If you feel like your space needs a refresh, pause for just a second before you grab a paintbrush or invest a ton of money on statement furniture or artwork. Bringing personality into space doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go big or bold to make a decorative impact. But don’t just take my word for it—this is what design experts are saying, too.
“I’m noticing these days that my eye particularly tends to rest on, and find comfort from, the small objects scattered across my living room’s tabletops, fireplace mantel, and other surfaces,” says Anthony Barzilay Freund, Director of Fine Art and editorial director at 1stdibs. “Not necessarily expensive or even what one would consider ‘high design,’ smalls can provide a big aesthetic and emotional uplift to any interior.”
Whether you’re just starting out a room redo project or looking to change up a few things, you can use family heirlooms, pre-loved pieces, or unique but small decor items to make a space feel special. We talked to a handful of design pros, and each shared a favorite small but mighty item or idea that has big design energy. Here’s what made the list.
In addition to sentimental pieces, 1stdibs‘ Barzilay Freund recommends anything that is “charming, humorous, or infused with color.” One easy way to hit that last criterion is with textiles—particularly throw pillows. All you have to do is put a few bright cushions on your sofa or bed, and it’ll feel brand new. His pick? These cheery hand-embroidered decorative pillows from Kravet, which hit all the colors of the rainbow and will perk up any plain piece of furniture.
Designer Eduardo Rodriguez’s small but mighty decorating solution is removable wallpaper. Even if it’s only on one wall or a ceiling, patterned wallpaper packs a huge punch and can be far less messy than painting. “Rest assured, the wallpaper will create a statement in any room,” says Rodriguez. “If you’re on a budget and don’t want to commit to a long-term relationship with wallpaper, there are several removable and super fun options out in the market.” Consider styles from brands like Chasing Paper, Carter + Main, and Walls Need Love.
To really switch it up, try a faux headboard made out of temporary wallpaper or use a few small pieces of paper to update the front of a dresser. Get creative with it—you could always use a roll to update your kitchen backsplash or even try using a few small pieces to update an old tabletop or dining chair seats.
Framed Family Photos
Don’t underestimate the decorative impact of your own—or loved ones’—photography. Rarely do we take the time to print photos anymore, but this is one small design move that you should be using. “We used a client’s personal photography to personalize the bookshelves in their family study,” says designer Charlotte Lucas. “A few printed photos and frames added a personal and meaningful touch that simply could not have been store-bought!”
Think outside the box here—it doesn’t have to be a family portrait that you showcase, though those are great, too. Maybe it’s an old black-and-white photo you dig up and have framed or perhaps it’s a more artsy photo you or a family member took on a trip. There are digital-first framers like Arteresting/Socity6 that can help you get this done from the comfort of your home.
Jenny Reimold, the mother of seven and lifestyle curator, has built up her styling career by helping others reinvent their spaces with affordable decor and styling hacks. Her number one small decorative move with a big payoff? Greenery—real or faux. “If you’re looking to infuse life into space, try adding a potted faux fiddle leaf fig tree,” she says. “These trending plants can be found for under $50 and are a great way to create a modern organic space without spending a fortune.” Use one of these guys in an empty corner, and it’ll make you smile every time you see it.
Designer Megan Hopp suggests adding a wall mirror to your space to help brighten up the room. This is especially great if you’re living in close quarters. “If you like what’s going on in your space and just want more of it, I suggest hanging a mirror—you’ll be seeing double!” says Hopp. “Place it strategically in line with your natural light source so you can brighten your space.” You don’t need to break the bank on expensive mirrors or even find a giant piece that spans an entire wall. To get a look similar to this setup from Hopp, try the Menachem Accent Mirror from All Modern. It can be styled many ways, and you can also score a discount on one by buying it open box.
A Small Sculpture
If you love mixing patterns and colors, home decor stylist and blogger Carla Bethany Hayden is your girl. When trying to find ways to make your bookshelf or console table pop, Hayden suggests adding a small, colorful sculpture. From family heirlooms to a souvenir from a trip, not only will this kind of piece bring life to your room, but it will be a meaningful reminder. “I adore small sculptures and ceramics that can be used to style a bookcase or coffee table,” she says. “I have some vintage pieces and some new. Many I use as a cachepot for plants or to hold trinkets on the nightstand.” If you don’t already have an object that fits the bill, try these flamingo sculptures that double as succulent planters.
A Statement Light
If you’re struggling with ways to refresh your space, interior designer Ana Claudia Schultz explains how even the most style-challenged can use a sculptural lamp to immediately change the ambiance in a room.
“Lighting, especially a great table lamp, can add drama and design to any space,” she says. “I would opt for one that has a unique design element.” Know that you don’t have to go big here either—it’s more about looking for a unique shape, finish, or even just a fun, decorative lampshade to update a lamp you might already have in your home.
Designer Rudy Saunders is all about tiny touches on a table, even for everyday meals. “I love statement napkin rings,” says Saunders. “They always bring a smile to my face—a whimsical and fun design like a tropical bird will be sure to add some liveliness to your table!”
If you’re not into napkin rings, your linens can do a lot of talking. “A linen napkin elevates any table from nothing to something very quickly,” says Saunders. “Try brightly colored napkins that will instantly catch your eye.” You can play with the way you tie the napkins to add texture to your tabletop as well—and this small tweak, folks, is totally free.