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How To Ace Apartment Living

I’m not talking about apartments today, I’m talking about homes. The kind of apartments that people actually live in, because apartments should not simply be financial packages. Apartments can be spaces with a personality just like a house, and look beyond the bare, white wall ‘AirBnB’ aesthetic. I’m really excited about this story, because almost two years ago we moved from our little place by the beach to an inner-city apartment. Our little family loves it.

Sure, apartment living is not for everyone, however all around the world, from Stockholm to Hong Kong, New York to Paris, families are living in apartments. Here in Australia, we are building a lot of apartments (there are 123 cranes in the sky in the Melbourne CBD and 60% of the construction is residential) but there is still a mindset that a family with kids need a backyard and white picket fence.

However, a strange thing is happening. Australia builds some of the biggest houses in the world and at the same time, there are fewer people living in each house than ever before. Picture big houses sprawled out at the edges of the city, with a sprinkling of people living alone. To me, that sounds quite lonely. Apartment living, on the other hand, has the ability to foster real community. In an apartment building, when we step outside our door, we see people and, quite surprisingly, we see the same people. And this, folks, is where community begins.

It’s kind of nice walking down the street and waving at Jags, our friendly coffee guy, or glimpsing through the window to see Joey cutting hair. Or walking past the window of the Chinese restaurant, as the chef chops off a roast duck’s head on the chopping block! Seeing these little interactions of life happening around my family feels good (maybe not the duck). Having people around also means great Neighbourhood Watch and that makes me feel very safe. Passive surveillance doesn’t happen so much on a quiet cul-de-sac where no one is around.

I know what you’re thinking ‘those poor kids need a backyard’. You’re right, we don’t have our own backyard, so our backyard is Fawkner Park. It can be an effort to get out of the house, and go to the park but once we’re there, we absolutely love it. Our kids know half of the kids there from school and childcare, so it ends up being an accidental playdate. They are sociable little people! Maybe one day we might move, but for now, this suits us perfectly.

Below are some reflections on how we’ve optimised the space we have, and tips for you to do the same too!

Think Big

The number one mistake that you can make in a small space, is to fill it with tiny furniture. It may seem counter-intuitive to have one large comfortable sofa in a small space, however it’s better than a few small armchairs.

Rather than have lots of smaller pieces cluttering up a small space, go for fewer, larger pieces. Same goes for artwork – just because a room is on the small side, doesn’t mean you can’t go floor to ceiling with a WOW factor painting or print. In many spaces, a hero artwork like this can actually make the room feel bigger, not to mention adding character and personality.


Versatility & Zoning Areas

Just because a space may be small, doesn’t mean that you can’t create distinct zones. A pendant light over a dining table delineates the space, and creates a sense of occasion. A desk with a pinboard over it creates a ‘home office’. A ‘non-area’ like a hallway can be decorated with artwork to create a gorgeous little entry moment – every inch should be considered.

Think about dual-purpose furniture such as a coffee table that doubles as a toy box, a bench seat with baskets under and a dining table with a fold-out leaf to extend when using it as a desk. Even a bare wall can store bags with a few hooks installed.


White isn’t always the best colour in small spaces, believe it or not! In a compact apartment, particularly where natural light is limited, darker colours actually recede, creating the illusion of depth, and helping to make artwork and furniture pop. Using different wall colours in each room can also make a home feel bigger, because of the variety.

So, instead of bland white, embrace colour where you can, then add in some mood lighting and you’ve got loads of atmosphere.



New apartments developments often lack character, big time. A major issue is that they’re usually severely lacking in lighting – most only have a grid of downlights – literally the worst way to light a room!

One way to add interest is to use wall lights (even if you’re renting, as some wall light options don’t need to be hardwired). Also experiment with floor lamps and table lamps at the very least, you can thank me later!

Design Clever

You can store everything you need in a small apartment with some clever design solutions and a shift in mindset. Well-designed cupboards can store coats, appliances and even a laundry. Often, to maximize the efficiency of space, they may need to be custom made.

It’s also worth considering that some breathing space can greatly enhance the overall feel of the apartment, so putting cupboards on every single wall isn’t always the best solution either; sometimes just having less stuff is.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email