“Smart” living isn’t just about filling your place with gadgets and gizmos. It’s also about finding thoughtful ways to make your space more user-friendly, organized, and, of course, easy on the eyes. Stumped? Here are 20 strategies—big and small—to get you started.
1. Put a Peg on It
Pegboards have been a utilitarian staple in garages, basements, and kitchens for ages—there’s a reason Julia Child’s kitchen is in the Smithsonian! But lately, modern designers like Nikki Kreis, of London’s Kreisdesign, have been updating the look: refashioning it as a backsplash, accent wall, and modern, flexible storage solution, and swapping out the humble particleboard base for luxe materials like birch and polished steel.
2. Spice up Mealtimes
Stuck in a dinner rut? The fastest way to breathe new life into your cooking routine is to overhaul your spice collection. Start by tossing anything that looks like it dates back to the Reagan administration: Ground spices begin to lose their flavor after three months, and even whole spices get wan when they languish for more than a year. Next, ditch the clumsy rack and try a storage solution—such as a shallow drawer or magnetic canisters affixed to the inside of a cabinet door—that will allow you to see all your spices in one layer at a glance. Whenever you need that perfect pinch, everything will be close at hand.
3. Explore Functional Flooring
If the word linoleum conjures visions of school cafeterias, it’s time you looked again at functional flooring. Thanks to advances in luxury vinyl, linoleum, and rubberized flooring—and design-forward manufacturers like Forbo and COREtec—many decorators are finding fresh inspiration in these classics. The fact that most are highly durable, ergonomic, eco-friendly, and affordable doesn’t hurt, either! “Believe it or not, one of the products I’m most excited about right now is a shock-resistant flooring typically used in commercial elevators,” says designer Ali Vivoda. Now it’s her go-to for basement spaces, like home gyms and playrooms. “It has little metallic rivets that make it look dotted, so it’s simple but fun, and it’s warmer and more comfortable than concrete or tile.”
4. Splurge on Low-Waste Luxuries
Could you build a castle out of the LaCroix cans in your recycling bins? As more and more families get serious about reducing household waste and their reliance on plastic and packaging, specialized appliances like dedicated sparkling- and instant hot-and-cold-water dispensers are starting to seem less like luxuries and more like smart-home solutions. “Even if there’s water in the fridge, I put a filtered countertop tap in every single kitchen I design these days,” says Vivoda. “And with hot water on demand, you don’t even need a teapot!”
5. Own Your Clutter
Messes happen. “In every home, there is always, inevitably, that one place where the piles of random stuff start to stack up; the key is not to fight it but to plan for it,” says Los Angeles–based designer Lisa Queen. Her tip? Designate a spot, like a cabinet in the garage or a drawer near your entryway, where you can drop your keys or junk mail and all the other detritus of daily life. “Not only will it help you tidy up in a hurry, it’s more realistic than expecting perfection from your children and spouse!”
6. Upgrade Your Outlets
Always scrambling for a charger? Stephanie Lindsey of Etch Design Group in Austin, Texas, recommends ditching mismatched adapters and installing USB outlets in high-traffic areas like home offices and entryways and near nightstands. It’s a simple and inexpensive job for an electrician, and whatever you spend you’ll earn back in time, since devices plugged directly into USB outlets charge up to 40 percent faster than with an adapter.
7. Make Your Furniture Multitask
These days, everyone has a side hustle—why should your furniture be an exception? Whether it’s a sleek Scandi-style workstation that morphs into a foldaway platform bed (like the Kali unit from Resource Furniture) or an earthy, organic set of nesting tables (like the new Morro collection from Maiden Home) that can do triple duty as a side table, a coffee table, or extra seating, investing in a few multiuse pieces can transform a space-challenged room into a chic sanctuary.
8. Build an Altar
“Every home has at least one altar, and most often it’s the TV,” says New York designer Olga Naiman. “When the elements of a room are focused in a particular direction, the point of focus is what you are worshipping. So the question to ask yourself is, Are the altars you’ve constructed deliberate or default? Her advice? If you want to put your home to work for you, first you have to slow down, consider which ideas or hopes or visions you actually want to give your attention to, and then mindfully create a personal altar in their service. It might be as simple as a grouping of resonant photographs or a special chair arranged to observe a meaningful view.
9. Set Limits
Texas-based designers Brett and Kara Phillips of High Street Homes have a simple but brilliant fix for keeping kitchen clutter in check: “We have a beautiful little trivet from Stoffer Home that we always keep by the stove. It’s the perfect landing space for olive oil, little utensils, and salt. Because it has such defined borders, it forces us to think about what we really need. Basically, if it doesn’t fit on the tray, it can’t stay! Which, of course, makes cleanup easier, too.”
10. Experiment with A.I.
Move over, George Jetson! Thanks to affordable, accessible devices like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Nest Hub, we’re all living in the future now. “I can’t get enough of home automation,” says Arizona-based designer Lauren Lerner of Living with Lolo. “And it’s not just internet assistants or smart speakers; with the right tools, you can program almost anything: lighting, drapery, thermostats, refrigerators, vacuums, and even outdoor water features to turn on and off exactly when you want.” Desperate to scale back your daily to-do list? Maybe it’s time to set it and forget it!
11. Exploit “Extra” Spaces
When storage is at a premium, smart designers concentrate on making every inch count. If your home is blessed with tall ceilings or expansive hallways, put those spaces to work by installing built-in cabinets for vertical storage or long picture rails for displaying artwork, says Nashville-based designer Beth Haley. Is your bedside book stack getting unruly? Line one side of a hallway with adjustable shelving for an instant library.
12. Cushion Your Landing
The daily grind of meal prep seems to be less of a chore when you feel like you’re perched on a cloud. Of course, cushioned anti-fatigue kitchen mats are nothing new—chefs and other pros who are on their feet all day have been relying on them for years—but what has changed is that nowadays, as more rug and housewares designers embrace them, they’ve become not just functional but fashionable. Look for a mat that ties together your kitchen’s look and adds color and texture as well as comfort. One of our favorites? The Persian-inspired Eden mat from House of Noa that, as the makers boast, really does make you feel like you’re “standing on a zillion gummy bears.”
13. Carve out a Nerve Center
If you’re the one in your house who books dentist appointments, tracks soccer schedules, and makes sure streaming subscriptions get paid on time, you know that keeping a family running smoothly can feel like a full-time job. So why not treat it like one? “Creating a household ‘command center’ can be a lifesaver,” says Houston-based designer Mimi Meacham of Marian Louise Designs. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, she says. Find a nook in a central location (close to the kitchen or wherever everyone gathers) with space for a computer and calendar. Use a painted corkboard for invitations and school forms, and a file folder to stash passports, receipts, warranties, and other important documents. Add a cute but comfy chair, a pretty plant, and framed pictures that make you smile to finish it off.
14. Channel Your Favorite Cafe
Make your morning routine feel more luxe (hello, hotel living!) by creating a coffee-and-tea spot in a corner of the countertop near some open shelves. Corral mugs up above, then make room on the counter for a toaster, cereal, and jams and spreads and, voilà: in-house breakfast bar. “It’s such a nice way to start your day, and it can really elevate a daily ritual into something special,” says Kansas City, Missouri, designer Julie Arnold of Create Place. Want to go the extra mile? Treat yourself to a set of special cups from a local ceramicist, suggests Arnold. “I’m a big believer in beautiful things that are also functional.”
15. Sleep Soundly
Good days start with a good night’s rest, so it pays to pay attention to your bed. “You don’t have to spend a fortune on a headboard or sheets, but a quality mattress is a worthwhile investment,” explains Arnold. Look for nontoxic materials and sustainable production methods that are better for you and the planet. Arnold’s advice? “Before I buy, I do research on sites like The Good Trade, where they prioritize ethical and eco-friendly practices.”
16. Reconsider Your Closet Space
Unpopular-opinion alert! “I know it goes against the conventional wisdom, but I really think it’s possible to have too much closet space,” says Brett Phillips. “Especially out here in Texas, people tend to think bigger is always better. I’ve found that the more space you have, you just fill it with stuff—and limiting your storage space can help you understand what’s really important.” Case in point: He and his wife recently decided to clear out a walk-in closet and convert it into a dedicated mini-workout room, complete with Peloton bike.
17. Make Space for Stuff You Love
If the tumult of the last few years has taught us anything, it’s that change is constant. So in your home, as in the rest of your life, it’s important to embrace an attitude of flexibility so you can prioritize the little things that bring you joy at any given moment. “Doing a seasonal edit is really helpful,” says Arnold. “Not only will it cut down on clutter, but it can act as an opportunity to reconsider how you’re using space and what is and isn’t serving you any more.” She recently helped a client transform an underused guest room into a dedicated meditation space. But, she explains, your changes don’t have to be that dramatic. “If drawing makes you happy but you find you don’t do it enough, try putting out a pretty tray with a few sketching pens somewhere you can see them, and see what happens.”
18. Find the Right Nightstand
When you’re arranging your bedroom, do yourself—and your sleep routine—a favor by choosing a bedside table that’s more than just a landing pad for unread books. “Nightstand storage is so important,” says Vivoda. “Your bedroom should feel like a sanctuary, but when you have everything on the surface of a bedside table, it starts to look chaotic and crazy.” Instead, she recommends looking for a cabinet with drawers or doors where you can keep your moisturizer and chargers and (ahem) other private items tucked away but still within reach.
19. Clean up Your Laundry Act
Like death and taxes, dirty laundry is a certainty in life. That’s why Vivoda always adds a built-in hamper when she’s advising clients with bathroom renovations. “I’m not a fan of exposed hampers, but designing an integrated hamper can be such a nice, functional little luxury—sort of like a modern laundry chute—and a wonderful way to take care of a mess no one wants to see.”
20. Accept Change, Seek Joy
Our favorite way to renovate without spending a dime? Move around the stuff you already have. Does that desk in the corner collect dust? Should you put the little table and chair under your bedroom window to create a “tea and reading” spot? If you’re not sure where to start, invite over a friend whose place and taste you love and get her to help with changes that will switch up a room’s energy to feel fresher and more functional. Then go ahead: Rotate. Repeat. Feel the joy of a different, better use of your space.
By Sarah Karnasiewicz | Illustrations by Boyoun Kim