Decorating in a Small House

It sounds like kind of a crazy thing to consider worthy of a blog entry.  Small houses are like big ones only smaller.  There are less walls and floor space so do the same things with less right?   In some ways, this is true.  Then again, decorating to fit your specific home (and I am going to prattle about small ones since that is where my areas of expertise lie) makes sense.

First, really let yourself look at your house.  Don’t just focus on the parts you love or hate, give it a real once over and be fair about it.  Is it a ‘cottage’?  Is it a contemporary bungalow?  Is it a cape cod salt box?  Is it a saltine box with a shoebox garage?  What about the houses around it?  Are they all adobe haciendas or ranch tracts?  Are they eclectic or uniform?

My house is a crackerbox.  My ‘shoebox’ garage is actually detached and 20′ behind our house.  We also have another shoebox added onto the back of the crackerbox but from the front our house looks like one of the original mobile homes.  I’ve hated the outside of my house for years.  I love the inside, but the outside is just boring, ugly, and uninspiring.  It always was.  But, because I live inside my house rather than outside of it, I chose to go with an interior that called to me.

Ok, so our lists.  I’ll make one too just for an example.  (and it’ll thrill those who are sick of me raving about my house)


  • Size-  I love that this house is small and cozy.  I love that we can’t get too far from one another and escape into our own worlds but that we do have room for privacy when necessary.
  • Sturdy-  This house is built to last.  It is structurally sound even if it needs some TLC in areas.
  • Location-  I love that we are centrally located.  I can literally walk to anywhere in this town.  People are able to stop by without having to go out of their way so we see people more often.
  • Bedroom sizes-  I love our big bedrooms.  Most small houses have tiny little rooms but ours are nice 12×14 rooms and the back room is bigger still.  We don’t feel cramped in there.
  • Storage-  I love that there is plenty of room here for all of our ‘stuff’.
  • Huge backyard-  I love our huge, dirt filled back yard.  My kids have dug holes deep enough to swim in that back yard and they loved every minute of it.
  • Hardwood floors-  I love that we have no carpeting.  I love that our floors are beautiful and clean up so easily.
  • Vaulted ceiling-  This gives the ‘feel’ of a bigger house.  It’s less claustrophobic and also allows for book shelves to run along the top of thedoorway without feeling cramped.

I could go on forever but you get the idea.  Ok, the cons.


  • House Facade-  There isn’t one.  The house has no ‘oomph’.  No curb appeal.  I avoid the front because it is so boring. 
  • The kitchen and bathroom have to be redone.
  • The yard needs something done and we need a new tree.
  • The storage is there but it isn’t always convenient storage.
  • East/West exposure isn’t optimal in the desert.
  • The one bathroom is something that most think is crazy but it doesnt botther us.
  • The garage-  If it wasnt detached it’d definitely be more convenient.
  • Christmas trees make things interesting.  A place where I can put one up without a hassle would be a BLESSING.

Ok, now if I was going through each room and being incredibly specific I would mention things like the wall heater being a pill… forced heat under the house would be nice but not nice enough t make that much difference since that heater takes up wall space right in front of a doorway so you can’t really use it for anything else anyway.  I might talk about how they should have done the closets in the living room/our room differently but it’s not that big of a deal either.  Now, to the specifics.

When you step inside, does your choice of decor scream at you or welcome you?  What I mean is that sometimes our decor fights with the house it is in.  If you have a strong Spanish style to your architecture and you try to make it a Victorian dream, you may end up with a nightmare.  (And I’ve seen the above done in a large home.  It wasn’t pleasant as a guest anyway.)  I don’t think that bungalows can’t be old-fashioned or that farmhouses can’t be contemporary but I do think  one or the other fights for dominance if you aren’t careful how you do those things.

Find rooms that you like and find out what ‘style’ they are.  Will they work in your home?  Will you walk in and feel at home or will things seem to fight for dominance?  Try to avoid taking certain styles to extremes.  Shabby chic looks great in little houses but it’s very easy to have too much.  With things like shabby chic, country, victorian and similar styles, go for the less is more approach.

Everyone knows that mirrors create the illusion of space and that strategically placed, you can make a room feel larger and less claustrophobic by simply placing a mirror opposite a window or  on a wall in a narrow room.  What people tend to forget is that walls themselves can create the illusion of space.  One of the worst things that can happen to a room in a small house is the ‘wallpaper of furniture’.  We’ve all seen houses where there is a nice dark wallpaper along the bottom of the room, wainscoting above that and a lighter paper or paint above that.  It’s a nice look but in a small house it often looks cramped.  Wall-to-wall furniture gives that same illusion.  Your eye needs a place to rest.  If you don’t leave open lower wall space, the room will feel packed and cluttered.  A row of closed light colored cabinets along one wall avoids the cramped feel that a row of book cases will give in the same room.   (Remember that I’m speaking in generalities.  Every home is different, and like people some like to defy average rules of behavior)

Try to avoid filling shelves.  The nicest way to have a bookcase not look cramped is to leave room for 3 or 4 more books on at least one shelf in the bookcase.  Put a small trinket there or lay two or three books on their backs at the end of the row to protect the books from cracking from ‘leaning’.    For those like me who LOVE books and have way too many,  consider non-traditonal storage.  Boxes under a bed for rarely used reference materials, totes in a closet for daily school reference books, the top shelf of your closet with risers for maximum usage for antique books you don’t want the neighbor’s toddler to destroy anyway, and deep dresser drawers are just a few small ways you can store books without buying a new bookcase (and using up that prime wall space!!!) 

Finally, for book fiends like me who have no shame and lots of books, don’t forget the area around your ceiling.  (over beds in earthquake country is probably not a good idea)    For example, the first picture is of my bedroom. 

The second runs along each side of the top of a doorway in my living room

And, this works over windows too.  I’ve got great shelf space just waiting if I run out of book space.  😉

(You can see the large picture in the corner.  That is a picture I loved but frankly was too big for any of or wall spaces so I forced myself to find it a new home.)

If you like the ‘little details’ that seem to make a house a home, try adding them into the structure of your home.  I did this recently, as you can see above in picture 2, when we added new windows.  Instead of a simple window  and sill, I added molding, rosettes, and window shelf toppers to every window we have done thus far.  It’s AMAZING what kind of difference just that one move made.  I’ll try to find some before and after pictures to show in the next blog.

As for tonight, I’m tired, and I have sewing to do for a couple of dear friends so I’ll say adieu.


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