Marie Kondo’s mantra of “keep only those things that speak to your heart” sounds fab in theory, but in reality many of us up are up to our eyeballs in clutter – certainly not all of it sparks joy. However, investing in savvy storage ideas for small living rooms can be a real game-changer for bijou spaces, whether that’s serious wall-to-wall cabinetry, or coffee tables and ottomans with secret storage to stash all those ‘miscellaneous’ items.
Finding the right pieces can be a balancing act between practicality and personality, and just because you’ve got a bijou space, it doesn’t have to mean frugality. You can still have fabulous statement pieces and shelfie-worthy displays, it’s just about being more discerning with your storage options. Slim-line, wall-hung, built-in and multifunctional buys are your allies in small-space design. Check out our inspo for some serious #livingroomgoals…
How do I make the most of the space?
Generally, built-in is best when it comes to storage in a small space. If you’re blessed with tall ceilings, capitalise on the height and go all out for floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. “My preference is always wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling on storage,” says David Conlon, founder of En Masse Bespoke. “Visually, it’s less disruptive than a wall with separate shelves, the odd cabinet and stand-alone furniture. The storage you gain from going full height allows you to use the floor space for things the walls can’t hold like the sofa or coffee table. Hiding storage with touch-open doors also ensures you don’t really know it’s there.”
Make the most of every nook and cranny and add bespoke storage to recesses where you can. “Awkward corners and alcoves are considered the most impractical and tricky areas to work with and are often left unused, but these can be great storage opportunities,” says Neville Johnson's senior furniture designer Simon Tcherniak. “Fitted furniture can be built directly into the apex to ensure that no space is wasted, creating floor-to-ceiling storage that truly maximises your room’s potential.”
What types of storage are best for small living rooms?
“Use a mix of open shelving and cabinet styles to create a display unit that is flexible enough to hide the things you don’t want on show,” says Peter Erlandsson, co-owner and director of String. “Also make sure your shelving is deep enough to store your belongings, but narrow enough that it doesn’t compromise your precious square footage.”
Don’t be afraid to play with proportion either. Often one gorgeous large-scale piece will have more wow-factor and make a compact living space feel bigger and more luxurious than cluttering it with loads of smaller items.
Whatever you choose, the trick is to make it multifunctional where you can. “There are many pieces on the market nowadays that are specifically designed for compact living,” says Emma Deterding, founder of Kelling Designs. “From coffee tables with lifting tops that allow you to eat dinner or work from home with ease, to clever footstools with built-in storage and even pull-out guest beds, you can really make sure your small living room is tailored to your lifestyle.”
1. Build in kid-friendly storage
Toys are the nemesis of small spaces so custom storage benches are a god-send for family living rooms. “We designed this seating nook to store the kids’ toys and everyday ‘stuff’ at a height that was accessible for the little ones,” says Jordan Russell of 2LG Studio.
See Also:Wonderfully Fun Kids Play Room Ideas
“It’s made from Valchromat – a clever composite that has the colour running all the way through it so it won’t chip or scratch like a painted surface might in a high-traffic area.”
2. Raise it up
A media unit is often low-slung, but by picking it up off the floor it suddenly becomes the perfect height for a desk, too. Not only that, it means you can get away with squeezing a larger piece of furniture in next to it as the exposed floor underneath provides visual breathing space.
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3. Swap formal fitted furniture for eclectic pieces
If formal fitted joinery leaves you feeling a bit meh, choose vintage pieces with bags of character to fill your alcoves. Go for similar-style designs to create the same symmetrical vibe as bespoke units, but with a bit more dynamism and flair.
“The industrial-style shelving and mid-century sideboards were chosen to fit the recesses perfectly, with the long hairpin legs leaving plenty of room underneath to keep it airy and spacious,” says Leah Chisnall of Absolute Project Management.
4. A moveable feast
Drinks on wheels anyone? We say yes please! Roll on Friday-night cocktails with a mobile drinks cabinet like this one from Rockett St George, £595, which can morph into a handy side table or be tucked away in a corner on more salubrious weeknights… or not.
See Also:Cool and Stylish Home Bar Ideas
5. Frame your fireplace
If you don’t have the obligatory pair of alcoves either side of your chimney breast don’t fret – you can still get your storage fix. “By installing wall-to-wall storage around the mantelpiece we created a deliberately framed view of the stunning fireplace,” says Becky Russell of Kingston Lafferty.
“Installing coving in front of the joinery made it look like it’s always been there, and matching the joinery colour to the surrounding walls keeps it subtle. The routered lines in the joinery echo the shapes of the tiles and add a contemporary twist.”
6. Source multifunctional pieces
“Multifunctional pieces are key to smaller living rooms – the trunk doubles up as a storage solution and a coffee table,” says interior designer Emilie Fournet.
“Vintage pieces can also add a lot of character to smaller spaces. The Staples Ladderax teak shelving unit is a great example of the benefits of a modular design that can adapt to different functions for different rooms.”
7. Cutting edge
Slice into an awkward angle to create useful storage rather than let it go to waste. Even better, use mirrored doors to bounce light around, like in this reconfigured London home designed by Rees Architects.
8. Keep it streamlined
If you’ve got a small space but you still want a minimalist vibe, keep clutter at bay with a slim-line shelf that’s strictly for displaying key pieces. Installing faux panelling underneath will add volume, creating the illusion that it’s deeper than it actually is.
9. Get in the zone
In a bijou studio flat or open-plan layout, zoning is everything. A flexible partition that also doubles up as storage is a savvy choice for rentals and flat shares, like this Pegboard Room Divider from Kreis Design, £450.
See Also:Wonderfully Fun Kids Play Room Ideas
10. Out of office
This cool bespoke storage unit designed by Studio Ben Allen for a Barbican flat has a snazzy drop-down desk that can be folded away at the end of the working day.
11. All booked up
Who needs a bookcase when you can turn a disused fireplace into your own mini library? Take a leaf out of Jersey Ice Cream Co’s book and stuff it with your favourite tomes so you’ve always got a page-turner to hand on lazy or rainy afternoons.
12. Hidden depths
Look for smart seating that can double up as storage to stash away odds and ends. We adore this on-trend bouclé ottoman from Anthropologie – storage and style, what’s not to love?
13. Go freestyle
“Freestanding storage is an incredibly useful and inexpensive alternative to a built-in or wall-mounted piece of joinery,” says Petra Arko of Bergman & Mar. “Large open shelving gives a sense of grounding and depth, and looks best when it’s not completely overfilled. Allow for some empty space and use the remaining shelves to curate your own home gallery, displaying favourite ornaments and artworks, ensuring a mix of different shapes and textures.” Pictured is the Staiths unit from Novavastrian.
14. Wrap it up
Make the most of the wall space around your sofa by cocooning it with built-in shelving. Not only do you get oodles of extra storage, you also create a cute reading nook – paint it a dark shade like designer Elizabeth Lawson has done here for maximum cosiness.
15. Use untapped resources
Door frames are prime real-estate for storage yet they’re often overlooked. Paul Archer Design snuck a skinny bookcase into the space behind a pair of period bi-fold doors between a reception room and snug room, extending the joinery to fill the whole wall with large sliding panels to keep it calm and uncluttered.