Designing a small apartment often seems like an impossible task that requires numerous compromises in order for us to live in it without bumping into things.
However, this mindset is no longer relevant because of an entire branch of interior design and architecture that specializes in practical design ideas for small and compact spaces.
With proper and professional planning, it is possible to find solutions for the things that are lacking in small apartments, including completely changing the apartment’s layout to provide maximal planning space and by using functional furniture that has more than a single use.
Designing a small apartment can be intimidating for a designer, but it is also a challenge that many want to experience, due to the fact that designing a compact space requires more creativity and skills than designing a spacious area. And, indeed, thinking outside the box leads them to creative and unconventional solutions.
“In most cases, the client doesn’t truly understand the space and the home’s physical limitations,” says Hila Mizrahi, an interior designer. “They dream big, and their expectations don’t match reality. Everyone dreams of a large and functional kitchen, a spacious living area and a luxurious master bedroom. Everyone wants it all.”
“But not everything can be accommodated,” she explains. “This discrepancy between expectation and reality often creates difficulties for the client, and that’s where we as designers come in,” Mizrahi adds.
“In addition, we need to be highly creative and up-to-date with products and materials available on the market in order to provide a solution that truly meets the client’s needs and desires,” she says.
“Anyone can bring furniture into a house, but the question is how to do it in a way that doesn’t overtake the space, and how to make the space both functional and visually spacious despite its small dimensions,” Mizrahi explains.
What is the most important thing in designing a small apartment?
“The most important thing in designing and planning a small apartment is to create a sense of space, so it is important to open up the space: remove walls, widen openings, plan for lightweight, low and minimalist furniture, and choose bright and well-lit colors,” according to the designer.
“It’s very important to plan furniture to fit the home. And at the same time, use elements that give a sense of spaciousness,” says Mizrahi.
Architect Ofer Roseman from Studio XS, adds that “we established a studio specializing in small spaces because designing a small apartment requires unique skills and precision that express both the intimacy in clearly defining the residents’ needs, as well as knowledge of ergonomics.”
“For example, while a large house may have a utility room, in a small apartment its entire content may be reduced to a two-door cabinet. Mapping the contents is critical both in terms of storage solutions and the spaces and sizes dedicated to every function in the house,” according to Roseman.
What is most important to do before starting to design a small apartment?
“It’s important to know what we want to do in the house and the items that will serve us or that we intend to store,” explains Roseman. “We must remember that any item that doesn’t have a designated place will become a problem for us.”
“If we don’t plan out a specific location for household items in the architectural plan, they’ll be placed in random places and disrupt the household. This is a challenge we rarely encounter in a large house,” he adds.
Today, with soaring apartment prices, many young adults are returning to basics – a small first apartment. We’re here to reassure you that this isn’t a bad option. With proper planning and understanding the importance of priorities, they’ll be able to enjoy an apartment that meets their needs after planning ahead:
1. Redesigning the home – Utilizing every square meter in the house to see if and how furniture can be changed and adapted to the space. Don’t be afraid to move infrastructure and make new plans if necessary.
“Don’t hesitate to move plumbing or sewage lines, for example, to relocate your kitchen. It is not advisable to be set on only one way to do things because such changes can open up the space considerably,” says Mizrahi.
2. Niches and cabinets instead of walls – Use niches for various purposes. “Carpentry design tailored to specific dimensions can work wonders,” says Mizrahi. “Using the hallway wall with proper carpentry planning can provide a storage space.”
“A supporting column in the house, which can be a design challenge, can be transformed with proper carpentry into a TV stand. Don’t hesitate to remove or make parts of the walls thinner and, with professional guidance, make them into cabinets.”
3. Lighting – Good lighting is vital in small spaces as it can help create a sense of openness. The right formula is a combination of natural light and precise placement of artificial lighting.
4. Utilizing vertical space – It’s possible to hang many things on walls, such as surfboards, bags, coats, bicycles, plants and more. Anything that can save valuable floor space.
5. Multi-functional furniture – Using multi-functional furniture, such as a sofa that can be converted into a bed, a shelf that serves as a workspace, tables with storage, and more, can help with designing a small space.
“We often refer to this in the studio as an ‘organizing piece’ or an ‘organizing element’,” says Roseman. “In small apartments, one piece of furniture that can be used in several ways can free up a lot of space.”
6. Spatial illusion – The use of mirrors, glass, and other transparent materials that allow light to pass through it can create an illusion of space. Many designers recommend giving up solid walls in favor of glass walls, for example, in the bathroom or in a workspace or playroom.
7. Storage – Storage is a crucial factor in small apartments as clutter can create a sense of density. Built-in storage, such as in shelves or built-in closets, can be an excellent way to maximize storage space without sacrificing floor space.
8. Vertical design – In a small apartment, it’s essential to utilize all available space, especially vertical spaces. This can be achieved by using floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, hanging planters, or even a loft bed that serves an additional function, such as a seating or working area.
How do these tips work in practice? In a project by Studio XS, the designers succeeded in finding diverse and unique solutions in a small 45-square-meter apartment, including a 9-square-meter shelter.
The residents, who planned to live in the apartment in the coming years and even expand their family, requested functions that would give them space for a growing young family, ability to work from home, host friends for meals, and host sleep overs, while incorporating as much storage space as possible.
“The first thing to do was to transform the hallway into a useful storage space rather than just a passage,” explains Roseman. “The importance of this space was significant. After all, these are quite a few square meters that were acquired as part of the apartment and weren’t used at all.”
“Moreover, they felt unpleasant to be in. Now, the hallway has become a pleasant and practical experience at the home’s entrance, allowing you to place keys, a dog leash, bags, coats, plants and a mirror there.”
Another challenge they faced was the integration of the shelter’s iron door that opens directly into the living room. In addition, all the air conditioning systems were in place as part of a ceiling reduction above the shelter’s door, in a maladaptive and unaesthetic way.
These two facts, combined with the need for storage spaces, created what the studio calls the white box.
The box serves as an organizational element for a television, a table that easily opens up and provides a dining area for four or a workspace, a narrow cabinet for cleaning supplies, upper and lower storage areas, and even storage options for suitcases behind the TV, as well as a hidden entrance to the shelter, which serves as the couple’s bedroom.
The sofa was also designed and custom-made to deal with the living room’s awkward angels. Behind it is an iron table that matches the kitchen shelves. Designer Tzion Malka designed a spacious and comfortable sofa that matches the space and can also be opened into a double bed when guests arrive.
“Every functional piece of furniture in a small apartment serves at least two purposes, like a sofa that can be transformed into a comfortable guest bed or a workspace table that easily turns into a dining table,” Roseman explains.
Another important component in functional design is the use of space-saving furniture, including foldable, hideable or stackable pieces. If we had to hide a stack of plastic chairs in the past, today a stack of chairs can become a decorative element in the house.
Today, there’s an emphasis on especially narrow furniture designed for small urban apartments, such as a dining table attached to the wall in the form of a console that expands only when in use, serving as a storage space for a variety of things when it’s folded.
Another aspect of functional design is creating uncluttered spaces using color, texture and patterns, alongside significant consideration of the furniture placement throughout the home. In small apartments, it’s recommended to choose furniture with slim profiles, thin legs and subtle lines that won’t seem too big for the space.
“Don’t be reckless. In a small apartment, planning is the most important part,” Mizrahi concludes. “Look at the space as a whole, both physically and in sketches. Start playing with the walls, think outside the box. Make a detailed list of your needs, and only then start planning.”
“Take into account that not everything you want is possible, so prioritize your needs and stick by them. Utilize every piece of the house, including corners, niches, walls and even ceilings. Make use of the wall’s height,” she adds.
“Ensure your choices match the space you have. To create a sense of spaciousness, consider using large tiles in a small bathroom to minimize tile cuts and connections that can clutter the wall’s appearance. Also, use neutral and light tones.”