Small living room ideas – designs that prove tiny spaces can still be big on style

Maximize your space with these small living room ideas – from easy layout switches that will instantly make a room feel bigger to space expanding color schemes for a light and airy feel

white living room with white curtains
(Image credit: Future)

Small living room ideas can still be big on style, as all these beautiful, but modestly proportioned spaces prove...

Small living rooms are often cozy but they have to work much harder than their more spacious counterparts. Layout, furniture, window dressings, flooring and accessories all carry extra weight in a smaller space and it’s more important than ever to get the scale, proportions, and balance right. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to play it safe with your living room ideas either. It’s always good to follow the rules, but breaking them can make a much bigger statement. It’s all about knowing where the limits are and when you can push them.

So, while you'll still find plenty of neutral, light, and airy spaces here, we'll also prove that color can work in small living rooms, dark hues can look wonderful too, and often the whole less is more concept that's often applied to small spaces can be broken. We’ve also consulted the experts to find out their top tips for creating a small living room that feels spacious and stylish.

The best small living room ideas that are big on style

1. Maximize awkward spaces

Bespoke storage in an all white living room

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 really maximize the storage' says Andrew Dunning of London Contemporary. '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 living room storage with decorative floating shelves above. Designed by London Contemporary to fit the wall shape without protruding into the room too much.

2. Think multifunctional

Blue living room with yellow sofa and pink cushions

(Image credit: Farrow and Ball)

Clever multifunctional designs are great space-saving options for small spaces. Mireille Baumgart is a BoConcept Partner and says: 'In small living rooms it is important to choose furniture that can be adapted easily and have multiple purposes.” She suggests opting for coffee tables that convert to a dining table or footstools that transform into a single bed. 

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.

3. Curtain Call

White modern living room with a mix of different style furniture

(Image credit: Future)

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 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.'

4. Choose flexible flooring

Rustic white living room with white sofa and gallery wall

(Image credit: Davide Lovati)

Flooring can make or break or a room and it is often overlooked in smaller spaces. 'It needs to be flexible, to transition from the daytime role to a more relaxing space in the evening,' says Rebecca McCloskey of Weave Interiors. 'But it also has to be durable. I love the clean lines of a solid floor but polished concrete and real wood floors are often not an option for everyone. Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVT) can be a great alternative. I love the selection from Moduleo as it looks so realistic. They also have the benefit of being extremely practical and easy to maintain.'

5. Go Big with Rugs

white living room ideas for victorian terrace period homes

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Rug size and placement seems like a relatively straightforward decision, but it is one that is easy to get wrong. Sam Norris, Design Consultant at Garden Street says 'Choosing a large rug is another trick that will help make a room feel bigger. There's a reason interior designers always claim a rug ties the room together and it may be a cliché but it works.'

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.

6. Select Storage Furniture

Dark grey living room with rattan swinging chair

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Space is at a premium, so small living room furniture that can double up as storage is always a bonus. Wayfair's Resident Style Advisor, Nadia McCowan Hill says that searches for storage ottomans are up 20% in the last six months alone. '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.'

7. Embrace the coziness

Small living room with large grey corner sofa

(Image credit: Marc van Praag)

The knee-jerk reaction to a small space is often to paint it white 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 in order to retain a sense of calm.'

8. Layer the Lighting

White and grey living room with boucle chair and grey sofa

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

With any small space the main priority is of course maximizing natural light. But when that isn't easy or even possible, you may need to get creative with your living room lighting have says Simon Terry, MD and owner of Anglepoise. 'To create the illusion of space you must think about layering and creating pools of light.'

Adam Wade, Technical Director of Anglepoise encourages us to get creative with lighting. 'Make the lights work for you and don't be dictated by the more traditional ways of using lighting,' he says. 'If a pendant at the center of the room isn't creating quite enough light, layer in light from the side (wall or floor) instead. It's easier to control, more pleasant to sit under.'

9. Experiment with blue shades in a small living room

Dark blue living room with fireplace and foot stool

(Image credit: Future)

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. '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.'

10. Trick the Eye

Living room with gold and blue mural

(Image credit: Making Spaces)

When working with the confines of awkwardly shaped rooms, sometimes extra creativity is required. Karen Knox of Making Spaces pulled out all the stops when designing this cozy seating area in her client’s long, narrow room. 'This striking, abstract 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 Knox.

'This causes your eye to rests on the furthest point in the room giving the illusion of greater depth and more space. 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.'

11. Go bespoke

Modern living room with patterned sofa, retro furniture and built in shelving

(Image credit: James Merrell)

To really achieve an efficient use of space in a small living room, you can’t beat bespoke furniture that makes use of every inch of space. 'Bespoke furniture is a great option if you're looking for something that's unique to your home,' says Adam Brown, Director of The Painted Furniture Company. 'You may have a certain awkward space you'd like to fill, or a particular color scheme in mind. Whatever you're planning, going for a tailored option means your furniture fits your specifications exactly without having to compromise.'

12. Mix comfy pieces with slimline furniture

Small grey living room with over sized light

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

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 small 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 high legs and minimal bulk so it will still allow light to flow around the space. If a coffee table is a must too, again, just go for something that's not going to break up the space too much. 

13. Or switch a sofa for statement armchairs

Neutral living room with mis matching arm chairs and wall of storage

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Or you could go really rogue and ditch the sofa altogether. Consider how that would work for you? Switching a sofa for two, equally comfy statement armchairs, will really open up the space and allow you to be more flexible with your layout. See how light-filled this small living room is because there's no large piece of furniture blocking the light. And yet, despite its lack of sofa, this room still feels very cozy and inviting – we'd be more than happy to curl up on that boucle chair. 

14. Ditch the legs

Modern and neutral Chelsea townhouse

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Sometimes all it takes to squeeze a few more inches out of a small living room is to pick clever furniture designs. Case in point this 'floating' coffee table. Again it's all about avoiding breaking up the space and designs like this allow for light to still flow underneath them. 

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 it makes the room feel more open and gives more height to the space. 

15. Choose pieces you can move

Small living room with blue velvet sofas and gallery wall

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

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.

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 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.

What colors make a small living room room look bigger?

It is generally accepted that small living room colors need to be kept light in order to reflect as much light as possible. But this isn’t always the case. A lot depends on the direction and quality of the natural light in the room. You should let that be your guide.

Darker colors can actually work in smaller spaces, they can blur the boundaries of the room and create the allusion of a larger space. This often works best in small rooms that lack natural light, as you can get that lovely cozy, cocooning effect rather than a harsh cold, lighter-hued space. Always stick with the deep, velvety matte finish, and be sure to order plenty of swatches so you can see what the color looks like in situ.