Whether you live in a small space by chance or by choice, shopping for furniture can trip you up. Even if you wander the inspiration rooms of Ikea, it can be hard to figure out how to make the most of the little space.

My main takeaway: Take it slow.

In a big space, you can fill up a room quickly by adding the conventional pieces. In a compact home, you must edit typical designs to reflect how you actually live your life.

White space is invaluable.


Labeled as a “media shelf” for CDs and DVDs, this piece works well for my books. The open sides and slim profile help open up the space visually.

Below are my top tips for selecting furniture to place in your small space.

Measure and Tape

Ideally, you will have some time to measure your place and tape a furniture layout to the floor. Then, you can work from those measurements to find the perfect furniture.

It will feel a little backwards at first.

Most people are used to picking out furniture they like then, arranging the room around that. If you start by deciding what size furniture your place can fit, you’ll be better able to shop.

For example, I needed some closed storage in the living room of my current rental living room. We were expecting a baby and wanted to keep a variety of hands-off items (mostly office and art studio supplies) out of his reach. When I looked at the footprint of the room, I knew I could get some storage on the entry wall if it was slim enough.

How to put legs on an ivar Ikea hack

These IVAR cabinets from Ikea increased my storage without disrupting the flow of my small living room.

So, I measured it out and determined that I needed something less than 15″ deep. It was a hard piece to find at first because most buffets or dressers would be deeper. Eventually, I uncovered the IVAR cabinets that I hacked by adding legs.

Don’t Settle for Current Trends

In the era of McMansions and roomy lofts, a lot of new furniture is proportioned for large rooms. Slim and streamlined pieces only occasionally pop up in new collections.


This antique (1940s-1950s) enamel top table came from our extended family. It has flaps that pull out and even a little drawer for silverware.

So, you need to wait long enough for creativity to kick in.

For example, I really wanted a slim bed frame when I started living on my own.  I was looking for something that was an upgrade from metal rails but, took up about the same amount of room.

I loved some of the modern platform beds that were starting to come out. But, they were way out of my price range.

Eventually, I had the chance to poke at one in a store and modify the design for myself.

Now, I sleep on a bed that my husband and I made. It’s lasted almost a decade and moved to several different rentals.

Mix Vintage and Modern Designs

For stream-lined living Ikea is my first source. They always have sleek and minimal designs. But, their furniture works best when layered with vintage and antique designs.

Why? Homes used to be smaller.

So, naturally, the furniture was smaller too.

If you measure any piece of old furniture, it probably has a smaller footprint than your average modern piece.

For example, I have an antique table that I have paired with modern, plastic IKEA MARIUS stools. The table has a very slim design with an enamel top that extends. It even has a little drawer in the side for silverware.

The plastic stools sit neatly underneath. I swapped them for the bulkier, ornate chairs that go with the set. (Don’t panic. They’re in storage for a bigger room.)

The stools can also be stacked out of the way or moved around the living space as needed.

How do you pick the furniture for your small space?

If you have ever furnished a small space, I’d love to hear about your ideas. Pictures of your favorite small spaces are always inspiring. It’s cool to see how people live. Leave me a note about it in the comments or chat with me on Instagram.