The One Mistake to Avoid When Decorating a Small Living Room

Updated 03/26/19
Ashley Goldman—How to Decorate a Small Living Room
Sara Tramp for Emily Henderson DESIGN: Ashley Goldman

If you think about it, the term "living room" is open to a lot of interpretation. It can be a place to watch television, screen movies, play with children, hang out with friends, read a book, or simply nap. And that versatility—especially if a living room is small—can be tricky. "It can be difficult to fit all of the different functions in a small area," says Ashley Goldman, the blogger behind The Gold Hive.

Goldman is currently renovating a nearly century-old bungalow in San Diego, California, so she's learned a thing or two about embracing a living room with only so much square footage. The first task, she says, is to think about how you'll use this room in order to design around those needs.

"To create a cohesive and clutter-free space, it's important to define how the living room will function and then buy furnishings accordingly," she says. "If the living room will be a playroom, consider an ottoman with storage. If the space will host crowds of people, consider buying stacking stools, coffee tables that double as seating, or modular sofas. A living room that facilitates T.V. dinners should have side tables within reach and a couch facing the television. And before buying individual furnishings, consider how they will all work together to create the most functional space."

Given that Goldman has personal experience with this interior design challenge, we asked her to provide more insights into decorating a small living room so that it has enough style and function to accommodate everything you have in mind. Read on to get her advice, and learn how to make the versatility of this space work in your favor.

6 Simple Ways to Make a Small Living Room Feel Spacious

Small living room design
Fantastic Frank

Ensure that an area rug is big enough for the room. "All legs of furniture should be on the edges of the rug, so it doesn't give the illusion of shrinking the space," she says. 

Get creative about storage. "This will keep the room from looking cluttered, and therefore, smaller," Goldman notes. "Think bookshelves, storage inside of furnishings, a designated spot for mail and keys if the living room is off the entryway. There can also be concealed storage for electronics and wires.

If floor space is limited, consider hanging things on the walls. "Instead of a floor lamp, mount a sconce. Instead of a coat rack, try wall hooks. Instead of a tray for keys and mail, mount a holder on the wall by the door," she adds. "Furniture can even be mounted to the wall, like the credenza or a TV unit."

Small living room mistake
Jenna Peffley ; DESIGN: Tali Roth for MyDomaine

Don't pick furniture that's bulky. "Instead of rolled sofa arms, use a slimmer profile to save up to a foot of space," Goldman says. 

Go minimal. "If there are too many pieces of furniture to store items, decluttering can eliminate knickknacks," she continues.

Use furniture that's visually light. "This can be a glass coffee table or a side table with narrow legs," Goldman says. "This keeps things looking spacious."

The #1 Mistake to Avoid When Decorating a Small Living Room

Small Living Room
Tessa Neustadt ; DESIGN: Ginny Macdonald

Don't push the furniture up against the walls of the room. While, it may seem counterintuitive, Goldman says that 'floating' furniture away from the walls can actually make a living room feel more spacious. "When the sofas and chairs are pushed up against all of the walls, it can give the illusion of the room feeling smaller," she advises. "And it can limit furniture layout options that would make the space feel more cohesive."

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