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Play Associates designed this small London flat | © Robert Sanderson
Play Associates designed this small London flat | © Robert Sanderson
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15 Clever Design Ideas For Small City Apartments

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 23 May 2017
As new-build apartments become more compact than ever, designers, decorators and architects alike are on a mission to come up with ideas that are multifunctional, space saving and affordable. With some visual trickery, flexible furniture design and smarter open-plan living, you’ll be able to create a serene environment that feels much grander than it actually is. Here are 15 clever design ideas that will transform your small apartment.

Fit a mini kitchen

Swedish furniture giant Ikea never stops producing great ideas for compact spaces and its new Sunnersta mini kitchen is perfect for tiny studio apartments – it’s freestanding, ultra cheap and easy to fit. Designer Henrik Preutz says the concept allows homeowners to “create an open and welcoming kitchen, even if your living space is small, or it offers a practical solution when renovating.” The kitchen has a single, moveable cooktop that can be stowed away, a small fridge, sink and storage. The cost is a pretty incredible £99 starting price for the kitchen unit.

The Ikea Sunnersta mini kitchen only costs £99
The Ikea Sunnersta mini kitchen only costs £99

Choose smart extendable furniture

Many of us have been in this predicament: friends come for dinner at your small city pad but the table is tiny and there aren’t enough seats for everyone. Enter Swedish brand Dackelid-Form, brainchild of young furniture maker Nathalie Dackelid. As well as her ‘Wooden Cloth‘ table that acts like a caterpillar track so it can be extended or rolled back down, she’s made the ‘Accordion Stool‘, which, much like the instrument, can contract or expand to make a handy bench.

Accordion Stool by Dackelid Form
Accordion Stool by Dackelid Form

Wooden Cloth by Nathalie Dackelid from Nathalie Dackelid on Vimeo.

Zone your open-plan spaces

The key to the success of open-plan living is to clearly define the different living areas. This bespoke joinery design by TDO Architects allows for parts of the room to be closed off. The sliding glass door can cover the bookshelf or conceal the kitchen area so it is hidden from view when entertaining, while the door on the far left of the image can also be moved across to shut off the hallway, creating a cosier feel.

TDO Architect created a bespoke solution for this open-plan space
TDO Architect created a bespoke solution for this open-plan space | © Ben Blossom

Embrace dark colours

While there’s a temptation to paint all your walls white, believe it or not, deep hues can actually enhance a small space, too. Dark colours are recessive and because of their depth and complex shadows, richer tones actually blur the boundaries of the room. Try to choose those with a warmer tone, however, such as an ochre-based grey, a petrol blue, a rich red or even a charcoal black.

Farrow & Ball's Railings paint has been used in this hallway
Farrow & Ball's Railings paint has been used in this hallway | Farrow & Ball‘s Railings paint has been used in this hallway

Opt for take-away furniture

This design concept is a saviour for ‘generation rent’ – with hikes in rental prices, many of us often need to move from property to property, so a design that is easy to disassemble and take away is a perfect solution. Inspired by her own nomadic lifestyle Argentinian architect and designer Natalia Geci created the ‘Lynko System’, which is made up of different sized metal frames and wooden hinges that can be configured multiple ways. You can add mirrors, hooks, hangers, trays, shelves and pockets, so it can be transformed into a dividing screen, wardrobe or even an office storage solution.

Lynko System by Studio Géczi
Lynko System by Studio Géczi

Build a bed in a box

This project by INT2 Architecture just proves that even in a minuscule studio apartment like this 14-square-metre one in Moscow, you can still have ample space for a bedroom area. The multifunctional box holds a wardrobe, deep storage drawers, shelves and the bed itself. Opposite there’s a sliding door that functions as a the screen for a projector, and when opened, reveals a full mirror that visually enlarges the tight space.

This clever bed box by INT2 Architecture saves space in this tight Moscow flat
This clever bed box by INT2 Architecture saves space in this tight Moscow flat

Make the most of high ceilings

If you’re blessed with a high ceiling, constructing a mezzanine level with a void that can be filled with floor-to-ceiling shelving could be a way of not only creating an extra level in between floors, but also a solution to your storage problems. MW Architects commissioned Uncommon Projects to manufacture this clever climbing wall of colourful bespoke plywood units that become storage for the study above.

MW Architects and Uncommon Projects designed this clever bespoke storage
MW Architects and Uncommon Projects designed this clever bespoke storage | © Matthew Wood

Be creative with materials

Just because you’ve got a small space, it doesn’t mean that practicality has to override aesthetics. Choosing carefully considered materials and a limited, calm colour palette will ensure a successful scheme. This micro apartment in London is only 330 square foot in total, but Play Associates have added character through the bespoke marble kitchen top by Max Lamb, whitewashed parquet flooring sourced from The Main Company and bespoke cabinetry with fun oversized handles.

Play Associates designed this small London flat
Play Associates designed this small London flat | © Robert Sanderson

Use visual tricks

The best trick for a small space is to distract the eye – give it a point of visual interest so that the focus is not on how tiny the room is, but on a bold or interesting design. Large horizontal stripes on the wall, for example, will lead the eye down a hallway, but also make a space feel wider; similarly, creating a busy feature wall of different-sized picture frames and artwork with throw the perception of space and proportion off kilter so it’s harder for the eye to register the room as simply a small space.

A one-stop-shop for open-plan living

If there was a furniture-based Transformers robot this would be it. While it looks like a pretty ordinary piece of furniture, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. Designed by Italian brand Ozzio, the Smart Living Project, available from Go Modern, is an all-in-one modular furniture concept for open-plan living. What is especially clever about this storage solution is that it houses a pull-out dining table, hidden in a lower cupboard, that seats up to eight people, plus the space behind the TV reveals storage for up to six dining chairs. The icing on the cake is that the dining table can actually be converted into a coffee table, as it is height adjustable with sliding wheels.

Ozzio’s Smart Living transformable furniture
Ozzio’s Smart Living transformable furniture

Let there be light

Getting as much light into the home as possible is a must for small spaces, so they feel as open and airy as possible. North-facing rooms and those at the back of a house or ground-floor apartment need special attention – floor-to-ceiling glazing is ideal, even if it’s a narrow strip, or a clerestory window. Compact rooms will definitely benefit from roof lights where you can include them, creating a connection with the outside as well as letting in plenty of natural daylight.

A frameless roof light and slim-line door from IQ Glass lets in light
A frameless roof light and slim-line door from IQ Glass lets in light | A frameless roof light and slim-line door from IQ Glass lets in daylight

Mirror, mirror

A mirror is a cheat’s way of easily make a room feel much bigger. Mirrors can help expand spaces, reflect much-needed daylight and break up visual clutter. Use one to mimic a window by putting a mirror opposite so it reflects the view; put a floor-to-ceiling mirror behind a piece of furniture, or place it behind a carefully placed light source.

Shucks Mirror from Loaf, £195
Shucks Mirror from Loaf, £195 | Shucks Mirror from Loaf, £195

Don’t waste an inch of wall space

A jib (hidden) door is not only a playful way to create a hidden entrance into another room, it’s also a clever use of what is potentially wasted space. DeForest Architects designed this smart recessed bookshelf set within the door to a media room.

Hidden bookcase door by DeForest Architects
Hidden bookcase door by DeForest Architects

Next-generation flat-pack furniture

University graduate Sam Wrigley knows the pain of putting together flat-pack furniture for his student digs all too well, so he decided to come up with a quick and simple solution. Designed ‘for room arrangers and city changers’, his Crisscross collection can be easily assembled with a peg-board style design so you can easily slot hinges and feet into the pre-made holes.

Crisscross flat-pack furniture by Sam Wrigley
Crisscross flat-pack furniture by Sam Wrigley

Watch how this tiny flat unfolds

Lastly, we couldn’t resist sharing Christian Schallert’s incredible yet minuscule 24-square-metre fold-up apartment in Barcelona. When he isn’t cooking, dressing, sleeping or eating, his flat looks like an empty cube. To use a piece of furniture, he has to build it. See how he does it…