It’s easier than you might think to create a spacious, airy vibe in a rental home—even if that home is on the small side. Read on for some simple steps for arranging furniture and decor to maximize the sense of space in any room.

First, Determine Function

The first step when decorating a small vacation rental home is to decide how visitors will use each room. This is a relatively easy task if you have a plethora of rooms that are each dedicated to a single purpose. In small homes, however, a single room often serves multiple needs. Spare bedrooms may double as impromptu home offices, and family rooms often combine additional sleeping, work and dining areas.

Identify what your guests need from a room—and what they don’t—so you can avoid cramming too many unnecessary furnishings into a smaller space. For example, the living room in a cozy one-bedroom rental may not need a seating area for eight guests, but it may require a small work area tucked into a corner or behind the sofa if you regularly host business travelers.

Carefully Choose Furniture

When choosing furniture for your vacation rental, select furnishings that create a sense of space above and below each item. Look for sofas, chairs and sectionals that feature a low profile and that seem to “float” on slender legs or platforms. This creates a clean, open aesthetic that is ideal for smaller rooms.

One design style that effortlessly incorporates both a low-profile and a floating, leggy base is mid-century modern furniture. Generally, avoid tall wingback chairs and oversized, overstuffed couches, both of which can overwhelm a small space and interrupt the way the eye travels through the room. Round side tables with glass tops create movement in the space and also allow for more light to flow in and around furniture.

Another important consideration to maximize layout? Dual functionality. A single piece of furniture that fulfills multiple needs reduces the number of items in the room without limiting usability. Consider a sleeper sofa with a high-quality mattress to increase the number of available beds in the home. In living and family rooms, use a storage ottoman on casters to double as a coffee table and extra seating, or try poufs that moonlight as stools, side tables and even plant stands (just make sure the pouf is firm enough). The best part about multi-functional items like these is how easy it is to move them from room to room as needs change from renter to renter.

Direct Traffic

Once you’ve chosen your furniture, think about how visitors will move through the room. Plan clear walkways from doorways to sitting areas that are at least three feet wide. Also, avoid any furniture arrangement that causes the back of the sofa to be the first thing a visitor sees when entering a room. While it might feel counterintuitive, you can also create a sense of openness by leaving three to six inches of space between furniture and the walls.

Find the Focal Point

To find the focal point of the room, think about where you’d like the eye to first land when guests enter the area—this will help create an open look. Perhaps you have floor-to-ceiling windows, a stone fireplace, a larger entertainment center or a favorite piece of art. If there are no obvious candidates, you can create a focal point by painting one wall in an accent color, adding a statement light fixture or corralling multiple pieces of art into a gallery wall. Once you’ve established your focal point, try to arrange furnishings so that the eye travels first to the focal point, then to any furniture pieces, then to smaller decor items.

Use Wall Space Wisely

Creating a sense of spaciousness is easy if you can leverage wall space instead of floor space. Opt for floating bookshelves instead of freestanding ones to house any display items, books and plants. Be sure to leave space between groups of objects to avoid overcrowding the shelves. House media components on a slim console table instead of a heavier media stand, and mount the television on the wall. Keep in mind that you may want to keep personal photos out of a rental home, so try to stick to more decorative pieces.

Highlight the Light

Using a mirror in a small room is one of the easiest ways to create a feeling of extra depth and dimension. In the same vein, choose a light, monochromatic color scheme to keep the space feeling fresh and open. Add interest by layering with fabrics that feature subtle patterns and texture, such as linen, velvet or luxurious faux fur.

In addition to the judicious use of mirrors and lighter colors, adding pockets of light throughout the room with floor and table lamps will both disperse light and give a sense of warmth to the area. This gives more of a sense of spaciousness compared to a large light source overhead or in a single corner.

Declutter Your Decor

A vacation is the perfect opportunity to de-stress and unwind, but spending time in a cluttered space is anything but relaxing. Once you’ve arranged your furniture to make your vacation home appear more spacious, be sure to pay attention to the number of decorative objects in the room. Too many items or smaller pieces of non-essential furniture can make the space feel closed off.

It’s helpful to remove all decor, including throw pillows and blankets, framed prints, vases, candles and plants, and add items back in one by one just until a room looks finished. When in doubt, err on the side of too few decorative objects, rather than too many.


Laura Love Bardell writes for Crate and Barrel, where she creates design-savvy content on the latest home-furnishing trends. Laura enjoys giving tips for how to use furniture creatively for any space, big or small.