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Ways to Create the Illusion of Bigger Space

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By Bill Primavera

Who says bigger is better? Well, all of us do, it seems, when it comes to living larger and wanting more space, especially if we happen to be downsizing but don’t want to be fully aware of it. 

There are countless ideas in decorating magazines, on HGTV and online about how to give the illusion of pushing back those walls and elevating the ceiling, but not all experts are in agreement about which techniques work best. It all depends on the mix of color, furniture arrangement, accessories, pattern and texture.

But color is where to start.

The rule of thumb for enlarging space has normally been to paint walls in lighter colors. For me, a prime example comes to mind from the play and movie “The Producers” when Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom hit pay dirt and hire their very efficient secretary Ulla, who in turn paints their entire office white, including all furnishings and even the safe. Suddenly the set expands visually from a dim and depressing space to a bright and sunny environment, seemingly twice its size.

Traditionally we have believed this works because we know that lighter colors reflect the light rather than absorbing it.

But some decorating consultants would argue that lighter colors bring walls and objects closer to us and actually make a room seem smaller, while darker shades, such as a gray, can give the illusion of receding into deep space. I believe that either technique can work depending on a variety of factors, from the height of the ceiling to the amount of natural light the room receives, to how the room is furnished and accessorized.

But there are endless ways to deceive the eye.

Some years ago, I had a friend, a fashion editor, who complained that her apartment had the smallest bedroom that one could imagine, with just enough room for a double bed, a dresser and a night table. But she came up with an ingenious idea inspired from a scene in a Barbra Streisand movie. She covered her entire bedroom in a small floral print. That included the wallpaper for both her walls and ceiling and the fabric, which was used for all her bedding, including the headboard.

When she invited friends over to see the finished result, it was amazing. Stepping into that room with its pale, repetitive pattern was like entering into an endless flower garden where the walls just seemed to disappear.

Here are some other tricks to make it seem like you’re expanding space.

1.There’s an old rule that small furniture in a small space is the way to go, but a few larger pieces of furniture in a small room will often make it look bigger. A sleek sofa or chair will give as much sitting room as an overstuffed version but will take up much less usable space. For the dramatic effect of utilizing larger pieces without taking up floor space, take to the walls, either with a mirror or art.

  1. Don’t automatically place your furniture against walls, believing that it frees up floor space. Sometimes placing a piece at an angle or surrounded by open space, even if it’s just two or three inches from the wall, will make a room look bigger.
  2. Choose tables and desks of clear glass. When you can see through objects, it creates clear space, rather than blocking it.
  3. When it comes time to select fabrics and rugs, choose smaller prints like my friend did or plain colors that will visually expand a small room.
  4. You can lengthen a room with drapes by hanging them from the ceiling rather than from the tops of the windows. Making them sheer lets in the light.
  5. Another way to raise the ceiling is by painting it a darker shade than the four walls.
  6. The oldest trick in the book is placing two mirrors on walls across from each other, which gives the illusion of a room that goes on and on forever.
  7. It’s always best to choose furniture with exposed legs, rather than a skirt, for expanding space.
  8. And, finally, eliminate the need for some pieces by taking advantage of all the double-duty furniture now available to us through outlets like Home Goods, such as ottomans that double as storage units or as coffee tables.

Then again, if you live in a small house and want to ignore all the tips above, there is nothing wrong with living in a cozy space, with everything near at hand, feeling embraced by your environment. After all, when you think about it, who said everything has to stretch?

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com}. To engage the services of Bill Primavera, The Home Guru, to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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