5 Mistakes to Avoid in a Small Living Room — And What to Try Instead to Flatter a Compact Space

These design choices are only amplifying the problems of a small living room, say interior designers — heed their advice on how to dodge the pitfalls

A small living room with a large sofa, two chairs and a small, round coffee table
(Image credit: Gavin Cater. Design: Bungalowe)

Do you wish your living room was 50 percent bigger than it is? It's not easy to work within a small space. After all, decorating a small room requires big decisions on furniture, lighting, and color palettes, and often you may not end up making the right choices.

Enter our design experts. Here are all the common mistakes to avoid in a small living room, and ways to make the space feel bigger, brighter, and more useful.

1. Overcrowding the room

A living room with a few sofa pieces

(Image credit: Togo sofa from Lingne Roset)

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a small living room is adding in too much without leaving any breathing space. There may be a lot small living room furniture ideas you want to play out in the space, but adding them all may hamper the flow of the room.

'Overcrowding a small space is a common mistake people make, so pay special attention to the footprint of your furniture,' says Nadia Watts, founder of Nadia Watts Interior Design. 'Use fewer items with a bigger impact to create flow. Keeping your furniture layout simple will allow the eyes to rest and for you to relax. Less is more in a small space.'

2. Not choosing the right furniture

A small living room with curving furniture

(Image credit: Oculis Project)

Speaking of living room furniture, it's also important to choose the right size and shape of pieces, and perhaps not in the way you might think.

'A small room doesn’t necessarily equate to small furniture,' says Nadia. 'Less is more when it comes to small spaces. Resist the urge to use lots of small items, instead choose high-quality large pieces to make your small space feel larger and more sophisticated. Utilize round furniture to help with flow, try to avoid lots of squares and rectangles and instead choose ovals and circles. Round edges create easier flow and visual smoothness. Avoiding hard edges makes your space feel more serene.'

Also, to boost space and storage, consider multifunctional design. 'Utilize flexible seating such as ottomans and benches tucked under a coffee table, or dining chairs that can double as living chairs when you have company,' says Nadia. Choose coffee tables that have storage within them. Or sofa beds that allow the room to serve many functions.'

'Less furniture and more built-ins will help to keep the room feeling larger, maximizing any extra space,' says Jane Lockhart, founder of Jane Lockhart Design.

3. Not paying attention to the right lighting scheme

A small living room with lots of pendant lights

(Image credit: ONI Studio. Design: Furora Studio)

A good small living room lighting scheme can be transformative, and tiny rooms too deserve well-considered, layered levels of lights and lamps. Not only will a well-lit living room feel more welcoming, but it'll also make the room feel larger. Think ceiling lights (or multiple ones as seen in this project by Furora Studio), table lamps, and even nice recessed shelf lighting.

'People tend to avoid adding adequate light within a small space,' says Jane. 'Even though the space is small, you still need lighting for different functions within the room. It’s good to have a bright overhead light. It’s also useful to have lamps. Multiple lighting types serve different functions in the room.'

4. Going in for only light and bright colors

A small living room with dark toned walls in yellow

(Image credit: sdelaemremont)

Designers agree that a living room color scheme should be a personal choice, but most people think that small spaces can only have very light wall colors. But, really, this room can be as dark and moody as you wish, depending on the aesthetic you want to create, and the different uses you want it to serve.

'Color in small spaces is much debated: dark vs light, high contrast vs low, bold vs neutral,' says Nadia. 'My advice is to choose something you absolutely love. You are going to be enveloped in whatever color you choose and that color will dictate the rest of the design so choose a tone that brings you joy.'

'Also, utilize color and finish on the ceiling in your small space,' adds Nadia. 'Paint the ceiling a lighter color than the walls to make the ceiling feel taller. Or keep things consistent by painting the ceiling the same color as your walls. Avoiding the visual breaks of color changes will help your space feel larger and airier.'

5. Ignoring the vertical space for extra storage


(Image credit: Nune)

'If you are short on square footage, take advantage of your vertical space,' suggests Nadia. 'Hang your drapers high, add built-in tall storage, and floating shelves.'

If you're redesigning a modern living room, consider a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that will offer storage and double as a display unit for your collectibles. You can also go in for hidden storage in the walls, so your room looks clutter-free.

Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.