5 Tips for Designing a Functional Small Space

5 Tips for Designing a Functional Small Space

In this day and age, small spaces like tiny houses, urban studio apartments and quaint cottages have become less of a temporary dwelling situation, and more of a movement. Along with the obvious financial advantages, living small appeals to a large demographic because it gives us the opportunity to cut the clutter, enjoy the added benefit of less upkeep (who doesn’t love having only one toilet to clean?), and focus on leading a more self-sufficient lifestyle. At Zinus, we’re particularly fond of it because it pushes us to be creative and ultra-intentional with our designs. We love a good spatial challenge, and so does muralist and home DIY expert, Racheal Jackson. With the help of a few select Zinus furniture pieces, she’s built her father’s small house from the ground up, and has taken us along for her ride to the finish line.

rachel self portrait

Meet Racheal

Since growing up in and around her parents’ construction business, you could say that Racheal has been honing her craft since childhood. Her zest for bold and colorful wall displays really took shape after she embarked on the task of renovating her current home, a 1950’s farmhouse in Vancouver. Tired of the very neutral spaces she was used to seeing and designing, she began painting the walls, adding stripes, patterns and vibrancy that reflected her true, “non-neutral” self.

When it comes to her design philosophy, Racheal is a big believer in just going for it. “Be Bold, Make Magic. I believe that when we are bold in our design and take risks in our homes, it enables us to be bolder in our lives.”

1. Function, function, function

Big or small, we all love a home that reflects our personal taste and looks magazine-ready in photos. But if that space doesn’t allow you to live your life in a practical way, then what’s the point? That’s why Racheal recommends focusing on function as step one. “What will I be doing in this room? How do I want to feel in this room? Considering function first is essential when you’re designing for a smaller space–you need to make every foot count!”

Having built this house from the ground up, Racheal was able to concentrate on every detail to make the most of every space. And no detail is too small to be overlooked. Even the sink in her kitchen was moved as close to the edge of the countertop as possible to maximize counter space!

In addition to a functional layout, finding creative ways to use space efficiently is a must. Adding furniture pieces and fixtures that can double as storage is a great way to start. And wall space can be a great resource for keeping clutter up and out of the way and also for visually enhancing your design theme.

2. Create cohesion

With a smaller space, designing a color palette and aesthetic that’s consistent throughout the area will give it a more spacious feel. As a painter, for Racheal this meant choosing wall colors and patterns that would harmonize with each other. “Because you can see almost every area in the house from any spot, it’s important that all the colors flow well together and form a cohesive color story.”

3. Natural light

Another trick of the trade to making a space feel bigger - natural lighting. A view of the outdoors and a bit of sunlight can really do wonders for an otherwise tiny home. And in Racheal’s 420 square foot space, taking the time to install a small window and a front door with a full light panel were well worth it. “I installed the window in the bedroom space long after I had framed and insulated the wall–I just forgot to put it in! But I took the time to go back and cut a hole in the wall, and I’m SO GLAD I did. It has made such a difference."

suzanne platforma bed frame

4. Choose the right furniture

When floor space is limited, it’s important to make every piece of furniture count. For this challenge, Racheal picked out some of our most clean-lined designs in order to add function to the space without visually overwhelming it.

For the bedroom, she chose our GOOD DESIGN award winning Suzanne Metal and Wood Platforma Bed (shown below with our Cooling Gel Memory Foam Hybrid Mattress). “For the bed in the studio, I knew that I wanted a mural at the headboard. Because of this, I chose a simple platform bed, the Suzanne. This will give a lot of space for under-the-bed storage (which is so necessary in a studio apartment!)”

We couldn’t agree more. With a full foot of underbed space, the Suzanne practically gives you an extra closet to fill. And its minimalist design is polished, yet understated enough so it doesn’t steal focus in a small area.

suzanne platform and cooling gel hybrid mattress

In the dining area, she took a similar approach with the Soho 3 Piece Dining Set. “The Soho table and benches in white have such simple, clean lines, and I knew they would pop against any color I paired with it!”

And although it’s compact, this neat little set is the perfect size for four people (so you don’t have to sacrifice social gatherings just because you live small!). Moreover, these simple yet sturdy benches can be tucked underneath the tabletop to save space when not in use, giving you more floor space for that occasional solo dance party or yoga session.

soho dining benches

To round out the living area, Racheal was drawn to the Amanda Metal Frame Sofa for its visual appeal, which for her, checked off two boxes. First, it met her criteria of looking clean and streamlined. And second, she knew that the blue shade and angular silhouette would fit perfectly with the rainbow mural she had painted on the wall behind it. “I just love the modern feel of the couch. It feels fresh and young, while still being versatile and classic. I’m a big fan.”

amanda steel sofa

5. Let your walls do the talking

When space is in high demand, the last thing you want to do is invest in decor that gets in the way. When it comes to sprucing up a room on a budget, Racheal recommends using a little bit of paint and the biggest resource in front of you - the walls. “I am such a clutter-phobe (and a cheapskate at that!) that I don’t typically put a lot of time into the decorative objects. I like to keep the statements on the wall, where they’re up and out of the way. There’s also a much bigger opportunity for impact because your wall is usually the largest bit of real-estate in the room!”

In this particular space, Racheal painted a striking blue mural in place of a headboard to add a bold statement in the bedroom (with the help of some repurposed Zinus cardboard, we might add).