New to Boston: Tips for living large in a small space

Ask the Expert
Experts suggest using mirrors to make your space seem bigger and open shelving to give it an airier look. Adobe Stock

While your Boston apartment or condo may not count as a tiny house, it probably feels like one sometimes, especially on an icy winter day when you’re stuck inside. Boston’s high real estate prices landed it at the top of the list as the city with the highest median price per square foot, according to a report earlier this year. That means you’re likely to be living in tight quarters.

Thankfully, experts in tiny house living have suggestions that can help you make the most of your small space. First, it’s best to streamline your possessions.

“When we have stuff, we don’t realize we pay for it multiple ways beyond the first purchase, such as paying for the square footage to display/store it, the furniture to display it on, the insurance to cover it, the service to maintain and clean it, and possibly the emotional weight of holding onto things,” said Stacy McCarthy, an interior designer who travels full time in a tiny house on wheels with her husband.

Not only do you need to eliminate new possessions, you must be strategic about buying new things when you have limited space. To reduce her storage needs, McCarthy rents clothes so she can rotate them without filling her closets with off-season items.

Tiny house tips for your small home

Once you’ve streamlined your possessions, you can try these suggestions to help you live large.

Aim for open space. Do not think about how much you can stuff into the space … think about the space and how you live in it, said Dan George Dobrowolski, founder of Escape Homes, a tiny home designer and builder. Remove walls where possible to create an open floor plan.

Keep things full sized. This may seem counterintuitive, but if done right, it will make the space seem larger and more normal, said Dobrowolski.

Buy double-duty furniture. Try to use furniture that doubles as storage, recommended Coles Carangian, marketing director of Simple Life, the developer of tiny home communities in North Carolina and Florida. “In addition to the well-known bed frame with drawers underneath, there are options for ottomans with storage, tables with spice racks and dish racks underneath and along the side, and steps that can become shelving for books and other household items,” she said. McCarthy recommends built-in banquettes with kitchen storage inside and coffee tables with storage and that convert into a dining or laptop surface. Install built-in couches that can fold out to a bed, Dobrowolski recommended, and consider ones that can fold up into a wall and serve as a shelving unit.

Build up if you can. A loft can add room for sleeping and reading or extra storage, said Dobrowolski. He also suggested raising ceilings and installing skylights to add height and the feeling of more living space.

Keep it light. Use light colors in the interior to make it feel light and airy … light is everything, said Dobrowolski. Dark colors and the lack of natural light make small spaces feel smaller. Add windows if you can. Dobrowolski recommends using frosted doors and light-filtering honeycomb shades that let light in while providing privacy.

Choose open shelving. Open storage gives an airier and more spacious look to your home, said Carangian. “Remove some cabinet or closet doors and take a step back – immediately you’ll see an illusion of more space,” she said. “But this can’t be done if your storage places are already bursting at the seams. You’ll need to do a little downsizing first.”

Add mirrors. They give the illusion of doubling your space and reflect light, which brightens up your space, said Carangian.

Minimize your cooking equipment. McCarthy limited her cooking equipment but chose good-quality products that can handle multiple uses and are aesthetically appealing. She has only two All-Clad cooking pans, a medium soup pot that can be used for stews or small amounts of pasta or steaming vegetables, and a large double-handled pan with a rack can also be used in the oven.

Get creative with electronics. A drop-down projector screen eliminates the need for a big TV, suggested McCarthy. Or you can look for a “pop-up” TV that stays hidden in a cabinet until you need it, said Dobrowolski.

With a little ingenuity and a lot of discipline directed at decluttering, your small space can feel a lot bigger.

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