Brownstone Boys: Designing for Small Spaces

Photo by Brownstone Boys

Editor’s note: Welcome to the Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating in Bed Stuy and beyond. See the first one here. They also blog at

Everyone’s got one. That small and possibly awkward space that just isn’t nearly as functional or beautiful as you would like it to be. Maybe it’s a tiny powder room or a guest bath. Is it your kitchen or office? Or maybe it’s your entire apartment! Any room or home that is short of square footage can be a challenge to design. How do you squeeze every bit of space out of it without a cluttered look? Whether you are renovating or rearranging, we have tips!

Customize Your Storage
Off-the-shelf storage solutions are great but only go so far. If you want to truly use every inch of space, you’ll need to take it a step farther. Basically it comes down to creating space for the way you live and work. If you’re an aspiring chef, consider how you will organize your spices and gadgets; if you’re a book or record collector, have dedicated storage that makes you comfortable to continue collecting; and if you’re a designer or artist, set aside space to organize your brushes, pencils, tools, and establish a workspace that keeps you inspired. Use space under seating, above cabinets, behind or above doors; there are a few options you likely haven’t considered. If you have a space that is too shallow for an off-the-shelf unit, building shallow storage can be incredibly useful for the right items.

ideas for small spaces

Use the room’s height to build in more storage like this 10-feet-tall closet unit

ideas for small spaces

The inside of the 10-feet-tall closet system has tons of storage

Build Up
In New York City, some spaces that lack square footage make up for it in ceiling height. Build up! If you can’t reach it, store things that you don’t use often like the expensive juicer that takes half a cabinet that we got five years ago and used five times. Or have a step stool or attractive ladder on the ready when you need it.

Closet Culture
If you are lacking in closet space (who isn’t!) make sure you are squeezing every inch of space out of the closets you have. Invest in a closet organizing system to turn your small closet into something that rivals many walk-ins. If you have a typical modern 48-inch-wide closet and install double rods in three-quarters of the closet, you now have 7 feet of hanging space. Maybe there is room to squeeze in a shelf or two and — one of our favorites — coat hooks!

brooklyn small space ideas

An unused wall with radiators becomes a special feature with space to tuck away books and other items

Nooks and Niches
You might know that we love a niche. They just make so much sense. If you’re renovating and building a wall, it costs nothing (or very little) to take advantage of the space in the wall and build it with a niche. We’re fans of putting them in the bathroom by a vanity, or in a bedroom over or next to the bed, or in a hallway where the walls are almost always useless. Books and other items can be tucked away and you can eliminate the need for additional pieces of furniture.

brooklyn small space ideas

We use our kitchen island and dining room table as both eating areas and work spaces

Dual-Purpose Furniture
Don’t crowd your room when you can have furniture that can do double duty. A dining table can double as a desk with a long bench seat that can tuck neatly under when not needed. Keep the seating flexible. Your living room likely doesn’t always need seating for 10. Floor poofs that fit under a coffee table can easily be pulled out to squeeze in guests (post pandemic, of course).

Declutter and Purge
Get your Kondo on and purge! If you don’t wear something or use it over the course of a year, do you really need it? Do you have too much stuff? Have a stoop sale. Invite your friends, and maybe some of the stuff you may not want to part with will find a nice new home and you can visit. Remember, less is more.

small space ideas

Adding directional lighting can help define a space and make it look bigger and more interesting

Don’t underestimate the role lighting can play in helping your space appear larger and more appealing. Especially when combined with the above mentioned recommendations. If you layer lighting it can help define areas within the room and make the space feel cozier and more purposeful. A single center light fixture creates a bland generic space. Instead install a library lamp over a shelf or picture, use a reading lamp in a corner, or use a directional pendant that creates a pool of light over a table.

Your space might not be sprawling but it doesn’t mean that it has to feel cramped. Smart storage, furniture, renovation and lighting choices can create a very comfortable and cozy space you won’t mind sharing with your stuff.

[Photos by Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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