How to Make a Narrow Space Feel Wider

by Linda Erlam

Whether a hallway or a narrow slice of a room, sometimes you need to fix the shape of a space without renovating. In a rental unit, your first family home, or during a reshuffle of rooms when the children need more space, you can make a narrow space feel wider and larger without removing any walls. Do it with the slight-of-hand tricks decorators use. Put them all together in your own way and visually reshape the room.

1. Use Contrast

Use contrast to make a space feel wider by creating the illusion that the narrow wall is closer to the viewer, rather than trying to make the side walls appear farther apart. You can accomplish this by creating contrast between the wide walls and short wall, with the short wall becoming the area of greatest contrast. Imagine a person dressed all in black. Now put a white belt on that person. Your eye will go to the white belt before you notice the black shirt, great shoes or even the person’s face. The high contrast gets your attention and appears more prominent. Use this trick by painting the short wall a bright color, papering it with printed wallpaper, or perhaps taking all your children’s pictures and creating a rogues gallery on the wall. For maximum effect, keep the ceiling and remaining walls a gentle color and free of eye-catching objects. In a hallway, paint all the doors and trim the same color as the walls and leave the contrast to the short wall.

2. Stripes and Diagonals

Horizontal lines on the walls make the space feel wider. A high shelf running around the room and used as the gallery for a teddy-bear collection creates a horizontal line and works with what you know about contrast. Install a chair rail and paint the lower section a darker color than the top. If you can, position floor tiles on the diagonal.

3. Colors

Warm colors -- those from the right side of the color wheel -- are red through orange and yellow to yellow-green, and are believed to be advancing colors. They may appear closer to you than a cool color of the same intensity; consider this when using the contrast guideline. For example, a narrow wall painted bright yellow in a room with adjacent walls and the ceiling painted white, creates the illusion that the white walls are farther apart and the room is wider.

4. Furniture Placement

In a bedroom, position the furniture parallel to the narrow wall. For example, if the room measures 12-feet-by-8-feet, position the bed parallel to the 8-foot wall. This creates a horizontal line across the narrow width, visually increasing the wall. If the narrow wall has a window, install curtains or drapes much wider than the window, even as wide as wall to wall, if possible.

5. Lighting

Use lighting to highlight the narrow wall. Use floor lamps beside the sofa or table lamps on side tables. Install sconces beside a large mirror, and pot lamps shining up through plants in the corners. Track lighting directed at a piece of art on the narrow wall enhances the contrast, creating the illusion that the side walls are farther apart.

6. Monochromatic Solution

You can change the way your eye perceives the room’s dimensions by removing the lines that define the dimensions. For example, if all the walls, the ceiling and the floor are close to the same color, and the furniture and accessories follow the monochromatic color scheme, the edges of the room can become less noticeable.