A few simple guidelines, however, can turn a small space from Dilemma to De-Lovely.
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of the decor blog Apartment Therapy and author of "The Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces" (Clarkson Potter, 2010), thinks it's all about light.
"The single most powerful influencer in a room is the lighting," he says.
Every room should have three sources of illumination, which will bounce off walls and create a visual expanse, Gillingham-Ryan says. Track lighting is a good alternative to free-standing fixtures if space is a problem.
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"Track has really improved in the past few years. You don't have to buy a big section with large lights; there are many smaller, attractive options," he says.
Rather than buy adjustable furniture for a multi-purpose small space, "it's better to find good pieces that do what they're supposed to," he says. For example, instead of an ottoman with a lid that flips into a tray, buy a great ottoman and a great tray. "You'll appreciate both pieces so much more."
Gillingham-Ryan suggests limiting the colour palette of a small room. He likes off-white in all its iterations, with bright white on ceilings. "Keep floors dark — they're calming and grounding, and will make the walls seem higher," he says.
Use accessories, such as a great rug, to add colour. "You can't change your square footage, but you can change the way the space feels," he says.
Elaine Griffin, a New York-based designer and author of "Design Rules" (Gotham, 2009), says a welcoming foyer is near the top of her list for small spaces.
"It's an important part of the psychological experience of coming home. I like to create a 'faux foyer' by sitting a decorative cube or box adjacent to the door with a tray for mail, and perhaps a shelf above for keys, a flower and a fragrant candle. Mount a mirror above the shelf," she says.
In the living area, "avoid the temptation to put your sofa on the long wall. Put it on the short wall, and you'll have more room to create décor zones," Griffin says. Loveseats — popular purchases for small apartments — are "a no-no. Truthfully, they only sit one. Go for the better-proportioned 72-to-76-inch 'apartment-sized' sofa."
In tiny bathrooms, Griffin says, "I'm a big fan of wall-mountable, square mini-shelves, which I station in multiples behind the door. Save the most visible space above the toilet for art."
Janice Simonson, IKEA's design spokesperson, seconds that approach. "Often people only look at the 'footprint' of the room," she says. "Look for space on the verticals — railings, hooks and shelves on doors and walls can hold baskets and clothing, and serve as drying areas for laundry."
She thinks many people err by buying too much storage, ending up with more stuff that takes space.
"Take the time to plan; don't buy anything till you've moved in and unpacked, to see what's needed," she says.
Some other general tips:
— Downsize. What do you need and what can you live without? Rip all your CDs to a hard drive, then sell or donate them. Get rid of anything you rarely use.
— Sight lines are important. Benches, open shelves, furniture with legs, light materials — these help the eye perceive a room as more spacious.
— Mobilize. Rolling tables and carts can serve as dining, work or play pieces.