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Home > Lowe's for Pros > How to Make Small Spaces Look Bigger

How to Make Small Spaces Look Bigger

By Michele Sponagle

More than ever, Canadians are opting to renovate their homes to add value to them instead of selling.

Not so sure? Consider this:

Approximately $20.9 billion was spent on renovations across 10 major Canadian urban centres in 2011, according a survey conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Eighty-three percent of Canadian homeowners say they would rather renovate than sell, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos, a global market research company. Meanwhile, 70 percent of respondents to home remodeling survey say they plan to renovate over the next two years. Many of the projects will focus on maximizing and expanding the space in existing homes.

That means builders and remodelers have to become more savvy than ever about what their customers want. With that in mind, a few experts have weighed in with their ideas on how to make small spaces look larger.

1. Here Comes the Sun

Light plays a starring role in making small spaces seem larger. Adding a window to a room that is short on illumination does wonders. Double-check municipal by-laws that outline proper placement and distances in regard to adjacent homes says William Lewis-Vincent, owner of Grand to Port Remodeling, a construction and renovations company in Kitchener, Ont.

Also consider adding in skylights that brighten up spaces and banish away that dark, closed-in feeling. Tubular skylights or sun scopes in the ceiling funnel natural light through enclosed metal tubes into the home and are a savvy, newer alternative. They impart diffused natural light, minus damaging UV rays, even on cloudy days.

2. Raise the Ceiling

"Adding a cathedral ceiling dramatically increases space," Lewis says. In a bungalow, for example, taking over the attic creates the feeling of openness and adds character to the design of the home.

3. Break Down Walls

"Often in older homes, walls carve up the space and make rooms like smaller," Lewis explains. Removing a wall opens up the visual flow. The caveat? Make sure it's not a load-bearing wall.

4. Control the Clutter

Cindy Stocker, co-owner of the home staging company Urban Presentations in Vancouver, likes to quote William Morris to her clients. The renowned wallpaper and fabric designer wrote in The Beauty of Life in 1880: "Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." Stocker reminds her clients that when it comes to decorating small spaces, "if you don't use it or love it then shed it."

5. Create a Plan

Many homeowners crowd rooms with overly large furniture. "This detracts from the space," Stocker says. Before buying pieces, map out the room to make sure the sizes work well together. Use a site like or outline furniture placement on the floor with masking tape. Consider using space-saving pieces like nesting side tables or have an ottoman double as extra seating or a table.

6. Use Natural, Neutral Colors

Interior designer David Powell, principal of Powell & Bonnell in Toronto, opts for neutral shades of cool greys and warm beiges to unify space. Skip painting trim around window frames, plate rails and baseboards in a different colour. "I use a monochromatic approach throughout, even for floor and window coverings, to maintain visual flow," he says.

7. Free-up Floor Space

A room looks smothered when every bit of floor space is used. Use cantilevered cabinets and shelves in bathrooms and kitchens rather than solid cupboards, Powell says. Hang flat screen televisions on the wall. Instead of floor lamps, affix light fixtures to the wall.

8. Let There Be Light

Proper lighting can make a world of difference between a room looking small or roomy. Especially since dark areas shrink a room, Stocker says. Using recessed lighting is an excellent solution. Because they are recessed into the ceiling, they don't stop the visual flow. It's okay to hang a chandelier to serve as a focal point, but it shouldn't be large and overwhelming.

9. Reflect Light

Mirrors are popular among interior designers for good reason. They create the illusion of more space while bouncing light and brightening areas. Powell suggests putting floor-to ceiling mirror in cramped bathrooms or hanging one large one in a narrow hallway to make it look larger.

10. Create Illusions

Good visual flow to rooms creates the illusion of added space. In dining rooms and kitchens, French doors used in place of solid doors allow the eye to move through the space uninterrupted. Also consider items like glass coffee and dining tables to keep that visual flow on the go, Stocker says. To divide rooms, a partition of a wall unit or shelving that is open on both sides, does the trick. "My company works in small spaces often and the key is not to overfill them," Stocker says. "They work best when you provide room to live and enjoy."

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