10 tips for making small rooms look bigger

Our favorite designers at Napa Valley Modern Staging agreed to share their top visual tricks for making even small spaces look as light, bright and airy — and as large — as possible. They use these 10 strategies religiously, whether they’re staging small living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens or even outdoor spaces:

1. Think proportion and scale

Proportion and scale are everything in making rooms appear as roomy as possible, so pick the right furniture.

When you find the right size furnishings for a small room, choose the pieces with legs, glass tops on bases for tables or glass pieces constructed with thin metal strip pieces and open and floating shelving for their see-through effect.

Solid pieces that do double-

duty as storage — from baskets on shelving to case pieces like trunk-style side tables that offer storage — are also useful additions.

A room full of nothing but legs looks bigger but can start to feel a little too close to standing in a “flamingo pond.” So, add small pieces of solid furniture or plants in attractive pots to anchor the space.

Photo by Vinicius Amano on Unsplash

2. Edit the initial design

Following Coco Chanel’s rule to dress and accessorize, then take one thing away is just as applicable to staging as to fashion. In fact, deciding what to omit is often more critical than choosing what to use.

For example, can you remove the bulky coffee table and use end tables and movable tables to set drinks or reading material on? Can table lamps be eliminated in favor of wall mounted fixtures?

If so, you might also be able to get rid of the bulky bedside tables and substitute floating shelves beneath the reading lights. Thinking about what you can edit out very early in the design process is crucial.

3. Use the same or very similar light colors for wall paint and upholstery

The color of your small room doesn’t have to be white. In fact, most buyers prefer light grays, tans and nature’s other most neutral shades. Just make sure you’re using the lightest shade you can in small rooms by viewing large paint swatches during daylight hours in the room to be painted.

If you can’t reupholster a piece of furniture to match the wall color, consider draping a large throw in the wall color over the back of the piece sitting against the wall.

The largest piece, usually the sofa, is the one to reupholster or slipcover if the current upholstery’s color contrasts too much with the new wall color and the sofa has to stay. But a large credenza would also profit from a coat of paint in the new wall color if it sits against the wall.

The goal is to keep the eye moving, so the space seems larger.

4. Draw the eye around and beyond the room

You want to add a bit of personality and drama to your rooms to keep them from looking like a hotel. So highlighting large paintings, uncluttered windows and other architectural details to supplement your main focal point keeps the eye moving and visually expands the space.

If you can draw the buyer’s eye outside, by showcasing a beautiful view or using the room just beyond it as an additional focal point, that will also make a room appear larger.

5. Make contrast work for you

The temptation in a small room is to go straight monochromatic, which may look larger but feels dull and, often, cold. That’s not an inviting space, which is your ultimate goal.

Instead, include a black piece, whether it’s an occasional table or iron fireplace set, and pops of a livelier accent color (in pillows, books on the glass coffee table, etc.).

These accents stop the eye briefly, before allowing it to move on to the next feature you want to highlight. And, adding contrast creates layers throughout the space, which the mind translates into both “bigger” and more interesting.

Photo by deborah cortelazzi on Unsplash

6. Use mirrors to add space, light and drama

Large-scale floor mirrors leaned against the wall have become something of a design cliche, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work to visually add space.

Large-scale wall mirrors or judicious stretches of mirror (for example, as a backsplash between kitchen counters and upper level cabinets) magnify space and light and create a very dramatic effect when thoughtfully used to bounce light more evenly around the room.

7. Keep window treatments spare

Bare windows or sheers let in more light and allow you to draw the eye outside when the view is an asset. If the room feels unfinished with bare windows, soft sheers drawn to the side can add the perfect finishing touch without cutting down light.

Pulled shut, they let in light while blocking less than ideal views. For complete privacy, draperies that can be pulled shut over the sheers or a decorative window shade behind the sheers may be the right solution to window dressing.

8. Augment natural lighting with other light sources

You will, of course, employ and amplify natural light to the greatest extent possible. Sometimes, there’s still not enough light — day or night. Then artificial light is your best space-enhancing tool.

Use multiple light sources to create well-lit rooms that look larger, especially during the day.

Utilize fewer of them in the evening to create that warm, homey glow buyers love. Dimmer switches, recessed lights, floor and table lamps, hanging light and wall sconces give you the lighting options you need to make small rooms appear larger.

And mirrors in the room amplify artificial light just as well as natural light. So, use every lighting trick in the book in small dark rooms.

Photo by Chastity Cortijo on Unsplash

9. Use open shelving throughout the house

Open and floating shelving without closed-in sides gives you storage space without creating a visual barrier that shrinks the room.

As noted previously, a floating shelf can substitute for a side table. A set of open shelves suspended over an island can add much-needed display and storage space while keeping the eye moving through to the room beyond.

In a small kitchen, use an open movable cart or table instead of a built-in island. If you’re replacing countertops, you can extend the countertop of a peninsula to create more workspace by floating a foot or so of the solid surface material beyond the base cabinets. The eye slides right past if the color of both floor and countertop are light.

10. Use large area rugs

The tendency in small rooms is to use smaller area rugs to anchor the seating group. But small rooms don’t require that kind of anchor, which actually shrinks the space visually.

Conversely, a large area rug that comes close to the walls highlights the maximum floor space rather than dividing it into multiple, small pieces. A generous rug also creates an upscale feel; and a light, natural fiber rug can mitigate the “black hole” effect of dark floors in a light-colored room and make it feel larger.

Keeping these 10 principles in mind when you stage your next small spaceguarantees you’ll create a room with an appearance and personality that far exceed its measurements. And your buyers will think, “I could see myself living here. This is so me!”

Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.

5 Mortifying Reasons Mortgage Applications End Up in the ‘Reject’ Pile

Picture this nightmare: You apply for a mortgage, but your application gets rejected. Suddenly, you’re hit with an overwhelming wave of embarrassment, shock, and horror. It’s like having your credit card denied at the Shoprite. So. Much. Shame.

Sadly, this is a reality for some home buyers. According to a recent Federal Reserve study, one out of every eight home loan applications (12%) ends in a rejection.

There are a number of reasons mortgage applications get denied‚ and the saddest part is that many could have been avoided quite easily, had only the applicants known certain things were no-nos. So, before you’re the next home buyer who gets burned by sheer ignorance, scan this list, and make sure you aren’t making any of these five grave mistakes, which could land your mortgage application in the “no” pile.

1. You didn’t use credit cards enough

Some people think credit card debt is the kiss of death … but  guess what? It’s also a way to establish a credit history that shows you’ve got a solid track record paying off past debts.

While a poor credit history riddled with late payments can certainly call your application into question, it’s just as bad, and perhaps worse, to have little or no credit history at all. Most lenders are reluctant to fork over money to individuals without substantial credit history. It’s as if you’re a ghost: Who’s to say you won’t disappear?

According to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, roughly 45 million Americans are characterized as “credit invisible”—which means they don’t have a credit report on file with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

There’s a silver lining, though, for those who don’t have credit established. Some lenders will use alternative data, such as rent payments, cellphone bills, and school tuition, to assess your credit worthiness, says Staci Titsworth, a regional manager at PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh.

2. You opened new credit cards recently

That Macy’s credit card you signed up for last month? Bad idea. New credit card applications can ding your credit score by up to five points, says Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.”

That hit might seem minuscule, but if you’re on the cusp of qualifying for a mortgage, your new credit card could cause your loan application to be denied by a lender. So, the lesson is simple: Don’t open new credit cards right before you apply for a mortgage—and, even if your lender says things look good, don’t open any new cards or spend oodles of money (on, say, furniture) until after you’ve moved in. After all, lenders can yank your loan up until the last minute if they suspect anything fishy, and hey, better safe than sorry.

3. You missed a medical bill

Credit cards aren’t the only debt that count with a mortgage application—unpaid medical bills matter, too. When you default on medical bills, your doctor’s office or hospital is likely to outsource it to a debt collection agency, says independent credit expert John Ulzheimer. The debt collector may then decide to notify the credit bureaus that you’re overdue on your medical payments, which would place a black mark on your credit report. That’s a red flag to mortgage lenders.

If you can pay off your medical debt in full, do it. Can’t foot the bill? Many doctors and hospitals will work with you to create a payment plan, says Gerri Detweiler, head of market education at Nav.com, which helps small-business owners manage their credit. Showing a mortgage lender that you’re working to repay the debt could strengthen your application.

4. You changed jobs

So you changed jobs recently—so what? Problem is, mortgage lenders like to see at least two years of consistent income history when approving a loan. As a result, changing jobs shortly before you apply for a mortgagecan hurt your application.

Of course, you don’t always have control over your employment. For instance, if you were recently laid off by your employer, finding a new job would certainly be more important than buying a house. But if you’re gainfully employed and just considering changing jobs, you’ll want to wait until after you close on a house so that your mortgage gets approved.

5. You lied on your loan application

This one seems painfully obvious, but let’s face it—while it may be tempting to think that lenders don’t know everything about you financially, they really do their homework well! So no matter what, be honest with your lender—or there could be serious repercussions. Exaggerating or lying about your income on a mortgage application, or including any other other untruths, can be a federal offense. It’s called mortgage fraud, and it’s not something you want on your record.

Bottom line? With mortgages, honesty really is the best policy.

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