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Neale Whitaker’s 5 steps to furnishing a small apartment

The first apartment (or ‘flat’ if I’m going to be geographically accurate) I ever owned was a palace, albeit a very small one. And through my eyes at least, if nobody else’s. On the ground floor of one of those ubiquitous, late-Victorian London terraces in a suburb with an indifferent postcode, it had a living room, a bedroom, a tiny bathroom and a kitchen that certainly didn’t allow for cat swinging. But what my palace did have was high ceilings and an elegant bay window with original shutters that made me feel like I’d won the apartment lottery. Which, given my age and meagre salary in those days, I probably had.  

I mention that apartment because I clearly remember the decorating mistakes I made there. Thirty-odd years ago, I thought the only thing to do with a small space was to cram it with small things, not realising that would simply amplify the modest (read cramped) dimensions. If only someone had told me that small space + small furniture = doll’s house. 

These days, with more and more of us downsizing or choosing to live in apartments, it seems timely to discuss small space living, but - as always - these are suggestions, not rules. If the doll’s house effect is your aim then please scale away, but if your preference is to maximise limited proportions, then my five-step advice (gathered over many years of apartment living) might just help.  


Featuring the Fleur Sofa, Fleur Armchair, Fleur Ottoman, Issho Coffee Table, Quay Console Table and Balla Table Lamp.


1. THINK about the ways in which small spaces can often be made to feel larger


These include painting the entire space in one colour (neutrals are an obvious choice but don’t exclude colours - they can also work in a small space); drawing the eye upwards with vertical stripes, floor-to-ceiling cabinetry or ceiling detail; using mirrors and mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of size; hanging large, oversized artworks to focus attention (gallery-style hangs of smaller artworks can negatively accentuate the dimensions of a small room); keeping furniture centred in the space to allow easy movement around it. In other words, don’t push everything back against the wall.  


2. SCALE is important, but not, perhaps, in the way you might expect


While it’s important to be realistic about the proportions of your room (that sofa needs to get through the door), it’s not always necessary to scale down for a small space. If a three-seater sofa doesn’t fit, consider the two-and-a-half-seater before the two-seater. Larger pieces in a small room will help create volume and depth. You may have heard me say ‘if in doubt, oversize’ but I’ll also add ‘think big in a small room’. Trust me.  


Featuring the Fleur Sofa, Fleur Armchair and Issho Coffee Table.


3. EDIT and then edit some more


Your room will thank you for it. While it’s true you don’t always have to think small in a small space, it’s important that every piece of furniture earns its place. Far better to have fewer, large pieces than lots of small ones. Think about how you will use the space and what your priorities are. There are so many stylish, dual-purpose furniture options available. King Living’s circular Bongo Ottoman doubles as both a comfortable stool or an occasional table with the addition of a wooden Tray Top; the Dainelli Libreria Bookcase works perfectly as a room divider, should you want to create two separate zones. If space is tight, remember an ottoman can often be a great substitute for a second armchair. And floor lamps work especially well in small rooms. Consider King Living’s Balla Floor Lamp and Solifiore Arum, Gymea and Protea Floor Lamps 


4. STYLE doesn't need to be compromised


I have a great friend whose tiny inner-Sydney apartment is one of the most beautiful and individual homes I know. Its personality has never been limited by its dimensions. Smaller rooms can punch well above their weight in terms of impact. My advice is to anchor the space with a large, neutral rug. That will immediately create a blank canvas on which to build. King Living’s Bicheno Rug, hand loomed in art silk and available in a neutral palette of sand, silver or charcoal, is a perfect choice. The current trend for curved furniture lends itself well to smaller spaces: the soft profile of the King Living Fleur Sofa, Fleur Armchair and Fleur Ottoman, combined with the sinuous Issho Coffee Table create a setting that feels balanced and contemporary.


Featuring the Fleur Sofa, Fleur Tub Chair and Issho Coffee Table. 


5. Finally, ADD the layers that make the space feel personal


The touches that make it yours. By that I mean the artworks, the books, the lamps, cushions, vases and ceramics that tell your story and make it home. These are as just as important in a small space, perhaps more so. Because when I think back to that apartment years ago, it wasn’t the bay window or the high ceilings that made it my palace, so much as the fact it was mine. If I had it now, though, it would feel twice the size.  


For more design inspiration articles by Neale Whitaker, discover: 


Shop the look


Fleur Sofa

Fleur Armchair


Fleur Ottoman


Issho Coffee Table


Quay Console Table


Balla Table Lamp