Small Space, Big Style Third of a four-part series on making the most of little living spaces

In a small space, think of your walls as giant canvases

There's no formula to follow, so be as creative as you care or dare to be

aroberts@herald-leader.comJuly 19, 2013 


    Over four weeks in Life + Home, Anyssa Roberts, a reporting intern at the Herald-Leader, will take readers through the process of decorating her room in her new apartment.

    Coming next week: what to put on the floors

If your walls could talk, what would they say? Mine would scream and ask for a towel because they're naked.

There is a neverending list of possibilities when it comes to wall décor, but that list seems to shrink automatically when the walls belong to a dorm or rented space.

When I stepped into my college dorm, I was greeted by four white walls. I was excited to be there and was full of ideas for the room, but over time I felt like the bare walls were closing in on me.

Empty walls are as unattractive as walls with too much going on. Walls are giant canvases waiting to be filled, and décor allows you to run wild with it.

Here are a few simple tips and rules for covering your walls in a small space.

Rental/dorm agreement

To start, be sure your room agreement allows you to decorate your walls. Painting or drilling holes might not be allowed, so be sure to keep the rules of your agreement in mind. Some leases say tenants may paint as long as the walls are returned to their original color, but not paying attention to the contract will come back to haunt you when move-out inspection rolls around.

Wall decals

Removable wall decals frequently will be the best choice for anyone looking to decorate. They come in any shape and size imaginable, and may be removed, saved and reapplied wherever you go.

They may be made at home, too, using any design or pattern printed on removable self-adhesive vinyl.

In the dorms, I made my own decals using vinyl from Hobby Lobby; in my off-campus space, I chose a large, three-dimensional wall decal from Target.

Back to color scheme

Choose art that integrates and strengthens the color plan. My color scheme is black, white and turquoise, and my wall decals should complement and reflect my color scheme. There are limitless ways décor could do this.

Rebekah Ison, assistant professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky, says good décor has colors that complement and add to a scheme.

On the decal I purchased, I liked the greens and darker colors in the leaves and branches because they complemented the turquoise in my room.

Mirror tricks

Here's a trick I learned from my mother's house in Tennessee: Mirrors and other reflective items, when used correctly, can give the illusion of a larger space.

Mirrors increase the visual space of a room, but any reflective surface will do.

I found a long frameless mirror at Wal-Mart and used a circle mirror kit from Target to embellish around it with a few smaller mirrors. I used the rest of the kit for other spaces around the room. My room looked larger instantly.

Budget watch

Decorating can get pricey, especially when it comes to wall décor, but it does not have to cost a fortune to cover bare walls. Most students don't have a lot of money, so buying from thrift stores like Goodwill or consignment shops like Scout Antiques could fit into their budget, Ison says. Your wallet will thank you for it.

Functioning décor

Dual-purpose items are the friends of small spaces. This type of wall décor mixes style and f unctionality, making them win-win purchases.

I am partial to analog clocks. I think it adds a vintage sophistication to my space — and it keeps me running on time.

Ison suggested visiting places like Ikea or shopping online at Craigslist to find functioning décor within a student's budget.

Hanging nail polish or jewelry collections can add shimmery attraction to your room and unclutter your jewelry box.

Embrace personal tastes

Stay true to your style and your preferences because there is no formula for great wall décor.

Dwayne Anderson, co-owner of House by JSD, says everyone is different, so what works for one person's style might not work for someone else.

Putting up photo collages of friends and family or hanging inspirational posters and wall decals can brighten your corner and turn it into home.


Over four weeks in Life + Home, Anyssa Roberts, a reporting intern at the Herald-Leader, will take readers through the process of decorating her room in her new apartment.

Coming next week: what to put on the floors

Anyssa Roberts: (859) 231-1409. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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