Structural issues sometimes make it impossible, or too costly, to expand a room by knocking down a wall.
There are a variety of decorating tricks, cosmetic enhancements and cabinetry styles that can help create space or at least make a kitchen or bathroom look larger.
Designers agree adding larger windows or more windows, or even a skylight, are ways to improve lighting and make a room look bigger.
"Have the window large enough or placed low enough that the bottom of the windowsill runs into the countertop," says Jonathan Legate, an interior design consultant from Halifax, Nova Scotia. "It makes it look a lot larger and creates space."
Another design tip from Legate to make the most of space in the kitchen is installing deeper cabinets or a wider countertop. He recommends a galley-style kitchen for small spaces.
"Those are ways to get bigger functions out of the same size space," he says. "If it’s not big enough for an island countertop, on one side, make the countertop extra deep. The base cabinets can remain a standard 24 inches, but that extra bit of counter space makes the kitchen look bigger. You can use the back extra foot for storage and have two feet for prep work."
There are many ways to customize cabinets to maximize storage, including taking upper cabinets to the ceiling, making upper cupboards 18-inches deep instead of the standard 12 inches and integrating appliances in with the cabinetry so, for example, the refrigerator looks like a cabinet.
"The more of one surface you have, it makes the space seem visually larger,” Legate says. “Using reflective surfaces can make a space feel brighter and lighter. And don’t forget the idea of using pantry cupboards; they give you a lot more storage."
Innovations in cabinetry serve both an aesthetic and utility function. Today's designs feature decorative door inserts, holders for electronic devices and open shelves with backlit panels. They can be customized with built-in microwave cabinets, and a variety of drawers and pullouts. Larger cabinets offer more storage. Open shelves open up the space.
"You can do more open cabinets and choose larger sizes rather than a bunch of small cabinets," says Stephanie Pierce, senior design studio manager at MasterBrand Cabinets. "Larger drawers, wider doors offer added functionality inside those skews. You’ll fit more in them and the larger doors tend to give a larger feel architecturally."
Designers agree changing the color palette, even a coat of lighter paint, can work wonders in a small kitchen or bath.
"Just bringing light into a space tends to make it feel bigger," Pierce says. "Lighter and brighter does do a lot to make a space feel bigger."
Designer Vanessa Deleon recently had a client who wanted to expand a shower in a condo, but structural issues left them with limited options. She used Carrara marble on the three walls with an updated door and it changed the entire look.
"They had an antiquated door that had a lot of trim work, so I gave them a shower door that was completely seamless," she says. "It's nice and bright and the shower area looks much larger now and it’s the same size shower."
Keeping counters clutter free is another practical tip to make a room look larger.
"I go into a lot homes and they have the microwave oven and appliances on top of the kitchen countertop," says Deleon of Vanessa Deleon Associates in New York. "House all of your extra appliances in a cabinet and you can still utilize them by opening the drawer, so now you have all this space on your countertop and it doesn’t look cluttered."
Many people try to cut costs on lighting, but it's also important to have three sources of light for safety reasons. It’s worth investing in an overhead or chandelier light, extra recessed light and pendant lighting over a bar or island and under cabinets in the kitchen.
Lighting is even more important in the bathroom, Deleon says. The bathroom should include wall sconces by the mirror or medicine cabinet, a main overhead light and recessed lighting in a shower or over a tub. The lights should be on separate dimmer switches, especially if you want to create a spa atmosphere.
Another trend in bathrooms is to remove the large platform around a jetted tub or get rid of the whirlpool tub entirely. Freestanding or pedestal tubs with a separate shower have become more popular to save space. Partitions are another way to separate the toilet and vanity.
"You can use tile, floor to ceiling, to cut costs and create a really beautiful accent wall and the rest of the walls can be painted,” she says. “There are a lot things you can do cosmetically that are going to work to your advantage."
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