The median home size in the U.S. is 1,650 square feet, but homes come in all shapes, sizes, and layouts. “Small” homes are typically defined at 1,000 square feet or less, but they can feel a lot more cramped with the wrong paint color or layout.
That’s where these 14 amazing home improvement ideas for small houses come in. We consulted experienced real estate agents, scoured blogs, and watched tons of YouTube tutorials to find the top projects that maximize square footage, bring in natural light, and create the illusion of more space in your home. Here’s what we found!
1. Paint with cool neutral hues
“Rich colors make a house feel small,” explains Phoenix, Arizona, agent Andrew Monaghan who has nearly two decades of experience selling properties of all sizes. Rich, warm colors include dark shades like orange, red, and yellow. These colors, while pretty in certain contexts, make elements of any room appear closer than they actually are.
Instead, for the interior walls of your small home, opt for cool colors that give rooms an open and airy look. “It actually makes the house feel bigger,” Monaghan explains. Neutrals are always a good idea for walls, but cool-toned neutrals in a small home makes walls look further away than they are, visually expanding the square footage of a space.
Stick to crisp, cool neutrals on interior walls, such as:
- Sterling (Benjamin Moore)
Declared one of the go-to neutrals in 2020 by Elle Decor, this subtle gray has the cool undertones that owners of small homes are hunting for. The gray is on-trend, but also timeless; It works in both modern and traditional home design.
- Cloud White (Benjamin Moore)
This neutral off-white is one of Benjamin Moore’s top-selling paints for a reason. Make your room feel light as a cloud with this neutral shade.
- Falling Snow (Behr)
This cool white is a great candidate for a bedroom. The blue undertones can help create a more restful space — studies show blue can promote relaxation and sleep.
Painting won’t take more than a weekend’s worth of work but can breathe new life into a small, stale-feeling space.
2. Decorate with large-scale art
It’s tempting to cave to the gallery wall trend, but the more individual items you hang on walls in an already-small space, the smaller it will look. Instead, pack a powerful punch with one piece of large-scale art on a wall in your living room. Having a single dramatic piece of art of the wall will draw the eye towards it, rather than highlight the limited dimensions of the room.
Center your showstopping art on the wall, and take care to hang it 57 inches above the ground- — that’s where the average eye level sits. Museums and galleries also use this as a rule of thumb. Opt for modern or abstract design over an ornate or detailed pattern which can translate into visual confusion.
3. Add wood trim to the ceilings
Adding a simple wood trim to the ceiling will draw the eye up — a classic visual trick to give the room an illusion of height. It also adds some design flair to the room; depending on your style, you can try understated plain molding or ornate three-piece molding.
Adding wood trim costs an average of $100 – $150 per room, and should take between 6 – 8 hours to install, according to the pros from This Old House, who dispense advice to nearly 15 million readers each month. Check out the publication’s comprehensive guide to tackle this project in a weekend.
4. Install recessed and track lighting
A well-lit room will feel more expansive than a poorly lit one. However, placing floor and table lamps all over a room can make it feel cluttered and even smaller. When natural light won’t do the trick, follow these tips to install track and recessed lighting in rooms:
- Replace a traditional ceiling light with tracks if you want to direct lighting on multiple spaces — like shelves, work surfaces, or gathering spaces — in a room.
- Install track light between 20 – 40 inches away from the walls of a room.
- Use track lighting in addition to other lighting in the room, since it’s more specialized.
- Use recessed lighting to bathe the walls of your room in light, making the space appear larger.
- Put recessed lighting under kitchen cabinets to illuminate the countertop and reflect light into the rest of the room.
- Place recessed lighting 12 – 18 inches away from the object you want to illuminate.
5. Feature a skylight
Why install complicated light fixtures when natural light can pour in from above? Adding a skylight to a room brings the outside in, and the sky view will make a room feel more spacious.
However, adding a skylight isn’t as easy as chopping a square into your roof. Reserve this improvement for the pros, and expect to pay between $500 – $3,000 for the project.
Consider installing a skylight in the kitchen, bathroom, or hallway where other natural light is limited. Skylights are best suited for homes with slanted roofs, and you’ll generally want it to face north for all-day soft lighting that won’t overheat a room.
The best time to get a skylight installed is when you’re getting a new roof. “Nobody will install a skylight on a roof that’s not brand new,” explains Pacific-Northwest agent Dawn Rushton in HomeLight’s guide to the added value of skylights.
6. Put in a glass shower stall
If your bathroom is small, chances are it feels even more cramped with an opaque shower door and enclosure. Swap this out for a crystal-clear shower door to open up the room and make it feel bigger.
Make a dramatic impact with a weekend’s worth of work and a frameless glass shower kit, which starts at $450. Just make sure you have a second pair of hands, advises this step-by-step guide from the design junkies at Hunker.
7. Hang curtains high
Hanging your curtains or drapes as high as you can creates the illusion of height and size in a room. Here’s how to play with space and maximize this benefit:
- In a room with molding, hang curtains 4 inches above the window frame. No molding? Hang them 6 inches above the frame.
- Extend the curtain rod beyond the width of your window, between 8-12 inches wider, suggests Apartment Therapy.
- Stick with vertical fabric prints, like stripes, to make the walls look tall.
- Find curtains long enough to almost touch the floor. Leave just an inch of space, or have the fabric pool onto the floor for a dramatic effect.
8. Lighten the floors
Similar to cool-toned walls, a lighter-colored floor can make a room feel bigger by better reflecting natural light.
Here’s how you can lighten your flooring, no matter what you’re walking on:
Install new carpeting.
New carpet in your room will cost on average between $980 – $1,680. White could become a magnet for stains, but a cool-toned blue, green, or neutral can have the same impact.
Sand and refinish hardwood floors with a lighter stain.
Refinishing takes about a day and $200 to DIY, and once you sand down the floors, you can refinish them with a brighter stain to lighten up the room.
Install a lighter-shade laminate.
Laminate flooring comes in a variety of shades, and costs between $3 – $8 per square foot. You can pay, on average, $2,352 for a professional installation, or measure precisely and DIY it on your own.
9. Maximize your outdoor space
Making your outdoor space more functional can add a whole additional room without a costly renovation of addition. “Even just adding two chairs and a table to the patio makes it livable,” says Monaghan. “That’s another 400 square feet of living space,” which can feel like a lot in a 1,000-square-foot home.
Select affordable brick, concrete, or clay pavers to create a livable patio space. The key to perfecting this DIY project is making sure that the ground is level, then follow Oregon State’s detailed tutorial on how to lay down pavers in your yard.
10. Open up your kitchen storage
Take a page from the farmhouse trend and ditch cabinet doors for an open feel in your kitchen. If you go this route, your cabinets will need to be meticulously organized, but ditching doors on overhead cabinets can really open up your kitchen.
Removing the doors only takes an afternoon and a few basic tools. Best part? It’ll cost you little to nothing beyond the cost of paint and caulk.
11. Add built-in shelves in awkward nooks and crannies
Small homes come with even smaller nooks and crannies that feel dark, dingy, and end up making the room feel smaller when they’re ignored. Consider building corner shelves in the bathroom or small built-in shelves for that neglected nook.
Built-in shelves require very little work and are endlessly customizable to your space. America’s no. 1 hardware store, Home Depot, offers this guide for custom building built-ins in your home.
12. Use lots of mirrors
A good optical illusion will get the best of most of us, so why not use tricks of the eye to your advantage? Hanging mirrors in your small home will reflect light, as well as the room itself to make it feel bigger.
You can hang a mirror just about anywhere, but it’ll be most effective facing opposite a window to reflect the outdoors and sunlight. When you’re hanging a heavy mirror, be careful to use anchors, cleats, or picture wires to ensure it’s properly installed in the wall.
13. Take down a wall
Taking down a wall between the kitchen, living room, or dining room can expand your entertaining area, and make the footprint feel larger while you’re not actually adding square footage. However, to remove a wall safely, it needs to be non-load-bearing, meaning a wall that isn’t integral to the structure of your home.
Before you take a sledgehammer to the wall dividing the kitchen and living room, look for these signs to confirm it’s not load-bearing:
- Look for supporting beams in the basement. Check out your home’s basement, and where there are I-beams or wooden support beams in the ceiling, that’s where the home’s weight rests and you can’t remove walls above it.
- It’s not an exterior wall. Most of your home’s exterior walls will be load-bearing.
- Look for load-bearing beams in the ceiling. If the wall you want to remove isn’t below one of these beams, it’s much less likely to be a load-bearing wall.
Unless you’re a structural engineer, you’ll want to consult with a professional to confirm the wall you’re removing is indeed non-load-bearing. From there, you can expect to pay $300 – $1,000 for a professional to remove it or consider removing it yourself.
14. Hang items for overhead storage
If cupboard and storage space is limited in your kitchen, just look up. Overhead pot racks can hold your bulky kitchen items right where you need them while making a rustic design statement in your home.
If an overhead rack isn’t the right fit for your kitchen, consider installing a pegboard. Popularized by famous chef Julia Child, use a pegboard with hooks to hang pots, pans, and other tools.
All you need to make pegboard storage is:
Pegboards are simple to hang, and can be easily customized with paint and can be cut to fit the size of your wall.
Your home might be small, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. With the right home improvement projects, you can make spaces in your home feel bigger with strategic projects and design choices. Not only will these projects make you feel more comfortable in a space, they could also lead to a bigger price tag when you’re ready to sell.
Header Image Source: (Artazum / Shutterstock)