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Conventional Wisdom and Unconventional Solutions for Small Spaces

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2011

By Barbara Jacobs

“Make More of Less”: Touching on a few thoughts about making the most of small spaces.

Color is really the key. All other elements will follow.

How many times have you either heard the question posed—or the statement made—that painting a small space white makes it feel larger.

That may be the case for some spaces, and some uses, but also there's plenty to be said against using a lot of white; specifically, how the high level of light reflectance that makes white so "brilliant" can also affect us negatively on the physical as well as psychological level. But that’s a topic for another time.

A small space is a small space, and the best we can do is to create the most comfortable, exciting, intimate, and beautiful small space possible—whatever the goal is. Even dark colors can be the perfect solution for a small space, in certain settings.

‘Style’ or ‘function’?

Style is always part of the equation, but function is the foundation.

With any space, of any size or shape, the actual colors that are best for a particular area depend largely on a combination of the people using the space, the function of the space, and the physical and architectural characteristics of the space.

The most general solution to making a small space feel larger, or, “more spacious,” is to do some of the following.

• Use one color for all surfaces.

• For variation, use varying finishes of the same color. For example, paint walls and ceilings in flat or matte. For millwork or other features use a satin, eggshell or semigloss surface finish.

• Where there's contrast in color, the eye will follow. Minimizing visual activity will create a more comfortable space.

• Create accent with decorative, lighting, textural or architectural elements other than overall color.

Drama, camouflage, and more space: Defy built constraints!

Decorative artistry can add interest, and the illusion of space, as shown in the images here.

Barbara Jacobs

Photos, wall finishes and murals by B. Jacobs

Barbara Jacobs

And in this very dramatic interior from Philpots Interiors, San Francisco/Honolulu.

Barbara Jacobs

Other ways you can add interest and minimize any negative perceptions of room size are to bring focus to the wall surface itself with pattern, texture, and finish.

Lighting is critical to space perception. An experienced, professional lighting designer can help create the best possible design with a lighting plan that makes the most of the architecture and any paint colors being used.

About the author

Architectural color consultant Barbara Jacobs is the originator of Barbara Jacobs Color and Design, a design and consultancy firm offering “integral color solutions for architecture, interiors and business.” She has been an IACC-accredited color consultant/designer since 2000 and an active member of IACC-NA (International Association of Color Consultants/Designers-NorthAmerica) since 1996, also serving as the newsletter editor for that organization (

Barbara has worked in the field of environmental color design since 1986. Her work has also included creating and installing decorative finishes in residential and commercial projects, consultation for product colors, and creating custom paint colors.

The web site for Barbara Jacobs Color and Design is located at; Barbara also can be contacted at, 508/359-5753 or 508-472-8105.


Barbara Jacobs

Can we talk?...about color, that is. That’s our objective with this ongoing discussion—a Color Exchange, if you will—in this Durability + Design blog. Whether we know it or not, color affects all of us, in many ways. So let’s engage in this exchange and explore this mysterious and exciting subject of color, its effects, and its applications.



Tagged categories: Color; Color + Design

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