Unless you’re living in Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors is your living room, chances are there are at least one or two rooms in your home that you wish were a little…bigger. Don’t despair, and don’t start skimming through the listings yet for a bigger abode, because you may be able to utilize a few tricks to increase the appearance of spaciousness in these rooms.
Have you ever been to a fun house and stood in the mirror maze? If you have, you’ve undoubtedly seen a seemingly infinite number of reflections stretching out in every direction. Nothing increases the appearance of spaciousness like a mirror, and mirrors reflecting into each other can magnify this effect exponentially.
It’s an old trick that’s been used by bars and restaurants for ages. In fact, there are some French impressionist painters who depict entire scenes through the reflection of a mirror (most famously A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet), suggesting the power of a mirror to double the apparent size of a room.
Mirrors also facilitate the spread of light, which can further amplify the feeling of spaciousness. While we joked earlier about wanting a living room like the Hall of Mirrors, that palatial ballroom actually does serve as an excellent example of the ability of mirrors (positioned directly across from windows and under the chandeliers) to reflect light and increase the size of the room’s appearance.
If it’s within your budget, you can install some floor to wall mirrors, like the type you find in a dance studio, to maximize the reflective and lighting-related effects. Otherwise, try grabbing some decorative mirrors from your typical home goods store (you can usually find them in the section with wall decors like clocks and paintings). Hang a few mirrors up on the wall. If you can, position your wall shelves in front of them, perhaps with some candles, which can create a nice ambient glow at night.
The rule is simple: dark colors make a room seem smaller, while light colors make it seem larger. Think of a cozy Irish pub, all panelled in dark woods. The keyword is cozy, isn’t it…and cozy is usually associated with the smallish-type space that a bear would want to crawl into and hibernate the winter away.
So if you’re not looking to create a more snuggly or constrictive feel to your room, abandon the dark colors. Paint the walls pastel shades of blue, green, or pink. While black absorbs color, light reflects it, giving the room a more spacious appearance, so use colors that are mixed with a decent amount of it.
When it comes to the borders of the room, such as the floor and crown molding, paint them even lighter colors. Painting them darker would create strong boundaries in the room, and delineate a clear space, essentially shrinking the appearance of the room again, so avoid dark trim and keep it light…the lighter you keep them, the more “hazy” the borders of the room get, which in turn increase the size of its appearance.
Light color schemes are another old trick of design that has been utilized for ages, especially in the Baroque and classical palaces of Eastern Europe, such as the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Schloss Nymphenburg in Germany. The ballrooms are light and airy, and it’s not just because of the ceiling heights and large windows—it’s because the walls are light pastel shades and the pillars, railings, and decorative molding is white.
Don’t forget the furnishings when it comes to the idea of lighter colors. Dark couches and tables add to the feeling of constriction (or coziness, if you prefer) while lighter woods and pastel-colored upholstery increase the sense of space.
This is probably the most straightforward solution, although that shouldn’t downplay the importance of the previous two. But decluttering can really add some floor space to your room because in case you haven’t noticed…furniture and junk take up space.
The first step might be to look through everything on the floor and see what you can get rid of. Old toys, magazine bins, and boxes of long-forgotten doo-dads can be put in storage, sold on eBay, or thrown out. Laundry bins overflowing with clothes can be moved to a different location, like a closet, a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room. These particular examples may not apply to you, but the principle is the same: try to live by the idea of Mise en place: a place for everything, and everything in its place.
Consider some creative (and standard) solutions to storage. By a cabinet for stacking plastic bins that you can keep in a different location (this one works great with kids rooms that are full of toys…just make sure to bolt the furniture to the wall). You could also try installing some wall shelves to put candles and antiques along the wall and remove any end tables or coffee tables that are taking up unwanted space.
Decluttering is an extensive project that really incorporates the whole home because you’ll usually have to find a place for all the things your moving, playing a sort of musical chairs until every item has a home. But the end result of freeing up space in some of your more crowded rooms is super satisfying.
If you’re working on increasing the apparent size of a room and you’ve already hit the first three points, a final word to the wise involves contemplating the materials that make up your room.
Carpet makes a room look smaller. Not only does the carpet itself take up a few precious inches of space (it may not seem like much, but it can make a difference), the very color and texture of the carpet makes the room look smaller. Granted, a white carpet may look a room more spacious than dark hardwood floors, but not by much. In fact, we’re willing to place bets that any colored grain of wood flooring makes a room look much larger than it did when carpeting was down.
If there’s a fireplace in the room, consider what type of material makes up the mantelpiece. If its stone or brick, that’s going to make your room look smaller. Whitewood, white marble, or light colored tilework is the way to go if you want to increase the size of the room.
The same is true for your kitchen counters and cabinets. While the appliances may be a lost cause here (unless you can get new ones that are part of an extensive remodeling project and are more integrated into the ensemble of the kitchen) the cabinets and counters should be lighter colors.
Structurally, if it’s within your budget and a qualified contractor is willing to manage the project, you could also consider opening a window between some of your rooms, such as the kitchen and the dining room, which will certainly increase a sense of openness.
Also, consider the types of lighting fixtures you’ve used: dark chandeliers may give your room an awesome medieval or rustic look, but they also decrease the appearance of its size. Try going with brass or crystal fixtures for your central chandelier (like the one above the table), and making sure the rest of the lighting throughout the house is recessed in the ceiling, eliminating the need for lamps and fixtures that hang or are attached to the ceiling.
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