How To Renovate Tight Living Quarters Without Cutting Corners

If you live in a small space, you’re used to having to come up with clever solutions to maximize your home’s potential. So whether you’re looking to renovate a studio apartment or small house, there are ways to make your space look chic without skimping on style or functionality.

“It’s so important to plan ahead, stick to your budget, and map out a timeline that works for your schedule to avoid having to cut corners,” says Breegan Jane, interior designer and partner at Trane Residential. “When you feel rushed or want to seek out a cheaper alternative, your renovation plans can go awry.”

Just like the size of your home, a little can go a long way. Below, the must-know tips for renovating a home with limited square footage.

Prioritize low-cost, high-impact projects 

It’s easy to want to dive in to cosmetic changes, but small touch-ups don’t always mean small costs.

“When determining how to prioritize home projects, look at your budget and identify projects that have the lowest cost with highest impact and assess what projects are absolutely necessary,” says Cathy Choi, president of Bulbrite.

A small living area can be easily transformed and reenergized with minor improvements such as upgrading your lighting, adding a fresh coat of paint, or changing out cabinet hardware.

Good lighting is everything

Less square footage doesn’t mean you must knock down walls to open up the space (no matter what they say on HGTV). An affordable trick is to use lighting to make a room appear larger.

“A poorly lit room can make the space feel cramped,” says Choi. “For small apartments, layering lighting is key.”

She says to mix task lighting (which is functional to help you see well while doing activities), ambient lighting (for overall illumination of the space), and accent lighting (to highlight features of the space).

Adding fixtures like wall sconces, floor lamps, or ceiling lights can reinvigorate the space and transform the entire atmosphere. And for small spaces doing double duty—such as a home office by day that’s a living room by night—she says adjustable lighting is necessary.

For example, smart LED lightbulbs can adjust the color temperature to a cool white during the day and warm white when you’re winding down for the evening.

Don’t demo right away

“When dealing with small spaces, every square inch of space matters. So if one error occurs, there will be a big impact on the entire project,” says Jane.

The last thing you want to do is let your impatience guide you and knock down a wall or demolish a bathroom vanity only to cause more harm than good.

There are some steps you must take before swinging a sledgehammer, especially in a small home. You’ll have to get your property inspected, obtain the necessary permits, and disconnect your electricity or plumbing services, if necessary. You’ll also want to cover all the air ducts to prevent construction dust from being sucked into them. And grabbing all the safety equipment and tools you’ll need prior to demolition will make your life a whole lot easier.

Invest in your HVAC

The coronavirus pandemic proved that being comfortable in your home has never been more important, especially during the transition from colder months to warmer ones.

“Now that we’re working from home and spending a lot more time indoors, having a comfortable home environment should be a top priority when renovating,” says Jane.

For those living in an older home, she says it might be time for a new heating and cooling system or, at the very least, a seasonal maintenance check.

“If your system is functioning properly, it will make all the difference in a tight living space to ensure your air is flowing properly and is being filtered for unwanted airborne particles,” says Jane.

When in doubt, ask the pros

You may see yourself as a professional Ms./Mr. Fix-It, but sometimes it’s necessary—and OK—to call in the real professionals.

“Seek out professionals for projects you are not qualified to tackle yourself, and inquire about what pieces of the project you can take on DIY,” says Jane.

It’s especially important to consult the professionals when dealing with pricier renovation projects.

“They may have recommendations on when to repair and when to replace as well as insight on rebates or tax credits you might qualify for,” says Jane.


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