Small living room layout ideas – and how to get it right

Work wonders in your tiny space with savvy storage, wise furniture buys and a spot of visual trickery

The pressure’s on when designing a small living room layout – you’ve got to juggle storage and seating, while also making sure it feels calm and spacious. However, with some savvy planning and a discerning eye, it’s possible to create the perfect layout. The living room is often a place to chill, a place to work, a place to entertain, and sometimes even a place to sleep, so it’s got to be a hard-working multifunctional space. Flexible furniture is king, such as modular pieces or those that can double up as seating and storage, yet it’s important not to cram it all in. Sometimes less is more, and leaving space to walk freely around furniture will create a luxurious feel. Read on for clever tips to nail your small living room layout.

How do I choose the best furniture for a small living room?

(Image credit: David Butler)

As more of us work and play at home, the living room now has to cater to various roles. It’s important to really think about how you spend your time in the space, as this will largely determine your layout. When it comes to seating, ditch the trad three-piece suite and go for versatility and mobility. A couple of stylish slipper chairs or a cosy love seat paired with footstools or ottomans that can double up as seating, storage or side tables, will be more valuable than a pair of bulky sofas. Look for shallow-depth furniture, modular designs and bespoke built-in solutions that will all curb clutter and save valuable floor space.

“Once you’ve decided on your key pieces, lay newspaper to mimic the size of the furniture you're looking to put in to help you visualise just how much room everything will take,” says Emma Deterding, founder of Kelling Designs. “It'll also help you make important decisions about the size and scale of big pieces and whether the room will feel spacious or restricted.”

How can I create an illusion of space?

“Symmetry makes everything easier on the eye and it’ll automatically make the space feel orderly and calm,” says interior designer Naomi Astley Clarke. However, don’t go too streamlined; small spaces can often feel boxy so break up lines with plenty of curves and textured surfaces to add interest. She also suggests incorporating seamless hidden doors when wall space is at a premium – you can hang pictures on it, or even create a recessed bookcase within the door itself. Floating furniture is another good option, as it leaves the floor free, enhancing the proportions of the space. Use a bit of visual trickery too – layered lighting will make a small living room feel larger by drawing the eye around the room. The same goes for furniture; ensure you have a range of heights in the space as it’ll feel two-dimensional if it all sits on a low level.

Ideas for small living rooms

1. Build it in

Swapping a sofa for a space-saving bench seat is a smart way to make the most of the space underneath a window. In this chic San Fran pad, ABD Studios utilised the corner by creating a stylish shallow-depth lounger, swapping a bulky backrest for a stash of plump cushions propped up against the windows. A similar solution would cost around $9,000.

2. Break it up

If your budget won’t stretch to bespoke designs, modular furniture is the next best thing. Interior designer Emily Rickard hacked this Ikea Soderhamn sectional sofa to fit her space by popping a nifty triangular storage table in between two sections. It meant the sofa could fan around the corner of the room to gain extra floor space.

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3. Engage in mirror play

(Image credit: John Marshall)

Mirrors are a brilliant way to enhance the perception of space – go one step further and add a statement mirror wall for real glam factor. “We always strategically place mirrors opposite windows to make a tight layout feel bigger and brighter,” says Costanza Ranieri of Ivar London. “Just make sure it’s not reflecting other mirrors, as you get that never-ending effect, which makes for a very odd and kitsch space.”

4. Take storage to the next level

The best way to boost a small living room layout is to go for floor-to-ceiling storage. It’s an opportunity to create a shelfie-worthy space that will add bags of charm in a limited space. Kingston Lafferty designed this playful bookcase with a ladder to access the full-height storage. “Using mirrored panelling breaks up the solid block of cabinets and gives the illusion that the floor runs on beyond the furniture,” says Becky Russell of Kingston Lafferty.

See Also:Chic & Stylish bookshelf, bookcase and library ideas

5.Choose space-saving furniture

Corner or chaise sofas are often a go-to in small living rooms as they give max comfort and take up minimal floor space, plus they’re fab for impromptu sleepovers. Also choose curvy pieces – they not only look chic, but save valuable inches by shaving off the corners. In this scheme designed by 2LG Studio, a sultry raspberry-red slipper chair adds glam without the footprint, while a matching footstool doubles up as a makeshift coffee table.

6. Create a cosy nook

Quirky niches and recesses are ripe for transforming into comfy seating areas as they don’t eat up valuable floor space. Even better, add storage underneath like in this apartment renovation by Vanrenen GW Designs to stash any inevitable living-room flotsam.

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7. Expand outwards

If you’ve got a long narrow layout to work with, think outside the box – literally. Carve out niches, recesses and oriel windows to create seating opportunities as well as extra surfaces for books and knick-knacks. Architecture firm Loader Monteith added a series of frameless windows in this living room to avoid a dark corridor effect and to make it feel visually wider.

8. Go invisible

If you’re working with a super-tiny space, slim picture ledges are a slick way of incorporating storage without taking up room with bulky furniture, as well as adding interest with books, art and photos. To maximise the illusion of space, a clever trick is to go dark – by painting both the walls and shelving black, it’ll make the walls look further away than they really are.

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9. Make it cosy

“Avoid pushing the furniture back against the wall, even if you feel like you can’t fit it in,” says interior designer Emily Rickard. “A little breathing space around key pieces makes the room feel bigger, plus it will create an intimate and cosy vibe.” A rug will also help ground the furniture and leaving a border of floor space will enhance the sense of spaciousness.

10. Utilise the back of a sofa

In a small living room, every surface is an opportunity, so think about using the back of a sofa, especially in an open-plan layout. “We wanted to include a study space without impacting the elegance of the sitting room, where we knew we wanted two slim sofas facing each other,” says Sarah Peake of Studio Peake. “Putting a slim desk against the back of a sofa was the perfect solution. Always try to incorporate a view if you can – we positioned it so you can gaze out the window beyond the sitting room.”

11. Rethink your lighting scheme

Obviously even small living rooms need decent lighting, but when you’re trying to squeeze every square inch out of the floorplan, table and floor lamps can feel like a luxury. Swing-arm wall sconces like these Tolomeo Mini wall lights by Artemide are a savvy choice as they make stylish reading lamps, leaving side-table surfaces free.

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