Life & Culture

Ten Ideas to Make the Most of Your Small Flat

Design dealer Jermaine Gallacher offers ten big ideas to improve your tiny flat

1. Don’t Settle for Second Best

This is my first tip because I think it’s probably the most important one. I’m a big believer in holding out for the thing you love and not settling for the Stars in Their Eyes version – second best won’t do! What’s the point in spending your money on a piece of furniture you don’t love? Something I call ‘just for now furniture’. Save! Go without (it’s OK not to have things). Search high and low, far and wide until you find the perfect thing.

2. Think About Scale

Scale is important in any room, but especially in small ones. Having lived in a flat with very small rooms for the last seven years I have just about mastered the art of scale. And it’s very simple: don’t buy furniture that is too big for the room. I know its sounds glaringly obvious, but I’m always shocked when I walk into someones tiny front room and they have a huge L-shaped sofa in chocolate brown corduroy. Don’t do it! Think about your room and measure before you buy. Sidenote: never buy L-shaped sofas in chocolate brown corduroy.

3. Elevate!

Things look so much better with legs or feet. Fact. I think this rule can and should be applied to furniture in any room, but especially small ones. Elevated furniture not only looks better it gives the illusion of space, but it allows the eye to see the room’s line and corners. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than a clumsy legless fat chest of drawers taking up all the space. Go instead for the tall boy with well-turned legs or elegant feet – or even better, both.

4. Create Displays

I adore a good display! There is nothing I love more than arranging objects and having a reshuffle of my most treasured possessions. The thing with displays is they should be restricted to one area of a room, especially if it’s a small one. Displays can very easily look like clutter so keep it concise and confined!

5. Experiment with Colour

Colour is one of the most trickiest things to get right, or at least we think it is. If I had a pound for every time I’ve been shown a selection of one centimeter square colour options painted onto a bare plaster wall, ranging from charred satsuma to milky moo white I’d be setting up shop on Pimlico Road. More often than not it’s milky moo that wins, not because it’s the preferred choice but because it’s the safe one. The fear of getting it wrong is a decorator’s worst enemy (mine included), but it’s OK to get it wrong – just paint over it! Colour is an amazing thing, especially in small spaces. There are no rules and even if there are, we should all be breaking them!

6. Imagine the Whole Flat as One Room

That said, continuity is the only rule you can’t break. (Maybe one rule is allowed). I think it’s important to have a feeling of togetherness and mindfulness when decorating a small flat or space; to imagine the whole flat as one room.

7. Smoke and Mirrors

I’ve just counted ten mirrors in my one bedroom flat. Call me vain (there are those that do), but I’m a big believer in smoke and mirrors. I know it’s tale as old as Conran but put a mirror up and it will make your tiny sitting room feel like a grand drawing room. Though of course this isn’t true. What mirrors do is to create a view and point of interest in that sad dark corner of the room. Think about what the mirror is reflecting other than your face, and consider the shape of the mirror too – this can alter illusion greatly.

8. Mix Downlight and Uplight

Lighting can make or break a room, especially those on the smaller side. I have never quite found the winning formula – so many lamps and light fixtures have passed through my flat – but I have learnt a few lessons along the way. Avoid overhead lights at all costs; if you have a small sitting room there is absolutely no point in having a oversized feature chandelier or pendant light, go for a selection of smaller lamps, floor standing lamps and uplighters instead. In having a variety of downlight and uplight, the room will feel taller than it actually is.

9. Beware of houseplants

I know houseplants are very much in vogue at present, not a day goes by that I don’t see a new chipboard-clad shop dedicated to the sale of sad-looking house plants or pathetic looking cacti in tiny hand-painted pots. Don’t get me wrong, houseplants do have a place, but that place is not a small one – space is a premium, don’t hand it over to the dusty five-foot yuka. Get yourself a window box and fill it with morning glories – who in their right mind wouldn’t want to wake up to that!

10. Have Fun!

Last but by not means least: HAVE SOME FUN! It may sound a tad trite but I genuinely believe this is what’s missing in lot of interiors today – that, and great big splash of originality. We all have it in us! The places we live no matter how small should be a reflection and extension of ourselves whoever we may be.

Jermaine Gallacher is a London-based design dealer, art director and interior designer