If your living room, family room, or sitting room is cramped and cluttered, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend time in there. That is, unless you trick your eye into thinking the space is bigger than it appears. It’s not magic; it’s just smart styling and layout strategy. Get ready to bookmark all these tips and transform your small living room into a comfortable, stylish oasis for you and your household to hang out in. With these designer examples to guide the way, you’ll love the space so much that you’ll never want to leave it.
Choose lighting that can be attached to the walls or hung from above to save room on floor space like in this room designed by Tamsin Johnson Interiors. Swing-arm sconces also free up space on the floor and bring dimension to the walls, an ideal situation for small living rooms.
City apartment dwellings give “small” a whole new meaning. But designer Shari Francis has plenty of tricks up her sleeve to outsmart limiting floorplans. Tip number one: Separate an alcoved bedroom from an adjoining living room with a sliding barn door to enhance privacy and give yourself dedicated spaces for different activities (it’s a relatively DIY project and there are plenty of cool, affordable options on Etsy, like this one). Tip number two: A smaller sofa is better than a bulky one that takes up the entire room, and one armchair is better than two if it means keeping a pathway clear—plus, asymmetry is chic.
If you don’t have room for both a sofa and club chairs, forgo the sofa and opt for two cozy armchairs like designer Jae Joo did in this sitting room. If there’s a fireplace, angle them towards it to encourage cozy hangs and conversation while also drawing the eye to it.
Choosing a larger rug—even in a bold pattern—is a trick that makes a room feel bigger. Unlike smaller rugs, the large size doesn’t visually break up the floor. This can also help anchor the space and give you a good staple piece to design the rest of the room around. Corner seating can also help you get more out of your space, as it does in this room designed by designed by Katie Ridder.
So a set of nesting tables are too small for your room but a super large and bulky coffee table is also out of the question. Layer two streamlined coffee tables for a sleek Scandinavian approach like the firm Fantastic Frank did here.
Even if you’re lacking in square footage and surface space, you can get a lot of mileage out of high ceilings. To take advantage of that vertical space, accentuate tall windows with high curtains and a show-stopping wallpaper like in this room designed by Catherine Bailey. Also, curtains hung well above a window add airiness and height to a small room. Keep the curtain design basic but use extra fabric for fullness.
Whether you inherit a place with an awkward nook or you’re making some renovations to an existing space, build in shelves for extra decorating and/or a storage zone (floating shelves are also an option if you can’t build in). Or, build the bottom shelf so it has enough room to be an extra seating option. Keep them the same color as the wall, as Robert McKinley Studio did here.
Dark, glossy walls create a sophisticated backdrop for simple, clean-lined pieces and even colorful, bold items. Use the small space to your advantage and make it feel like a jewel-box. Painting your ceilings the same color can enhance the sense of intimacy even further. Then have fun with brighter furniture throughout, as in this small living room designed by Andrew Felsher.
Don’t be afraid of making a big statement in a small space. There’s a difference between clutter and well-curated collections or dramatic design moments. In this modest living room designed by Leanne Ford Interiors, we love how the over-the-top, formal chandelier creates contrast and intrigue.
Admittedly, this contradicts some of our previous tips, but, when done well, you can fill the whole space with furniture without making it feel overcrowded or claustrophobic. Take this living room designed by Heidi Caillier for example. The cozy modular seating (sectional and chair) fits neatly in the space while the neutral carpet, grasscloth wallcovering, and full drapes enhance that sense of intimacy and warmth. The coffee table provides surface space but visually disappears and there’s no need for a floor lamp when you can attach a matching sconce.
Choose strategic furniture and decor that accommodates your smaller space and helps you achieve the look you’re going for. In this case, Anthony Dunning slid a slim, tall pedestal into the corner to prop up a large floral arrangement and draw the eye up, accentuating height instead of cluttering the floor with a squat side table.
Bring your artwork up to trick the eye and expand or accentuate the height of the room. A gallery wall might seem too busy for a small space, but it can actually make it feel larger if it extends to the ceiling. In this family room designed by Katie Ridder, the mirrored effect of this glossy red paint on the ceiling makes the small space feel larger—and more glam.
A lower sofa or settee creates the visual effect of higher ceilings. Playing with proportion and scale—like using a tiny side table next to a daybed—will also help. Just add pillows to make it more comfortable for lounging.
If you’re working with an oddly-shaped and small living room but you think you’ll be in the space to stay, it’s worth investing in custom furniture that suits and elevates it. This curved sofa in a light-filled sitting room by Reath Design is proof enough.
If you’re trying to transform a little bonus area into a small living room, take a cue from this swanky little nook designed by Romanek Design Studio. Banquette seating instantly transports you to a speakeasy or European train car (we’ll happily take either option). Bonus points if you equip your coffee table with a classic game.
As we’ve mentioned a few times already, a small space doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with color. So if you love incorporating pretty pastels or vivid brights but want to make sure your living room doesn’t look chaotic, the trick is to stick to a tight color palette. Mixing patterns is also fair game, especially when done as masterfully as this cheerful room designed by Ellen Kavanaugh.
Keep walls and ceilings all white to brighten up the space. Large black-and-white artwork is eye-catching but won’t add clutter, as shown in this room designed by Andrew Flesher. That way you can make a colorful piece of furniture the focal point of the room, and it won’t feel like the walls are closing in on you.
Resist the urge to push all of your furniture up against the walls. If you create space behind the furniture, it makes the room look wider than it is. An antique stool vibes well the Chesterfield sofa in this room designed by Leanne Ford.
Swing chairs are super fun and seem to be having a design moment right now. More importantly, they can be a life saver in a small living room or family room. You can add seating without taking up a ton of floor space, like you would with a traditional armchair. This mod style in a Hecker Guthrie-designed space is all the convincing we need.
In designer Ann Pyne’s New York City apartment, a small red settee fills the entire living room with personality. A leopard print stool and matching pale yellow armchairs ensure plenty of seating, too.
When space is lacking, the only option is to get creative and make things multi-purpose. For example, if you don’t have room for a separate living room, family room, and home office, combine each concept into one space. This living room and office by Leanne Ford proves that the right layout and pieces can look great, no matter what shape or size the room.
Use Redmond Aldrich strike that perfect balance between formal and casual.in place of a traditional coffee table to make better use of your space (because a tiny house means your living room often does double or triple duty when people come over). You can top them with a tray to hold flowers and books, or use as extra seating. Then when it’s family time, they become footrests. These red leather ottomans in a small family room designed by
If your living room has access to a ton of natural light, don’t block it out with dark curtains. Let light pour in to make the space feel more airy and open. Even if you don’t have large windows and tons of sunlight, choose lighter shades to maximize the light you do have. Semi-sheer shades like the ones in this living room designed by Barrie Benson will help, too.
Use two small tables to take the place of one big coffee table. They’re better for traffic flow and easily moved to wherever else you may need them. We’re also digging the use of a daybed over a sofa in this room designed by Robert McKinley. And have fun with wall decor!
Mirrors help make any small room look much larger. Prop one up on a mantel or even layer two framed mirrors like designer Annie Brahler did here. You could even make a mirror or tiled mirrors completely cover one wall.
Leaning into the smallness of a space can actually be what makes it feel genuinely cozy and inviting. Keep seating close together and intimate, and choose a plush, soft rug, like the one in this space designed by 2LG Studio. This is especially well advised if you’re decorating a small family room, where you’ll want things to be super welcoming and functional.