Home Hacks: Designing Small Spaces

Written by: Shin Kitane/Sunday, Sep 18, 2016 02:17 PM

Designing small spaces can be tricky—you have to deal with storage, finding furniture that won’t hog your space, leaving enough blank space, and on top of that, you’ll want it to at least look nice. However, most of us deal with crazy rental rates across cities or the sweet challenge of buying a starter home. Personalizing your space is a fun, memorable experience and even if you add the problem of space to the mix, there are still ways to deal with home design whilst keeping your sanity intact. 


We consulted Interior Designer Gen Alfaro, who also co-manages Primea Design Group, an architectural and interior design firm in Manila. In this article, Gen gives us the lowdown on how to get around the problem of having to design a limited space, plus a few tips on esential pieces that will liven up any home. If you're stuck in a creative rut, check out this #designspo (design + inspiration) post featuring Gen and her team's work.

Can you tell us about the must-haves you think any home should have so that it is both stylish and homey?

Start with something personal.

Since it's your private sanctuary, you must have something that personally connects to you, which may be an accessory, painting, piece of furniture or even a pattern that naturally expresses who you are or what you love. 



Go big on greens! 

You can never have too much greens in your home.  Either small or large plants that you can put in stylish vases or incorporate in table accessories will do. Greens will surely make the ambiance of any space more homey. Aside from aesthetic purposes, bringing natural elements like plants indoors is generally good for your health and well-being.



Bring out the mirrors.

Any kind of mirror, depending on your design style, will work wonders for your space.  You can work with a big, framed mirror leaning towards a wall, a stylish sunburst mirror on top of your console table, or you can incorporate them with your walls through niches or an entire wall. 


There are many uses of mirrors but using them inside our homes represent a different purpose: a well-placed mirror, whether in a small or large space actually gives an illusion that expands walls, amplifies lighting, and opens up small spaces. 


How do you deal with designing small spaces such as starter homes, condo units or student lofts? Are there challenges attached to making the space stylish and at the same time functional?

Designing a small space can be really challenging because of its limitations, unusual configurations, or construction restrictions. When you move into a small home (which is usually most accessible to small families, yuppies and students), you usually have all your stuff, sometimes too much stuff, and you can’t afford to have any extra clutter. 

Since we have limited space, we have to carefully consider what furniture to use, color scheme to follow in order to make the space comfortable to live in, and even accessories to put in. Considering all these can make designing more difficult but we always keep in mind what the design requirements and considerations are, and the main goal of improving one's lifestyle.

Thus, we consider the following in designing small spaces:


Concealed and open cabinets for storage are essential in designing a small space. These are great for organizing clutter and they offer ample storage for books, collections, and other items.



Functional Furniture

Both decorative and useful furniture pieces will add value to the space. 



Color scheme 

Color adds life and character to a space and can instantly make a home more comfortable to live in.



What practical tips or hacks can you give our readers for designing small spaces? 

Use multi-purpose furniture 

Look for multi-use furniture such as sofas that can also be used as a banquet seat for the dining area or sofa beds that can provide extra sleeping space for when you have friends over.

Eliminate dead space

Typically-wasted spaces such as corners and transition spaces can be utilized for additional storage. 

Maximize openings and entrances

Doors and door swings have a great impact on space planning and will hugely affect the adjacent spaces. Sliding doors are best suited for very small interior spaces and wall partitionings. 

Pick good lighting

Lighting is an important element in achieving visual delight—not only does it set the mood but it also reflects the immediate surroundings and will lend a light and airy quality to the space.

Pick the right color palette

The right color scheme and combination will give an impression about the entire space. Usually, pastels and bright colors help achieve the illusion of a big space, while a splash of color/accent colors give a more dramatic effect to the composition.

Observe proper scale and proportion of furniture, fixtures and other elements

One single element that does not fit in scale will make the entire space look cramped and small. Avoid picking pieces that look too bulky or eat up too much space.

Follow the 70-30 rule

The 70-30 rule refers to the allowance for movement/circulation and open spaces within the area. Allot at least 30 percent of the total area for open space—free it from any furniture, fixture or equipment—that will allow use of the area for mobility and accessibility. Distribute the rest of the elements within 70 percent of the space.

Always measure first before buying anything

When you go furniture-hunting, a measuring tape would be very helpful when it comes to deciding which pieces to buy. This eliminates the guesswork and will save you time and effort by making sure that what you buy will fit neatly into place.

Interested in architecture and interior design? Check out Best Houses Philippines and Building Australia for similar content.




Gen-(1).jpgA B.S. Interior Design graduate from The University of Santo Tomas, Gen Alfaro is the Principal Interior Designer of Primea Design Group. She believes that design is about function, usability and purpose. Also a member of the Philippine Institute of Interior Design, Gen draws inspiration from traveling and reading. She is equally talented in the performing arts, and has developed a taste for fusing modern and classical elements in design.


About Shin Kitane
Shin Kitane writes to remember and believes that words have the power to heal, inspire, and move others. She dreams of a world where men and women are treated equally, where race, gender, and religion are not measures of one's worth in society. She is also a book-hoarder and a firm believer in re-watching Mean Girls and Harry Potter multiple times a year. Follow her misadventures @shinkitane on social media.
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