From shoebox to homely haven: six steps to transforming your tiny urban living space

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The Stylist web team
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For most city dwellers the idea of a spacious home is an urban legend: something we’ve been told about, but have never truly believed.

Instead, we have dolefully accepted cramming everything we own into miniscule flats, or throwing our beloved possessions out in a panicked desperation to achieve the ultimate Feng Shui.

The thought of transforming our homes into something out of an interiors magazine feels like a distant dream for many of us.

So, in the hope of making the best out of our tiny living spaces, we turned to interior stylist and blogger, Sarah Akwisombe, whose latest work for Habitat is all about how to make the most of small space living.

Here, Sarah gives her top tips for turning our shoebox into a homely haven.

1. Clear the clutter 

First things first. If you’re looking to refresh your apartment, make an effort to refine your life down to the things you love.

It’s tough, but once you’ve de-cluttered you can start looking at the extra space you have available and then get on with a refresh.

I recently read about a Japanese couple who had about twenty items between them. Although that's pretty unrealistic - they obviously haven't visited London's incredible bric-a-brac markets - it does provide food for thought. How much of what we have is actually necessary? Or better yet, do we even enjoy it?

I read Marie Kondo's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and whilst I can't say that I believed every word (is it possible to find joy in a potato peeler? Who knows...) it definitely helped me more decisive about chucking random stuff out. 

2. Small space colour myths

One thing I’m always asked about small spaces is colour.

It’s a myth that using colour will make them feel smaller. Sometimes dark colours can actually give the effect of making corners disappear, so I recommend also painting walls and ceilings in the same hue. If you add personality to a small space it helps you to really enjoy the space for what it is rather than just ending up in a white box that doesn’t reflect your style.

Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it has to be minimalist, you just have to think about how you layer the rest of your furnishings on top, to make best use of space.

3. Keep it clear 

The key to making a space feel bigger is bringing in reflective and transparent materials for your furniture.

Try not to block light by using ‘heavy’ or dark coloured furniture which casts shadows in a small space and can feel enclosing.

By this I mean things like solid wooden top dining tables / upholstered dining chairs / sofas that aren’t on legs - opt instead for a glass table top to let light flow through instead of casting shadows, skinny framed dining chairs and sofas that are raised on legs to let light flow underneath them.

Seeking out these things will make a space feel lighter and - most importantly - bigger. Using glass/perspex/acrylic/mirrors will all help maximise the amount of light in a room and also allow you to see more floor and wall space.

4. Dizzy heights

If you’re short on floor space then make sure you use the most of the ceiling height.

Floating shelves, open shelving and/or open bookcases will allow you to display and store things vertically, keeping that all-important floor space clear.

Open shelving will also mean you can show off your personality and take more pride in displaying your personal objects again as opposed to going sterile with everything unique hidden.

If you're prone to clutter (as I know I am) get some decorative boxes and store random bits and bobs in there. 

5. Clever clothing hacks

Instead of bulky wardrobes, why not opt for a clothing rail fixed to your wall or suspended from your ceiling?

Display your clothing openly to make a real feature - it'll force you to keep your wardrobe under control and only choose pieces that you love.

A sideboard or chest can be used underneath for more practical storage of other clothing.

A bed with hidden storage or pull out drawers is also handy, and if you can get some vacuum sealer clothing bags then you can make bulky items like duvets and pillows condense right down in order to fit into a small drawer. 

6. Sexy storage

Admittedly storage has never been sexy.

But there are so many good looking storage options now where you can throw all of your clutter inside and proudly display them, as opposed to trying to cram everything under your bed.

Stylish metal trunks, colourful basket ware, plastic boxes  – these are affordable and can look great when fitting with your decor scheme. No one need know what lurks inside.

On a bigger scale, there are so many cool furniture designs now built around storage – beds, sofas, coffee tables. Ok, they might have a larger footprint but if they come with added benefit of inner storage then it's worth checking them out. 

Five best buys to maximise space

Felt storage baskets - The brass detail adds a bit of glam to simple storage 

Open clothing rail  - Great way to avoid bulky wardrobes and force you into good shopping habits

Junk hiding coffee table - No one need find your embarrassing retro 'just 17' magazine collection

Perfect bathroom storage - Hang towels from below and use the open areas for toiletries

Transparent Tables - This glass and metal desk allows light to pass and keeps an open feel 

Images: Pinterest, Habitat