4 Minimalist Living Room Mistakes That are Making Your Space Feel too Stark

There's a fine line between minimalism and feeling empty when it comes to decorating a living room — here's how designers get it right

Minimal neutral living room with art on walls, circular coffee tables, accent pendant light, and cream couches
(Image credit: Life Created Photography for Living with Lolo)

There is no denying that minimalism is tempting. After all, it's a style that feels elegant, effortless and cool, but no matter how practiced you are in minimalism, it is simply one of those design styles that is easy to take too far, leaving your space too stark, cold, and uninviting.

Done well, however, a minimal living room can stay true to the design brief and still serve as a comforting space to unwind in. It's a balancing act, and a learned one at that.

With minimalism, we often default to taking items away to create the look. Go after a tidy and unfussy living room by all means, but remember to leave some features that will help curate the ambiance. Here is where we might be tripping up, according to designers.

If your space feels a little too bland, could it be that you've been overseeing these design mistakes?

1. Not tapping into variation

Modern living room space with blue armchairs, couch and wooden accents looking onto patio deck

(Image credit: Tim Hirschmann / Assembledge+)

Minimalism can often stray into being too formal, an undeniably outdated interior design trend anyhow, so including a mixture of soft and hard materials will elevate a minimalist scheme in all the right ways.

'When imagining a minimalist living room, one might picture a space that is rigid and uncomfortable,' suggests David Thompson, founder and principal of Assembledge+. 'This perception is often because the space lacks balance and variation.'

'Consider blending more structured furniture like a wood frame daybed, with a softer more luxurious textile like a hand-woven rug.' Think velour accent chairs to soften warm hard stone or wood surfaces – a combination made in minimalist heaven.

'Introducing natural light into the space adds warmth and allows the diverse materials present to showcase their unique characteristics, creating visual interest,' continues David. 'Opting for pieces with a natural patina or distinct maker’s marks imparts uniqueness, and makes the space feel more bespoke and less mass-produced.'

2. Having a one fold lighting and color scheme

Minimal neutral living room with art on walls, circular coffee tables, accent pendant light, and cream couches

(Image credit: Life Created Photography for Living with Lolo)

Whether you reserve your living room for entertaining friends or catching up with your favorite coffee table book, intrigue is a must. Layered living room lighting is important – especially in a minimal living room to keep warmth and design interest present.

'A minimal living room may appear too stark if it lacks warmth, texture, and visual interest due to bare surfaces, a monochromatic color scheme, or insufficient lighting,' Lauren Lerner, interior designer and founder of Living with Lolo shares with me. This doesn't have to be just physical items either, think pattern, color, and more that will create visual interest for a modern home.

'Introducing texture, color, and cozy furnishings can prevent it from feeling overly sterile,' Lauren adds. Even if it is a dark console to contrast pale wood furniture and light fabric couches, it can add just the right amount of definition to a minimal living room to give it life and prevent it from feeling cold or stark. Don't forget the power of wall art either, even just two canvases in a duo color scheme can lift a room.

3. Not fully leaning into comfort

Minimal living room with trio of coffee tables, gray large area rug and minimal table decor

(Image credit: Roger Davies / Assembledge)

From the comfiest couch to the most gorgeous throws, make sure every piece feels 'delicious' as interior designer Cara Woodhouse shares.

This is what it is all about when designing a minimal living room, you need to think about the feeling you want in that space so that you can realize this with every design choice you make. 'You're choosing very few items but those items have to be incredible,' says Cara. Knowing the exact intent of your room can help here, but ultimately, comfort is the aim of the game. Whether it is a stunning accent chair for a minimal living room, a cozy throw pillow, or a rug, tapping into cozy elements will soften your surroundings effortlessly.

4. The design isn't beautiful and practical 

Modern living room with blue floating open shelving and large couch

(Image credit: Laure Joliet / Assembledge)

Even minimalist living rooms can be multifunctional, and there is no time for furniture that doesn't pull double duty either. Anything less, you might end up with a space that feels vacuous in too many senses of the word. 'You can get a coffee table that turns into a desk. You could get a coffee table that has extra seating that pulls out,' continues Cara who reassures us that there are creative ways to really 'trick out a room' for all the needs that you want, whilst still keeping it minimal.

Dress open-recessed shelving, for storage and design interest, look into modern coffee tables that can transform into another piece or add visual appeal. Clustering is a modern way to style side tables in a living room, too... you have all the options.

How can I make a minimal living room feel warmer?

It's all about balance, and daring to include the previously forbidden color, texture, and function that are actually recognized traits of minimalism in interior design. For oodles of coziness, we've selected some of our favorite picks that will add texture, intrigue, and style to a minimal lounging space:

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is a freelance interiors writer and the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including DIY, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and it was during her year abroad studying in Bologna that she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille has a passion for art and beautiful spaces. When not writing or refreshing her home, you will find her gallery hopping, taking photos, painting, and traveling to seek out interiors inspiration.