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Five Ways to Make a Small House Look Larger

My full-time home is a one-bedroom 700 sq. ft. detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU). I built it behind the main house, which I rent out. My ADU has everything I need in a compact space. Yet it doesn’t feel small at all.

If you’re building an ADU or smaller home, or if you're renovating, I hope you’ll incorporate these design ideas to make your home appear more spacious than its actual square footage.

Combined kitchen and dining room in my ADU

1) Go for an open plan

Many houses under 1,000 square feet were built after World War II when the U.S. was experiencing a population boom and housing shortage. These houses were built with separate rooms for living, dining, cooking and laundry. I love nooks and crannies, but in a small house this type of choppy layout can feel more cramped than cozy.

An open plan concept is where there are no walls separating rooms, primarily between the living room, dining room and kitchen. While one space flows into the next, furniture arrangement and structural details provide a natural delineation between areas of the room. The overall effect is of a more expansive home.

2) Make the ceilings high

My previous house had nine-foot ceilings, which created a more spacious feeling than the eight-foot ceilings on my current property’s main house. But the smaller the house or apartment, the higher your ceilings need to be. When I was designing my ADU with the architect, we settled on 14-foot ceilings. Part of me thought that 14-foot ceilings on a 19’ x 30’ structure might look out of proportion. But the pitched ceiling with a 39-foot beam across the room is the most significant design element in making the space feel larger.

In my bedroom/office I have only eight-foot ceilings because I needed to make the upper section a storage attic with a pull-down ladder. Some ADUs and smaller homes have a second-story loft over the kitchen area and an open living room with high ceilings. Work with your architect to incorporate tall ceilings into your design.

If your existing house has low ceilings, you probably can’t raise the roof, but there are some changes you can make to create a sense of a higher ceiling.

  • Hang your drapes high — preferably a couple of inches below the ceiling.

  • Attach a large vertical piece of art or object d'art on the wall or group a set of photos more vertically than horizontally.

  • Apply a fresh coat of white ceiling paint.

  • Use lower profile furniture.

3) Create rooms with dual functions

My original plan was to separate my bedroom and office using an IKEA PAX wardrobe as a room divider. A friend was visiting the week the drywall went up on the interior walls. Once we saw the 18’ x 12’ room with the eight-foot ceilings, we both agreed that dividing the room in two would create a sense of claustrophobia. Making the change required another visit from the electrician, and moving the IKEA PAX wardrobe to a wall meant losing my wall heater. In the end, it was worth it as I love having one large spacious room rather than two tiny spaces.

I’d studied Feng Shui and how they guard against combining your work life with your bedroom life, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I write in every room in my house and in my garden. And having my office in my bedroom encourages me to keep my desk neat and my bed made.

The change of plans also meant the head of my bed was now facing east instead of west. Again, no problem. Now I have more views of the trees. And I sleep so well in my ADU. When it comes to creating good energy in your home, follow your own gut instincts.

4) Lighten up

My former house had deep green walls in the living room and rich raspberry walls in the dining room. I loved the contrast with my white furniture. But I’d always wanted to try a neutral look. So, in my ADU I used Sherwin Williams Nearly Peach SW 6336 on the living room, kitchen and bathroom walls. It’s warm and soothing like a neutral, and the touch of peach blush makes my pink décor pop.

For the bedroom/office I used Sherwin Williams Celery SW 6421 reduced by 50 percent. The kitchen cabinets, doors and trim throughout the house are painted in Sherwin-Williams Alabaster SW 7008. The ceiling color is Sherwin-Williams Ceiling Bright White SW 7007.

Pastel colors enlarge a room and are easy to live with. It’s not that you can’t use a deep color. A dark color on one wall can make it appear to recede which can expand the room visually. A dark floor in a basement can make the room feel taller. Though in general, you can’t go wrong with keeping it light.

5) Make the outdoors an extension of your living space

Connect the interior of your house with the yard, garden or patio by installing French doors and large windows. When your line of sight extends past the walls and into the garden, it enlarges your sense of space.

To create a clear view to the outdoors, keep window covers minimal or have no window coverings at all. Skylights help too, as the more sunlight in your home the more expansive it will feel.

In the coming weeks I’ll be elaborating more on each of these design techniques and sharing others. Be sure to subscribe below to receive the newsletter with the latest posts.



Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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