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Small talk: Styling pint-sized spaces

From the Resene decorating blog

With a little help from interior designer Annick Larkin, we outline which paint colours make small spaces feel more spacious.

Powder, laundry, guest, bath, mud... they’re not just a random round-up of words but rooms in your home that are likely to be on the small side and may pose a styling challenge. Bigger isn’t always better, though, and when cleverly decorated, diminutive rooms have an undeniable charm. Well-considered furniture is crucial to tricking the eye and ensuring the floorspace isn’t overwhelmed – and how about what’s on the walls? With a little help from interior designer Annick Larkin, we outline which paint colours make small spaces feel more spacious.

A small harmonious lounge

Create a harmonious look in a small space with complementary light fixtures, furniture and soft furnishings. The walls in Resene Duck Egg Blue and floor in Resene Quarter Duck Egg Blue are teamed with a mirror and pendant light in Resene Raindance; plant stand in Resene Quarter Tea, shelf and coffee table in Resene Unwind and accessories in Resene Raindance, Resene Slipstream and Resene Quarter Tea. Sofa from Contempa, cushions from Allium Interiors and Adairs, throw from Adairs and mat from Freedom. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Bryce Carleton.


It’s common knowledge that pale paint helps make a room look larger, especially if it’s bathed in natural light, and Annick’s an advocate of painting the ceiling the same pale colour as your walls. “When you do so, the lines blur and the room feels grander,” she says.

Head to your local Resene ColorShop to consult the professionals and Resene Whites & Neutrals fandeck, and you’ll find a vast range of white paints to suit you. Perennially popular options include umber-white Resene Wan White, calcite-grey white Resene Black White and warm Resene Spanish White.

Use Resene testpots or A4 drawdown paint swatches to trial your top picks at home, so you can see how they respond to the light in situ. Using a paint with a slightly sheen finish, such as Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen, tinted to your chosen colour, will help to reflect more rays around the room, without being so glossy it shows up every imperfection and fingerprint.


White walls in a room with little or no natural light can sometimes seem cold, uninviting and institutional. Instead, mosey to the cosy end of the spectrum to create intimacy with inky blue-black Resene Nero, deep grey-black Resene Nocturnal or ebonised charcoal Resene Shark. Or you could develop a taste for dark chocolate in delicious hues like Resene Barista or Resene Sambuca.

A dark-grey black bedroom

Mudroom with tonal blue shades

Bedroom: A dark grey-black such as the Resene Nocturnal used on this wall (as well as the shelf and skirting board) brings a real intimacy to a petite room. The side table is in Resene Organic, the pots, vases and tealight holder are in Resene Paddock, Resene Seaweed, Resene Passport and Resene Ciderhouse and the floor is in Resene Viktor. Chair and mirror from Kmart, duvet set from Wallace Cotton, cushions and throw from Cotton On Home. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Wendy Fenwick.  Mudroom: Tonal blues shades of Resene Bunting (on the walls) and Resene Hammerhead (on the coat rack) have been used to breathe fresh life into a classic red, white and blue colour theme in a small room where wall-mounted storage helps maximise its utility. The pendant lamp, stool and umbrella caddy are in Resene Jalapeno, the storage boxes (from top left) are in Resene Hammerhead, Resene Breathless, Resene Sea Fog, Resene Jalapeno and Resene Breathless and the floor is in Resene Sea Fog. Coat rack from Mocka, rug from Kmart. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Bryce Carleton.

When styling, remember that clutter is the enemy of small rooms dark and light. Aim to display only treasured or essential items and don’t hang too many artworks – bigger objects and one large-scale artwork are a better bet. Built-in furniture that sits flush against the wall and low-slung furniture with built-in storage (think bench seats, beds and ottomans) will be a godsend, but if storage isn’t an issue for you, consider translucent and lightweight pieces such as a glass coffee table, a sofa with exposed legs or a floating bathroom vanity to give the impression of movement and extra space.


Between those two colour choices is the soothing beauty of soft, light greys, such as Resene Quarter Delta and Resene Triple Concrete. Calming in the extreme, these lovely colours have a similar visual effect to white. Annick advises using them in rooms with a moderate amount of light.

Painting your skirting boards and joinery the same or a slightly lighter colour than your walls will work in your favour in a small room; it fools the eye into believing the walls are further away than they actually are. But don’t go for a feature wall – you want the eye to move around the room uninterrupted.


Character homes such as villas and bungalows don’t always suit the contemporary appeal of stark whites, but if you still want a pale, neutral palette for your wee room, try a simple beige such as Resene Swirl or a grey-beige like Resene Greige. These classic hues have the potential to make a room feel really refined. “When using these colours, keep your window treatments and furnishings neutral too, to give the room an airy feel,” says Annick.

Incorporate taupe into your room

Resene Wallpaper Collection 609837 is a clever way to incorporate taupe into your room. Team with flooring finished in Resene Colorwood Light Greywash for a cosy, lived-in look.


The popularity of this pale pink shows no sign of waning, and why would it? Feminine and uplifting paints such as Resene Vanilla Ice, Resene Ebb, Resene Sauvignon and Resene Paper Doll bring just enough interest to small spaces and are exquisite in those that face the rising and setting sun, echoing its natural pastels. “Paint the ceiling the same colour for an enveloping effect, and complement your paint with furnishings in warm, natural tones, such as sand and ivory,” says Annick.


Like black, in small spaces with little natural light, a studious navy hue – such as school-blazer-blue Resene Bunting or authentic Resene True Blue – will create the impression of depth and luxury. Teem dark blue walls with timber and gold accents for an on-trend designer feel, counterbalance the masculine with accents in feminine coral Resene Guggenheim and white, or go monochrome. “When your walls are navy, choosing furniture items like sofas in the same hue can make the space feel larger,” says Annick.

On reflection

One last thing: light. Use lamps to balance it more evenly around your small space than a single overhead source and let in as much natural light as you can. The latter could be achieved by a renovation to introduce extra or larger windows, a sliding door or skylights, or by installing blinds instead of curtains to maximise the amount of glass left unobstructed. A mirror near a window will do the trick, too. Annick suggests beautifying the frame with “vintage-look Karen Walker Chalk Colour paint from Resene ColorShops, staining it with Resene Woodsman, gilding it with Resene FX Metallic paint or covering it with a solid Resene colour”.

The beauty of small spaces is that you can afford to be a little more adventurous as they are easy to paint over if you tire of the look later.

Resene Slipstream

Resene Raindance

August 30, 2020

For more ideas and inspiration of how to bring out the best in your small spaces, see the Resene Decorating Inspiration gallery online and visit your Resene ColorShop for all the advice and products you need to decorate.

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