Nirvana in a Small Space

Decorating a small home can seem like a daunting project—especially when you’re transitioning from a larger space. A good first step is to focus on the positive aspects of living in a small space: less maintenance, greater efficiency and function, and of course, the beauty and coziness factors.

Whether you’re downsizing to a smaller home or transitioning into a retirement community, small-space living does not mean the end of good design; instead, it is an opportunity to be smart and intentional with your design and decor. It’s a chance to shed some tired things and surround yourself with only items that you love, need, and use. While it’s a big task to sort through a lifetime of possessions, most of the hundreds of people my company has helped with this process express a feeling of liberation and peace once they’ve pared down to just their favorite and most useful things.

Many people choose to keep just their artwork or a single statement piece of furniture and start from scratch with the rest of the furnishing. Whether you choose from pieces you already own, or you shop for new pieces—or a combination of the two approaches—here are some tips for making your small space beautiful and functional.

Create rooms within rooms. Floating seating areas within a room rather than pushing furniture against the walls can actually make a room seem larger and airier. Desks or side tables can be placed against walls and used for work, dining, or display. A throw rug in the seating area will ground and separate the spaces.

Employ furniture that can serve multiple purposes.  A sofa table behind a floating sofa can double as a work surface—just pull up a chair. Bins underneath can hold office or hobby supplies. Reconsider the shin-bruiser bulky coffee table. Instead, use two smaller ottomans or trunks, preferably ones that do double duty as additional storage.

Smaller scale furniture need not be boring and uncomfortable. Look for smaller pieces that are still full and comfortable. Throw pillows can be used for extra comfort and to add bright pops of color. Larger pieces like sofas or loveseats are usually best upholstered a bit more neutrally while patterned side chairs and throw rugs can add layers and interest to a room.

Look up and maximize space by going vertical. Choose wall sconces instead of table lamps to free up surface space on side tables and nightstands. Use vertical space for storage and display. Floating shelves or custom casework can act as a focal point in a room.

Let in the light. Hang window treatments above the window frames as close to the ceiling as possible and position rods so curtains can be opened all the way to the edges of the windows. This lets in more light and gives the illusion of taller ceilings and wider windows.

Downsizing to a smaller space does not mean saying farewell to good design. It is an opportunity to embrace the wisdom of how you really want to live in a home and what makes your heart sing. What do you truly love to look at? What do you really need and use? How are you most comfortable? When you fill your space with only beautiful, useful, comfortable things that are intentionally placed for the best flow and function, you have reached design nirvana. Go for it! You know what you like!

Karen Pfeiffer Bush is a senior living specialist and owner of two Seattle-based companies, Housewarming ( and Studio 65 ( Contact Karen at (206) 719-1662 or email her at


Here are a few resources for smaller-scale furniture:

Del-Teet Furniture, 10308 NE 10th St, Bellevue,

West Elm, for interior design assistance and access to designer showrooms.



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