'Fewer things, larger effect': The Block Australia judge Neale Whitaker's top tips on styling your small space

If he ever comes round for dinner, Neale Whitaker promises he isn't judging your home. 

As a longtime The Block Australia judge, he says the worry he gets from people about his styling prowess is the "biggest curse" of his role. 

"It's the thing I hear so often: 'I'm never having you around to my home.' You ask the other Block Australia judges Shaynna [Blaze] and Darren [Palmer], they get the same," he told Newshub. 

"People - not my close friends and family, of course, but others - are reluctant because they think you're going to pass judgement. 

"It's completely ridiculous because I'm a TV judge - it's a role, and when the cameras stop rolling, that part of me stops as well." 

But he's happy to offer a little advice if it's sought after - to an extent. 

"Of course I've been in that situation: If people want to ask advice, I'm happy to give it. Perhaps if they start breaking out architectural plans at dinner I would draw the line," he laughed 

"The converse of that is I've been reluctant to have people around to my home - I think 'oh I've got to fix that or change that' before people come around because people expect so much from your space!" 

In this case, asking for advice was exactly what I was calling to do. 

The Block Australia judge and host of Love It or List It Australia is an ambassador for Aussie furniture brand King: A range of multi-functional furniture designed for the smaller living spaces which are increasingly becoming the norm across Aotearoa. 

According to Stats NZ, between 2010-2019 the median floor area of all new homes decreased by 60 square metres.

"Small space living - it's a growing phenomenon, one I suspect is happening all around the world," Whitaker said.

"Smaller places [and] apartments,  younger people are actively seeking them out, and older people are downsizing, so it's a two-pronged, shifting cultural phenomenon. 

"Add to that the pandemic which sees us spending more time at home than ever, it means we're seeking much more creative solutions for styling our homes." 

Neale whitaker
Whitaker has been a judge on the hit reality show for over a decade. Photo credit: Supplied.

Whitaker said the Aussie - and Kiwi - old adage of the 'half-acre block' with a white picket fence just isn't in the pipeline for so many potential homeowners. Instead it's apartments, townhouses, and shared spaces.

Small space style

So what are the pitfalls people fall into during styling these narrower areas?

"Top of the list is what I call the 'doll's house effect': The use of everything small in a small space. Nothing makes a small space look smaller than cramming it with lots of tiny furniture," said Whitaker. 

"I would say, ironically, go big! Prioritise a few oversized pieces of furniture to trick the eye into thinking the space is bigger than it is." 

"A large sofa makes a space feel really big, a large rug, and some pieces like a really big mirror  - which of course makes space feel larger through its reflection - or a really beautiful statement piece of art. 

"Fewer things can create a larger effect." 

lounge area
A few key, oversized pieces can trick the eye into thinking a space is larger, says Whitaker. Photo credit: Getty Images.

I've long been laughed at by my partner for my "obsession" with lamplight, which sees me fanatically turning off all overhead lights and switching on every lamp in the house upon getting home from work. But I now feel smug that Whitaker matches my obsession. 

"Light is exceptionally important to me," said Whitaker. "Aussies rely on natural light and it drives me crazy - nothing creates ambience for me more than good lighting. So some [side-table] lamps, maybe a big floor lamp. Lighting can transform a space." 

While no "small spaces are equal", there is one component crucial no matter where you're living - storage. 

"It's about adding [that storage] capability to furniture because homes just don't have the old double wardrobes that they used to anymore," said Whitaker.  

"You can find coffee tables, ottomans, couches, all with storage capabilities now - and that modular furniture is becoming increasingly sophisticated. 

"Multi-functional furniture is here to stay." 

If you're looking around your own apartment right now and realising you have a few changes to make, we've put together some of our top picks for multi-functional future you can buy here in NZ, as stylish as they are practical. 

King 'Serenade' storage bed

The bed Whitaker and his partner have in their own home, the Serenade comes in Queen, King or Super King sizes and features a full-sized hidden storage compartment within its timber veneer base, which can be accessed through  an 'easy lift hydraulic system'. Perfect for storing all your light summer bedding during the winter months - and vice versa.  

The Serenade storage bed.
The Serenade storage bed. Photo credit: King furniture.

Fifo 'Tavoletto' coffee table 

One of the more innovative pieces of furniture on the market, this coffee table from Kiwi brand Fifo is constructed with a hydraulic metal lifting frame and hidden wheels at the base and can change from a Tatami table to a coffee table or a two-person dining table. But it's real hidden talent lies underneath the tabletop, which separates from the centre and slides out, revealing a single wooden slat bed. 

The Fifo Tavoletto coffee table.
The Fifo Tavoletto coffee table. Photo credit: Fifo.

Expand Furniture 'Counter Height' table 

If dining space is tight but you still love to entertain, this console table is a multi-functional superstar. Available in black and white, its revolving support leg and snap magnets inside the extensions means the table extends to a variety of lengths to adapt for different uses - from a slim console, to a square kitchen island to a massive counter table that seats over 12 people.

The Expand Furniture Counter Height table.
The Expand Furniture Counter Height table. Photo credit: Expand Furniture.