-plan studio apartment, with no walls or doors. How can I have some privacy?

Privacy? Who needs it when you live alone? I'm joking, but with a small studio, I would consider the whole room your private space (do cover the windows with shades and curtains if that is a privacy issue) and let it remain open. A sheer curtain or standing shelving unit should be all you need to hide your bed a little bit without blocking light or making it feel less airy. I've seen really nice studios with shelving units that form "walls" but allow the room to still feel as large as possible.

I share an apartment with a couple of room mates and I have a really tiny bedroom. How can I create a sanctuary for myself that is unique to me?

Remove as much furniture as possible and use your walls smartly. The key to a truly small space is to build in whatever you can and remove loose or stand alone pieces of furniture. On top of this, storage that hugs your walls and wastes no space is crucial. For example, hanging shelving or a platform bed build into the wall with storage underneath will help to maximize every inch.

Once you've solved your storage issues, make sure that you are comfortable. If the bed is your main attraction in the room, invest in a good mattress and bedding so that you're comfortable and keep it all in line with the rest of your personal choices. Choose a color palette and materials that please you. There are many opportunities in choosing bedding, window treatments and lighting where you'll find yourself making choices that are unique to you and will make it your own personal retreat.

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