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Peechaya Burroughs for TIME

For about 15 years, I lived in a place that was 250 square feet. As a teacher, it allowed me to have a life in the city without having to pay a lot of rent. And then, when I started the website Apartment Therapy, it allowed me to have a life in the city when I didn’t have an income for a year.

What I learned quickly is that the feeling of the space isn’t dependent on the square footage. It has more to do with your visual experience. There are some simple things you can do in your space that will make it feel much larger than it actually is. Here are some of my favorite tricks.

Make the space as light as possible
The eye will go wherever it can see—and it will not go wherever there’s darkness. So the same size room that’s dark and shadowy will seem a lot smaller than a bright white room that’s lit up in a nice way.

When I moved into my tiny apartment, it had dark wood molding and dark wood blinds and doors closing off all the spaces. I painted everything white, including the molding and the trim, to brighten it up. (The exception to the rule here: A dark floor makes the walls brighter and taller.)

If there’s a big mirror in a really small room, that can help, too, since it will reflect a lot of light and make the eye feel like the room’s twice as big.

Remove doors
Taking off doors helps to free up floor space because you can’t put a table or a chair close to a doorway if there’s a door that swings open and closed.

So in my apartment, I took off the closet doors, the door between the bedroom and living area, and the bathroom door. I put a sliding door on my bathroom for privacy and used curtains on my closets.

Build it in
Furniture doesn’t really fit into a small space—which is why built-in furniture is really ideal for small spaces.

In my old place, I knew I had to have the equivalent of a bed, dresser, desk and chair—so I took all of those pieces out and made the whole room a built-in bedroom. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this, either. You just have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and visit your local lumber yard. There are also a lot of hacks involving Ikea furniture that will let you customize it to your space for not a lot of money.

Use furniture without corners
Another key to making a small space seem larger is maximizing good flow. Don’t over-furnish, and always place furnishings in such a way that you can easily pass around them. Round shapes are some of the best you can possibly use for flow and to save space—especially for a dining table. The corners are nice visually, but they aren’t essential—so picking furniture without corners frees up some room.

Maxwell Ryan recently launched his fourth book, Complete + Happy Home. He also released a tableware collection with Canvas Home on February 4th.

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