Ideas + Advice

Getting Social

Designing a Small Living Space

By Kelly Vorous

Kelly lives in San Diego, California with her husband, daughter, and cat. She grew up on a farm in the Midwest but through military service ended up calling California home. Living in the heart of a big city meant downsizing and learning to design and decorate a smaller home. She learned to embrace smaller spaces and enjoys the challenge it brings. Kelly describes her style as modern, minimal, moody, and slightly masculine. She shares her home on Instagram and on her YouTube Channel, House of Aqua.

Welcome to our home! I’ll be sharing some of my tips and tricks that I’ve learned while furnishing and decorating our small living space. When we first moved into this home, I was worried about the lack of space. Our living area opens up into our dining room and kitchen, basically making it one space. The style of our home has changed towards a more modern feel over the years, which our family really enjoys. Modern design tends to be more clean-lined with a neutral color palette, which works well for a smaller space like ours. I have learned to love the challenge that comes with furnishing and decorating a smaller space!


I learned a lesson in scale when we first moved into this home. We had a large grey sectional in our last home that I loved, however, I quickly learned that it didn’t work in this home. I was determined to make it work at first, but it simply overwhelmed the room. We could barely access our patio door. We were in need of end tables, but they were completely out of the question because there simply wasn’t space because of our behemoth sectional dominating the room. I feel like this is a common mistake that many people make.

Sometimes you have to live with a space and learn from your mistakes and that is exactly what I did. I always recommend measuring your space before shopping for furniture. Measuring will help you eliminate what won’t work so you can focus on what will. I measured our living area before shopping and knew what I had to work with.
I found the ‘liked items’ feature on the Living Spaces website to be helpful when I was shopping for a new sofa. Since we have a very limited space to work with, I was able to select potential sofas using this feature before heading to the store. I also liked that I could compare them side by side, which helped me to further narrow down my choices before I went to the store to check them out in person. The Cosmos Grey Sofa ended up being the perfect fit for our small modern living space!


Small spaces often lack storage, which requires us to think more about how we live in our homes and how we need them to function. Our home has a designated media niche for the television above the fireplace. The niche is an open space but offers no storage. There are hallways on both sides of the fireplace so there is literally no place for a media cabinet that most people have in their homes. My solution to our storage problem was opting for a nightstand in place of a traditional end table. The nightstand provides functional storage for library books, toys for our cat, and throw blankets.

Color, Texture, & Accessorizing

You may notice that lack of color in our home. I prefer to stick with a neutral color palette, especially when it comes to furniture, curtains, and rugs. I always recommend sticking with neutral colors when buying these items because they tend to be the most expensive. Color can easily be introduced and even swapped out seasonally with throw pillows, candles, books, flowers, and other inexpensive decorative pieces.

A neutral color palette helps to make our home feel cohesive since it is open to other areas. I love neutral colors and texture over color in a small space because it’s less distracting and allows our living space to blend into our dining and kitchen area. I feel like I have more freedom working with texture and a neutral color palette because I can layer and decorate more easily.

Personalizing Your Space

We happen to live in a unique area of San Diego and I wanted to bring some of the history of our neighborhood into our home. Our neighborhood is on the grounds of the former Naval Training Center boot camp which is now known as Liberty Station. I tracked down an old photo of the area from 1929 and had it framed. I also had a black and white photo of my husband on his first ship, the USS Tripoli, that I framed.
We also have a book with the history of the Naval Training Center that floats between our coffee table and side table and makes a great conversational piece. I also like to collect various pinecones from the old trees that are still standing in our neighborhood and incorporate them into our décor for a natural look.
I have learned a lot from trial and error. Our smaller living space has taught me a lot of important lessons on scale, function, and color. I have learned to love and embrace smaller spaces and the challenges they can impose!

Follow Kelly on Instagram at @houseofaqua.

Featured Items

5'3"x7'5" Rug-Distressed Soft Shag Ivory/Grey $295
This item qualifies for Free Parcel Shipping
Get the 5'3"x7'5" Rug-Distressed Soft Shag Ivory/Grey as soon as Dec 09 - Dec 13

— More Great Articles —

More Designs Based On Your Preferences . . . 

Read the Latest

Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.