Expert tested, student approved: Simple, effective, and budget friendly advice for students to redesign their small space

theweal-lifestylesThe low-budget, small-home dwelling student shouldn’t be afraid to create a stylish space that reflects their personality.

“One of the biggest things if you’re thinking of small space is to hide some of the ugly you can’t change,” said Kara Brennan, owner of Wink Interiors in Calgary.

With websites like Pinterest, and thousands of design blogs and books to choose from, people have no shortage of ideas they can use to design their space.

“Today, for people who want to DIY, or look for stuff on the cheap side, it’s way easier than ever,” she said.

Brennan said that undesirable floors are an easy fix. Layering area rugs on top of each other or on top of carpet is an option. Floor tiles, which are “a little more pricey” can be placed on top of most floor surfaces, like hardwood or linoleum. If the tiles get stained or dirty, they can easily be picked up and washed or replaced.

Brennan said she uses them in a lot of client’s spaces because of their funky patterns and interesting designs.

“For a dorm room, it would be totally perfect,” she said. The tiles are portable and can be removed and replaced wherever needed.

Sofie Blunck, of Sofie B Designs in Lacombe, Alta., gave five tips that she recommends for people living in small accommodations with a small or non-existent budget.

Her first piece of advice was to keep a light colour palate, and uses colours like off-white, white, light grey, and beige.

“It just makes it feel larger than it is,” Blunck said.

“By using different hues, like say you are using different kinds of white and different textures, you make it interesting and just prevent it from feeling flat.”

For mix-matched or hand-me-down furniture, Blunck suggested painting them all the same colour to create a look that is not busy.

“When it’s all kind of the same hue, from the same colour, it just makes your brain relax,” she said.

“Your eyes aren’t jumping to different things [and] it just feels cohesive and calm.”

Brennan said that one of the biggest trends she has noticed recently is people re-designing old furniture using spray paint or chalk paint.

This past summer, she purchased a 1920s dresser in “horrible shape” that she painted with chalk paint and finished off with a wax seal.

“No one has budgets to necessarily start from scratch, and you don’t have to just go to Ikea,” Brennan said.

She recommended visiting vintage shops, markets, consignment shops, and garage sales.

The next tip Blunck had to offer was using multifunctional furniture like stools and ottomans.

“They’re great pieces because they can be used both as side tables and seating when you have people over.”

Thinking carefully when picking out furniture is important. For example, when looking at console or sofa tables, if they are at the right height, they could work as a desk or dining room table that can be pulled out when people are over and tucked away neatly.

“Good decorating can really change a space,” Blunck said.

“[It can] make you forget that you have inexpensive furniture, dated fixtures, ugly kitchen cupboards – if you decorate it well, that completely changes it.”

Instead of scattering décor all over the space, Blunck recommended concentrating it on one wall, and not to be scared to cover a wall from floor to ceiling.

Because the wall is so busy, it makes the rest of the room feel uncluttered.

“It just allows you to go wild,” Blunck said.

“You can put lots of different things on the wall that you like, without it feeling overwhelming.”

In a rental unit or dorm room, people are often limited in what they can do, including hanging artwork, using wallpaper, and painting.

Brennan said that one way to “disguise” walls is to use artwork.

One option she mentioned was washi tape, a Japanese tape that comes in funky colours and patterns and won’t take paint off the walls.

The tape is available at most craft stores, and can be used to frame pictures onto the wall. Brennan suggested printing off pictures from Instagram and covering a wall with them using the washi tape.

“It’s not going to mess your walls up, and you can add your own personality too,” Brennan said.

Buying artwork is easy for students, especially at SAIT, who have access to art shows that occur throughout the year on campus and at ACAD. Prints can be ordered online as well, through places such as Society6.

Brennan has also seen people covering poster boards with wallpaper and placing them over walls.

“It’s just cheap and cheerful,” she said.

Playing with scale is another way to redesign a small space.

“I think that a common mistake in small spaces is to use only small furniture,” said Blunck.

“I call it the doll house effect. It just makes everything feel uncomfortable and like you’re sacrificing.”

Instead, Blunck said that people can use a smaller sized sofa, and add an oversized piece of art or floor lamp, to make the space look more interesting.

Her next suggestion is something many people struggle with: maximizing storage.

“Just try to make use of every square foot that you have,” she said.

This could be storage underneath a bed, above kitchen cabinets, or an ottoman with storage inside.

For those with no budget whatsoever, Blunck said that a good purge and de-clutter will do the trick.

“It is always such an amazing change,” she said.

“Spend a day de-cluttering, and it will just feel fresh.”

Antique crates

Old wooden crates are great to use for storage, and they add a rustic look to any space.
Brennan’s cat sleeps in a bed made out of an old wine box that was covered with fabric and decked out with wheels.

Decorated refrigerators

It’s no secret that dorm rooms and rentals have ugly fridges, but some electrical tape can really make a difference. The tape can be used to create patterns on the front doors and sides of the refrigerator.

Tin can plant holders

Remove the labels off of tin cans and spray paint the can the desired colour. Using heavy string, the cans can be attached together and hung in a row on any home wall.

Stenciling rugs

Sizzle rugs can be decorated using stencils and ink from local craft stores. The stenciled design will add an interesting look to an otherwise plain entryway or living room rug.

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