Designers on the tips and tricks they've learnt for decorating small apartments

When it comes to a small flat, the temptation can be to leave it minimal to create the illusion of space but these interior designers would advise the exact opposite
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Boz Gagovski

Lucy Mayers

For small spaces a carefully considered layout and being cunning with joinery for storage is key.

Think carefully about how furniture will fit before you buy it, and if possible invest in multipurpose furniture. In my own old tiny flat our living room had to function as a dining room, drawing room and occasional office and I used a Sibyl Colefax Lancaster table (when closed only slightly larger than the footprint of a washing machine) that worked as a dining table for my husband and I on a daily basis, but could grow to seat eight at a push. Our ‘sofa’ was actually a dining banquette that allowed for this arrangement. Our bed was one of those lift up ottoman beds, and I kept our ironing board and various suitcases in it. The sofa in the snug (before it became an office, and then a nursery) was actually an upholstered Conran trundle bed that made for a very comfortable queen size guest bed. Flexibility is everything in a small apartment.

The bed in Lucy Mayer's flat was a key storage item

Boz Gagovski

In the living room, Lucy found a useful banquette at OKA that could easily function as a sofa for movie nights or as seating for dinner parties

Boz Gagovski

For storage I think it’s also important to be realistic about exactly what ‘stuff’ you have and what you actually want to see on a daily basis. I built into the living room a L-shaped bookcase that housed; the tv, all my books, a taxidermy heron I’d been given and a wine rack. This also had inbuilt slides to allow for a record player and a chess set to be stored and used in situ. All of these items I was happy to have on display but importantly this bookcase also had various low level cupboards for files and unsightly paperwork and my mess so it could be hidden. Having the majority of your belongings stored in their place then allows for the few surfaces in the room to be kept clear and thus helps to stop a small space from feeling too cluttered.

Clare Gaskin

Increasing and improving the light, both natural and artificial, can transform a smaller flat. On a past project of mine, the entrance meant that you walked straight into the hallway (which was also the dining space) – it felt dark and unconnected to other spaces in the family home. The adjoining galley style kitchen was similarly dark and for a busy family there was no ability to be or feel together in one space. We took out the adjoining wall – thus the light between the two spaces was shared, benefiting both – we also improved the artificial lighting by changing all the light fittings with a new lighting plan that used both ceiling downlights and wall lights. Dated cabinetry was replaced with a light palette, colours were kept fresh, with natural materials like marble combined with light green joinery in the kitchen to keep things feeling spacious and bright.

Nick Smith

With a smaller space I recommend getting clever with storage – finding multi use items such as ottomans (functioning as a good place to perch as well as store items like blankets or toys) and beds which can store bed linen and towels (ottoman style lift up/drawers/or simple zip up bags under the bed). If budget allows, bespoke joinery can really transform a room and create clever spaces to store exactly what you need. At a past project we designed a dining banquette to not only provide storage for some ski kit but also some extra storage for less used kitchen equipment as well as fit in a heater – for some back up heating which also meant it was hidden.

Sometimes with a smaller flat its about embracing its size – at a lovely Marylebone house there was an underused front living room space which was rarely used by the family and had become a dumping room for storage. I really talked to the family about what spaces they felt were missing from their home to tune into what purpose this room could be. We designated the room to be a snug, to feel cosy and cocooning and so went dark with the colour and wanted it to be multi functioning despite its small size. The room now works for pre dinner drinks (bar trolley – a great way to sneak a bar into a smaller space), family games (with an ottoman that can provide a surface for a game of backgammon), watching TV as a family or tucking up in a corner to read a book in a comfy but compact chair with a good reading lamp. The accessories were key in this room – a magazine rack and sourcing small side tables that fit the space but are interesting pieces in terms of the finish.

Lonika Chande

When designing smaller spaces the furniture needs to work that little bit harder, particularly in open plan living-kitchen-dining areas, so in these areas, where possible, we try to include furniture that offers dual use. We recently completed a London pied a terre where space was tight, and so in the main room we designed a pair of upholstered fireside chairs with castors, that could be pulled up as additional seating for the dining area.

A dining banquette is also a space saving piece when there isn’t the room to push back dining chairs. It can also include drawers or a lift-up base for additional storage.

London hallways are typically narrow, and in these situations fitting a shelf above a radiator can work well instead of console, and pretty hooks, are useful to hang everyday coats where there isn’t the space for a coat cupboard.

Emma Ainscough

I’d say it’s super important in small flats to keep your different spaces and areas really flexible to accommodate more and less people when the occasion dictates. Coffee tables that come apart – for example my marble coffee table isn’t fixed to its V frame legs so it’s easy to move or push back to a wall if I have a drinks party – are a great way of making more space and adapting to different scenarios.

The coffee table in Emma Ainscough's flat can be easily moved to make more space when she's entertaining

Alicia Waite

The use of thinner flatweave rugs rather than a lovely chunky pile rug is always good in a small flat, so that it’s easy to roll up and you can hide it behind the sofa if you’re entertaining and the size suddenly doesn’t work with the flow of an adapted space.

Extendable dining tables are also obviously a great way to remain flexible, and using surplus dining chairs as bedroom chairs etc that you can pull up for dinner parties is something I do at home!

It isn't always about maximising a space but I generally always advise clients to embrace small spaces and fill them with love – colour and the right combination of pattern makes a small space feel so much more cosy than going more minimal in the hope of it feeling bigger!

Emma has filled the small flat with colour and pattern, rather than trying to hide its size with neutrals

Alicia Waite