How to Make a Livable Space

By Jessica Brita-Segyde on September, 16 2020
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Jessica Brita-Segyde

Let’s assume one of two things: 1. you have a small space to work with but want to make it awesome…or 2. You have a larger space to work with but it’s lacking livability. Either way, the important thing is to plan ahead. 

Create a budget, theme, and palette before you start. Decide how much of your time will be required (a smaller budget usually means more of your own time). Following are two approaches to making a livable space. Choose the one that best describes your predicament and get planning!

Making the Most of Cramped Quarters

According to a recent article in REALTOR Magazine, the average square footage of new houses is increasing while the average square footage of apartments is decreasing. If you’re on the losing end of this statistic, don’t fret! Small spaces can add up to big enjoyment. Make the most of your square footage by employing a minimalist approach. Use only functional furniture. Keep art on the walls and off tables and shelves. If your living space is limited on the number of rooms, consider a studio approach where the living/entertaining area also serves as the bedroom. This can be achieved tastefully with a high-end sofa sleeper or pretty daybed.

Also, remember that the minimalist approach is long-term. Invest in quality pieces for your small space. For more tips on maximizing small spaces, check out the blog Minimalist Decoration from the Ruoff archive.

If you’re truly out of space, consider an outdoor retreat. Backyards, side yards, porches and rooftops are all fair game here. How much square footage do you have available? You can create a large oasis or a small, cozy retreat. More is not always better since increasing the size of the job will increase the cost. When budgeting, give yourself a buffer of 10-20% to hedge against changes in the cost or availability of outdoor building materials. Also, don’t be afraid to use what nature and/or the previous homeowners already gave you. Does your space include a privacy fence or lattice wall that you could augment with foliage? Is your ground soil rich enough for planting? If so, consider planting a natural wall of fir, cypress, or other evergreens. Prefabricated options called “living walls” can also be purchased from vendors like Live Wall. Outdoor furniture and lighting will complete your space. Peruse estate sales for vintage, higher-quality outdoor pieces.

Turn a “Sleeper Space” into a Dream

Is one of the rooms in your house “sleeping?” This means that the space is not currently living up to its potential. Maybe it’s time to wake up your space! Indeed, the term “potential” usually translates to “work” when it comes to real estate. But the work can pay-off big time if you plan ahead and make the right updates. Keep in mind that renovations are expensive, so you’ll want to begin with a budget and stick to it. You can reduce the costs of making your space livable by working with reclaimed items and also by doing as much demo, hauling/delivery, and construction that you can reasonably do yourself. The DIY approach is great for spaces where the framing and some of the finish work is already intact. As with any room renovation, think through your project from ceiling to floor before you begin. Have a theme, palette, and plan ready to go.

One design trend that works well in existing and/or historic spaces is the industrial theme. You can go as light or heavy with your industrial décor as you like. It’s a matter of preference. Start with lighting and fixtures and build out from there. Industrial colors usually include greys and browns: Think metal and brick. Exposed brick walls are fair game and can also save you money: eliminating the need for drywall will help to keep your costs down. Industrial design also offers a built-in budget bonus by allowing for exposed HVAC and piping overhead – no drop ceiling required. Brand new floors are a bonus with any décor, but clean, painted concrete floors with and rugs can also work (at a much lower price point than installed flooring). For some inspiration, check out these area rugs on

For more on budget-friendly renovations, check out this DIY blog.