When it comes to small living room ideas, you need to think out of the box. While your room's square footage may be small, it can still pack a punch in terms of functionality and good looks.
The living room is, after all, such a core part of your home. It's a space where you socialize, watch television and spend quality time with the family, so making the design work for you, in spite of its compact characteristics, is essential.
There are several ways to expand the sense of space in a living room. Tap into our robust list of space-changing living room ideas that include advice on the right furniture pieces, colors, accessories, and elements. When done right, these can help upsize the personality and functionality of your living room.
Small living room ideas to enhance space and style
1. Consider lighter colors to open up the space
Ideally, light tones reflect maximum light and can make an interior feel airy, breezy, and breathable. Darker tones on the other hand make a space feel deeper and endless. When it comes to living room color ideas, for smaller spaces, it's better to go for whites, greys, creams, and off-whites.
'The paler the tone, the more it will reflect the available light, the darker the tone, the more light it will absorb,' says Justyna Korczynska of Crown Design Studio (opens in new tab). 'At the extremes, white will make a room look more spacious, and black brings the walls visually inwards. This rule applies to all colors. So, a pale grey would be good if you wanted to make a room look larger, deep charcoal would make it appear smaller.'
2. Match the woodwork to the walls
Ideally, in a small space, the lesser visual breaks there are, the bigger, more seamless the space looks. In that sense, when thinking of living room paint ideas, coat the same colors on the woodwork and walls.
'For woodwork match the tone as closely as possible to the wall color to give a strong and unbroken look,' says Justyna. 'A soft green on skirtings and architrave next to a neutral colored wall is interesting and imaginative without overpowering or being too much of a contrast – here you want colors to blend and harmonize for the maximum cocooning effect.'
3. Choose proportionately sized furniture and accents
When designing a modern living room, think of the size of elements that you will be brought indoors. Consider the proportions of furniture and elements as compared to the scale of the room. An oversize sofa or a rug may look odd and throw off a guest as they enter the space and take a look around. Plus large pieces reduce the circulation space around the room, meaning it will get difficult for people to around the area.
'The most important thing when designing small spaces is curating a selection of pieces that offer design versatility and play with scale,' says Nidhi Kapur, founder of Maiden Home (opens in new tab). 'This will allow you to get the most out of your space while making a stylish statement and avoiding clutter. For these reasons, when working with clients with smaller spaces, we typically recommend choosing accents with smaller proportions, and designing with modular pieces that can be reconfigured with ease to suit different uses.'
'A small accent chair is perfect for a beautifully curated living space on a smaller scale,' says Nidhi. 'The impact and comfort with a smaller footprint and subtle curves in the design lines and form can go a long way.'
4. Use lighting to highlight the room's strong elements
Interestingly, lighting isn't only about illuminating a space. The right fixtures, placed in appropriate corners can not only brighten up a small, dark space but also bring into focus, its best features.
If you're lucky enough to live in a home that has beautiful architectural bones, even smart woodwork, and if you're redesigning your living room, this is the time to make it stand out. Add spotlights or pendants to enhance these significant elements such that, they take the attention away from the small scale of the room.
'Lighting can change the atmosphere in a room,' says Niki Wright, founder of Lights&Lamps (opens in new tab). 'It can highlight other design elements within the space, it can make a room appear bigger if positioned correctly, it can even change the feeling of temperature in a room; but also, with the use of interesting materials or exaggerated scale it can make a statement in its own right.’
5. Bring in plants for texture and freshness
'Small spaces need textural variety to make them feel interesting and warm,' says Luki Anderson, principal architect, Studio Officina Architecture PLLC. (opens in new tab) 'The easiest and most affordable way to do this is through house plants. Create a corner of the room, preferably by a window, and layer varying sizes and heights of plants using an interesting selection of pots and stands. You don't need to break the bank to bring a focal point like this into your space.'
6. Sometimes bespoke pieces are ideal
In narrow living rooms, finding the perfect furniture piece can be a big issue.
'If you’re struggling to find a piece of furniture that fits perfectly, it’s best to go bespoke,' suggest Jen and Marr, founders of interior design studio Interior Fox (opens in new tab).
'Creating furniture for your living room that is designed to fit seamlessly means that every inch of the room is catered for. Create a window seat in a bay window with additional storage below. Try a built-in cabinet or low-profile media unit for a stylish alternative to a tv stand, it provides ample amount of space to stow away items while creating a clutter-free living room to relax in.'
7. Create a layered lighting scheme
Lighting is essential to give the room a feeling of depth, and even, to make it feel larger. Try to keep the lights off the floor as much as possible, so you can save on floor area, and look at the walls and ceilings for illumination.
'For rooms that are smaller in scale lookout for articulating wall sconcess,' says interior designer Keren Ritcher of White Arrow (opens in new tab). ‘Something that pivots can provide really useful directional light, possibly doing the job of multiple lights in one. It can also tuck away neatly when not in use.’
Strategically placed wall sconces and lights will add a wash of illumination to different parts of the small apartment living room. A layered scheme of table lamps, sconces, and spotlights will draw the eye around the room, as they create depth and shadow.
'When designing a small space, I love to find items that maximize the space,' says interior designer Nicole Cohen (opens in new tab). 'I like using sconces that maximize light and don't take up floor space.'
'We will sometimes swap a typical ceiling fan for a pretty flush mount, allowing the room to have something that is both decorative and functional,' says interior designer Sara Cukerbaum of SLIC Design.
8. Go big with rugs
While deciding on how to make a small living room look bigger, the point to keep in mind is scale. And optical illusion. Take the rugs for instance. In a tiny space, a big rug can create the illusion of a larger floor area, and trick the eye into believing that the scale of the room is large.
'If you have hardwood floors make sure you have an appropriately sized rug. If the rug is too small, it will throw the balance off and make the bed feel too large for the space,' says Jennifer Davis, interior designer and founder of Davis Interiors (opens in new tab).
Alternatively, opt for a fully fitted carpet instead of a rug. 'Rugs can make spaces look smaller, fully fit the carpet to draw your eye to the edges of the room,' says Camilla Clarke, creative director at Albion Nord (opens in new tab).
9. Strategically place mirrors
'Strategically placing mirrors where the light naturally falls is one of the oldest but best tricks in the book, it enhances the natural light and makes the room appear much larger and brighter,' say Jen and Marr.
Agreed. And along with making a room feel more open, they can be an opportunity to blend styles within the room. We'd recommend shopping second-hand and finding a piece with a character that will bring an elegant, traditional edge to any style of space. See how in this Scandi living room the gold mirror adds just a touch of something different and prevents the room from looking like a carbon copy of every other Scandi living room on the internet.
10. Embrace the coziness
The knee-jerk reaction to a small space is often to reach for the white paint or another light shade to maximize the feeling of space. But there are other options.
'Don’t be afraid to embrace the small,' says Caoimhe McKenna of Yellow Brick Road Design. 'Create a cozy and inviting ambiance with warm tones and tactile textures but offset this with clean, clear lines to retain a sense of calm.'
11. Choose flexible and light pieces you can move
When space is really tight, consider the furniture you can move around the space, as and when it's needed. A coffee table for example needn't be a large, permanent fixture that takes up all that space in the center of the room – instead size down to a stylish, compact side table that you can move around easily.
The small circular design used in this space not only looks lovely and perfectly contrasts all the straight lines going on in the rest of the room, it also means it can work anywhere, there are no corners to have to consider where to neatly fit.
12. Maximize awkward spaces
Whilst we’d like our rooms to be completely square with no awkward angles or dead spaces, this is rarely the case. But with some careful planning, all those awkward places can be turned into treasure troves of storage potential.
'Many homes have awkward alcoves. This is one area where it pays to invest in bespoke cabinetry to maximize the storage,' says Andrew Dunning of London Contemporary (opens in new tab). 'Whether your interior is modern or traditional, cupboards and shelving will finish this space in the room without intruding into it.'
The bespoke media unit in this open-plan reception room provides essential small living room storage ideas with decorative floating shelves above. Designed by London Contemporary to fit the wall shape without protruding into the room too much.
13. Don't be afraid of filling up the living room
Minimalism and small living rooms do often go hand in hand, but sometimes more is more when space is tight. Rather than spreading all your furniture out to make as much floor space visible as possible, fill the space with pieces that 'fit' the room. Take inspiration from this small living room idea and up the coziness by really filling up the space.
The huge sofa hugs the edges of the room, so while it's very dominant it's practical too, providing ample seating and nicely filling the room to create this cozy living room. And don't feel like you have left that central floor space free, fill that up too with a coffee table that mirrors the shape of our furniture layout.
14. Place prints strategically
This living room makes a case for not always keeping things simple and pared back in a small space. A gallery wall may sound too busy for a small living room, but used right and hung strategically it can help 'expand' the space.
The key is not to just float prints in the middle of the wall, take the floor to ceiling (or close to) to add height to the room as well as colors, patterns, and interest.
15. Reduce clutter
Quite honestly, we all love to hold on to things; decluttering isn't as easy as it sounds. But the thing to keep in mind is – is the clutter more important than comfort and peace of mind? Before you go all commando on your small living room apartment, think for a moment about what you can reduce in this space.
'Buy higher-quality items that have real value,' says Brooklyn brownstone designer, Jarret Yoshida (opens in new tab). 'When the clutter is gone, suddenly your furnishings will merit the attention of a fashion runway, your mid-century lamp becomes a sculpture, and your peace is the focal point of it all.'
16. Bring in a sectional sofa
Sectionals or L-shaped sofas tend to dominate a space and offer a majority of the seating in the room, and they don't need to be accompanied by more sofas and chairs. When looking for small living room furniture, sectionals work wonders.
'Look for an apartment-sized sectional or couch that has a chaise longue,' says Luki Anderson, principal architect, Studio Officina Architecture PLLC. 'These sofas are usually not as long or deep, but still provide a luxurious sense of lounging. Or opt for an ottoman in a fun color that creates a nice contrast to your sofa while simultaneously offering another way to stretch out and relax with your feet up.'
17. Float the furniture in a small living room
It can be tempting with small living room layouts to push your furniture up against the walls, leaving as much floor space visible as possible. However, having everything lining the edges of the room with a sea of floor space in the middle can in fact make a room feel smaller, this layout makes you really notice the proportions of the room.
Pulling furniture away from the walls, and instead floating it in the center of the room can make a small living room feel bigger. It gives your pieces some breathing room, lets light flow around the space, and distracts the eye from the edges of the room.
Just be sure to ground your pieces with a large area rug, as you can see in this small living room, and make sure it's a practical choice for your space too, you want to still be able to easily move around the room without constantly walking into sofas and coffee tables.
18. Purchase multifunctional pieces of furniture
Clever multifunctional designs are great space-saving options for small spaces. As interior designers Jen and Mar from Interior Fox (opens in new tab) suggest, 'When it comes to small living spaces we love multifunctional pieces of furniture: think about a coffee table that also serves as a stool, but you can use it to store magazines or extra throws inside it. Or perhaps a lamp with a side table attached. If you're ticking multiple boxes with the same product, you free up floor space for an airy feel even in the smallest rooms without compromising on full comfort.'
If you need to sleep more than one overnight guest at a time then swapping your sofa for a sofa bed can also be a useful option. It isn't always easy to find an option that's comfortable enough to work as your main living room seating, but we've done the legwork to find the top solutions in our guide to the best sofa beds available.
19. Add height with floor to ceiling curtains
When it comes to small living room ideas, windows have a huge role to play and have the potential to make your small room look lighter, brighter and even larger. Debbie Leigh is Design Manager at ILIV (opens in new tab) and suggests extending the curtain pole beyond the width of the window.
'This allows more light into the room and makes a room feel larger,' she says. 'Hang living room curtains high for a professional-looking window treatment. This will instantly give your room an illusion of extra ceiling height which in turn feels very luxurious. Ideally, the pole or track should be positioned a minimum of 4 inches and a maximum of 12 inches above the top of the window.'
20. Add storage without taking up floor space
When it comes to small living room storage ideas, shelves can be such a blessing as they add handy storage, and space for decor and if you opt for wall-mounted designs they take up zero floor space too.
'Remember to furnish your room both vertically and horizontally. This is especially important in small areas of the home when we need to optically enlarge the space.' say Jen and Mar. 'Wall-mounted storage units and made to measure shelving units can create a built-in feel that seamlessly blends in with the room's features achieving a cohesive overview.'
In this small living room, shelves float elegantly above the sofa, providing the perfect spot to create a gallery wall. If you have an awkward nook or an alcove in your living room, you could go for the built-in option, and even add in seating below. With built-in storage in smaller spaces, we'd recommend painting it the same color as the walls behind so it almost blends in and doesn't add too much visual bulk.
21. Hang shelves for chic open storage
Living room shelving adds so much to a room – they create space to add character and curate displays that add color, pattern and texture to the room. But they are practical too, and we know everything in a small space needs to earn its place and needs to have a function as well as form.
'Shelves are a must.' says Jen & Marr. 'They open up areas to make the most of empty spaces. Floating shelves or a tall bookshelf that extends to the ceiling will provide ample amounts of storage and a place to showcase decorative items.'
The rule with shelving is to avoid creating symmetry, or any clean lines that make the shelving look too neat or overly thought out. You want there to be plenty of different heights, different shapes, different textures. And pair things in threes! Or odd numbers at least.
22. Be clever with stylish storage furniture
Space is at a premium, so furniture that can double up as storage is always a bonus and a big living room trend.
'Storage ottomans are the small space designer's best friend,” she says. “Go for a beautifully upholstered version in a bold jewel hue for a style statement that works double duty as a secret storage spot.'
23. Experiment with blue shades in a small living room
Instead of painting a small living room white, go bold with color choices and create the illusion of space. 'Blue is the best color for making a space feel bigger,' says color and paint expert Annie Sloan (opens in new tab).
'It is recessive, which means it draws the eye outwards, blurs horizon lines, and gives a sense of never-ending space. It’s also a calming, meditative color which encourages us to breath in and out, creating a psychological and spiritual sense of space as well as the physical illusion,' says Annie.
The best part is, there are several colors that go with blue, so designing a living room with this tone will be a breeze.
24. Trick the eye with busy prints
When working with the confines of awkwardly shaped rooms, sometimes extra creativity is required. Karen Knox of Making Spaces (opens in new tab) pulled out all the stops when designing this cozy seating area in her client’s long, narrow room. 'This striking, abstract wall mural design with delicate white details draws the eye up and away from the client’s existing sofa and towards the wall behind it,' says Karen.
'This causes your eye to rest on the furthest point in the room giving the illusion of greater depth and more space,' says Karen. 'By then dressing the sofa in similar tones to the wallpaper, it helps the sofa recede into the wall. A large scale pattern isn't something that would normally work for small spaces, but for this room it helped to tie all the elements together, both old and new.'
25. Bring in slimline furniture
With small living rooms, you have to think realistically about what you can fit into your space. We'd recommend having a list of pieces you really want in your space, and as for most a sofa is going to be top of that list you may find you have to think smart about the other pieces you bring into the space.
Take inspiration from this elegant living room idea and keep your dream squishy sofa but forgo a bulky armchair. Instead, opt for something stylish and slimline that's still going to be useable but has a low footprint and a thin design.
If a coffee table is a must too, again, just go for something that's not going to break up the space too much.
26. Ditch furniture with legs
Sometimes all it takes to squeeze a few more inches out of a small living room is to pick clever furniture designs, like cool coffee table decor ideas. Here, the 'floating' coffee table breaks up the space and allows the light to flow underneath it.
Also, see how in this living room everything sits at the same low level – the top of the coffee table with the seat of the sofa and the armchairs. By keeping it all low-slung and almost below eye level makes the room feel more open and gives more height to the space.
How should furniture be placed in a small living room?
There really is no right or wrong answer here. But when it comes to small living room layouts there is often a debate over whether sofas should be placed against walls, but it totally depends on how much space you have to play with. As long as you are able to create an intimate area that works for social interaction that is all that counts.
If you're struggling with how to envision how your living room will work, we'd suggest going old school and drawing it up on graph paper. Then start considering what furniture you want to bring into the space, use a pencil to plan out your design, and measure up your furniture so you can get a really accurate representation of your space.
Consider what will be your room's focal point. Do you want all the furniture to face the TV or a fireplace? Do you want to create a more intimate space and have the furniture facing each other? Think about the flow around the room too, avoid creating a boxy, corridor effect with furniture stuck to the walls and a walkway down the center. You want to layout to be relaxed, but equally, make sure you allow for traffic to flow through easily and where it naturally would go.
What furniture works best in a small living room?
Multi-functional furniture is ideal for a small living room. Look for furniture that can double up as storage. Furniture that can fold away or that is on wheels and can be moved around is also desirable. You want the furniture to work double duty where possible.
As your sofa is likely to be the largest single item in your living room, it's also worth paying attention to getting this key piece right. Our guide to the best sofas has some great options for smaller spaces - think compact shapes elevated on tall legs that add a feeling of spaciousness by allowing your eye to travel underneath the sofa to the farthest walls.
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