Seven Big Ideas for Small Spaces

Having limited square footage doesn’t mean you have to skimp on style. These Airbnbs use clever design tips to make tiny spaces feel large.

Photograph By Anniken Zahl Furunes

GOT A TEENY ROOM, an empty corner, or a bare wall? That’s a prime spot for a cozy nook or a little vignette. Whether you turn yours into a book-filled retreat, an intimate dining alcove, or a snug seating area, a “room within a room” feels instantly inviting. And as these ­Airbnbs show, it’s not hard to pull off — all you need are some smart styling strategies.

IDEA 1: READING AREA

Pictured: Paul Costello’s Airbnb, in a converted 19th century church in New Orleans. [Photo courtesy of Paul Costello.]

Why It Works

A tone-on-tone scheme helps this space feel roomy and clutter-free, even when the shelves are stacked with a big mix of items (books, microwave, portraits), says designer Emily Henderson. “The pops of red add life,” she says. “For a quieter vibe, you could replace the chair with a navy velvet one.” Prefer to play up contrasts? “Swap out the rattan pendant for a sleek, industrial-style metal fixture,” suggests lifestyle blogger Will Taylor.

Get a similar look: Raleigh Green (walls); Goodwin Green (bookcase); each from $40 per gallon, benjaminmoore.com

IDEA 2: DINING NOOK

Pictured: Laura Butler-Madden’s Airbnb Plus London apartment. “Add a few hits of color to keep a bright white space from feeling flat or one-note,” notes Henderson. [Photo by Patrick Butler-Madden]

Why It Works

A big dose of symmetry (matching chairs, identical pillows) gives this corner its own distinctive look, says Taylor. “If you want to get a little less formal, just mix up the arrangement and assortment of throw pillows so they’re not so uniform.”

A cushioned banquette is a practical choice when space is tight, adds designer Vanessa De Vargas. “It gives you more seating and makes you want to plop down and hang out for a while.”

Get a similar look: Factory Light №4 rod pendant, from $269, schoolhouse.com

IDEA 3: COMMAND CENTER

Pictured: Jamie Kwong’s designer Airbnb Plus home in Great Mackerel Beach, Australia. “This is actually a drawer from a tool chest,” says Kwong. “We turned it on its side and mounted it to the wall.” [Photo by Luisa Brimble]

Why It Works

Color blocking adds visual interest to a wall that has no molding or other architectural elements, says Henderson. “I also love that the seascapes here aren’t evenly spaced. When art is arranged haphazardly, it feels more natural and casual.” The different wood tones and textures warm up this little area, adds designer Sabrina Soto. “You could enhance that by adding an indoor plant in the basket.”

IDEA 4: STORY-TIME SPOT

Pictured: Superhost Christine Stucker’s Brooklyn brownstone. “We picked up this hanging rack on a trip to Iceland,” says Stucker. [Photograph by StewartSchafer]

Why It Works

Hanging books so you can easily see them is a genius display idea, says De Vargas. And the rack does double duty as a whimsical graphic element, Taylor points out. “I love the woven basket for collecting stray toys,” he adds, “but you could replace it with a small side table and lamp if you wanted a warmer look with more reading light.”

Get a similar look: Balance №2 limited edition print by Lindsay Stetson Thompson, from $47 (framed), minted.com


IDEA 5: VANITY CORNER

Pictured: Host Anthony D’Argenzio’s pad in Hudson, NY. “We love the juxtaposition of gilded mirror and reclaimed barn wood,” says D’Argenzio. [Photo by Martyn Thompson]

Why It Works

Nothing beats the versatility of a shelf, mirror, and framed print trio, says Griffin: The combo works not only as a getting-ready area but also as an instant foyer. In this bedroom version, the pairing of rustic (wood shelving) and refined (antique mirror) “is perfection,” says designer Amber Lewis. “If you didn’t want to use the space for seating, it would also look great to stack some books on the vintage stool.”

Get a similar look: Laurent mirror, $498, thebellacottage.com


IDEA 6: ALL-IN-ONE LOUNGE

Pictured: A home in Twentynine Palms, California. Bed basics: A slatted-wood headboard is open and airy; for a cozier feel, try a tufted fabric version, says designer Tracy Morris. [Photograph by Maria Del Rio]

Why It Works

When you’re limited on hangout space, a tight color palette, like the pink and neutral scheme in this studio alcove (top), can give the illusion of a larger room, says designer Elaine Griffin. Stick with streamlined furniture, too. “A non-bulky, armless fold-over sofa is a perfect pick for a tight space.”

Pictured: A home in Salangen, Norway. [Photograph By Anniken Zahl Furunes]

If you’re lucky enough to have a picturesque view (above), spotlight it with a seating area by the window, says Lewis. This one is dressed up with plush textures and anchored with a cluster of wall art.

Get a similar look: Bumper large ottoman, $299, bludot.com


IDEA 7: GUEST BEDROOM

Pictured: Superhost Brandi Boblett’s tiny home in Atlanta. “We picked dark pillows with a subtle texture to help the smooth white shiplap stand out,” says Boblett. [Photograph by Brandi Boblett]

Why It Works

Floating shelves free up floor space, so they make the best bedside tables in cramped quarters, says Griffin. If the shelves are short, “consider adding another beneath each to rest a phone or water,” says Soto. With no room for lamps, over-the-bed lighting is a must, says Griffin. “Just be sure the sconce is high enough — or the bed is moved out from the wall — to avoid head bumps in the night.”


About the author: Betsy Goldberg is the deputy editor (Home) of Airbnb Magazine. Previously she was the deputy editor of Real Simple and HGTV Magazine, editorial content director at Bed Bath & Beyond, and an editor at UsWeekly, Modern Bride, and New York Magazine. She is co-author of BusinessWeek’s Guide to the Best Business Schools. Her writing has also appeared in Glamour, Health, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Money.