10 Layout Ideas to Make a Narrow Room Feel Open and Airy (and What Not to Do)

Updated 12/12/19
Courtesy of Elizabeth Roberts

The classic video game of Tetris can easily come to mind whenever you're confronting the mind-boggling task of creating a furniture layout in a narrow room. A couch may look ideal on a certain wall, but once a coffee table is placed in front of it, it can suddenly appear cramped. And a side chair is necessary for guests, but its small shape often seems much larger when stuffed between a plant and an oversized ottoman. So what exactly can you do to win this real-life version of Tetris and create an airy space without much room? Easy: A strategy.

"In narrow spaces, you'll often find yourself having to edit your ideal floor plan," Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style at Modsy, says. "You may not be able to put that side table next to your sofa or you might only be able to fit one accent chair rather than two."

Planning is key to furniture layouts regardless of size, but if you're working with a smaller area, then it's important to be even more meticulous with which pieces stay and which ones go. Wood knows how difficult it can be to square with an unusual space, and that's why she is offering her advice on how to deal with narrow room layouts. "Don't overload your layout," she says, which should be your mantra as you get to work. But if you need more to go on, we asked her to provide a few ideas for strategizing a narrow space's style.

Read on for her how-to, and consider this your cheat code in winning the game against tricky square footage.

How to create an "airy" look in a narrow space:

Elizabeth Roberts—Narrow Room Layouts
Courtesy of Elizabeth Roberts

Light it up with wall sconces.
"If you're looking for narrow-space design ideas involving lighting, wall sconces are the way to go," Wood says. "These babies light up your home without wasting valuable floor space or table surface area. What's even better? Many options can be plugged into the wall so you don't have to worry about the whole wiring issue. Some even swivel, giving you extra flexibility with your lighting, too."

Keep furniture off the floor.
"Kind of like how your mom used to say 'keep your feet off the sofa,' one of the best narrow design ideas involves keeping your furniture off the floor," she continues. "Why? Because nothing makes a small space look even smaller like a bulky sofa plopped right on the floor. Instead, try using furniture that sits high up off the floor to make your small space look roomier. Pieces with long tapered legs are a perfect choice. This is also a reason why the mid-century modern trend is so popular in urban cities where homes are a lot smaller."

Try an irregular rug.
"Sometimes it's best to skip a rectangular rug and embrace an irregular option instead," Wood notes. "After all, a rug that is clearly too big or too small will just draw attention to the size and shape of your room. Instead, try an irregularly shaped rug, such as cowhide or even a round rug. This will create a sense of flow and fill most of the floor space without drawing attention to the narrow shape of the room."

Opt for clear furniture.
"When you can't make more space, you can always employ some apartment design ideas that make it look like you have more space," she adds. "The oldest trick in the interior designer's handbook? See-through furniture! Opting for pieces made of glass or acrylic is a great way to trick the eye into thinking your space is larger than it is. So skip the bulky wooden coffee table in favor of a glass or acrylic option. It'll make your space look more open and airy—which in turn will help it feel larger!"

Light it up with wall sconces.
"If you're looking for narrow-space design ideas involving lighting, wall sconces are the way to go," Wood says. "These babies light up your home without wasting valuable floor space or table surface area. What's even better? Many options can be plugged into the wall so you don't have to worry about the whole wiring issue. Some even swivel, giving you extra flexibility with your lighting, too."

CB2 Mantis Wall Sconce
CB2 Mantis Wall Sconce $130
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Joybird Preston 86-Inch Sofa
Joybird Preston 86-Inch Sofa $1300
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CB2 Cowhide Light Brown Rug—Narrow Room Layouts
CB2 Cowhide Light Brown Rug $500
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CB2 Peekaboo Acrylic Coffee Table—Narrow Room Layouts
CB2 Peekaboo Acrylic Coffee Table $280
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CB2 Wall-Mounted Bookcase—Narrow Room Layouts
CB2 Wall-Mounted Bookcase $350
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What not to do in a narrow space:

Don't forget about the walkways.
"Carving out a path to navigate through the space is an important part of making your room comfortable and livable," Woods says. "Ensure that you have enough space between your coffee table and sofa to walk through easily. This might mean using smaller-scale furniture pieces."

Don't put all your furniture against the wall.
"Just because your space is narrow doesn't mean that you need to line your furniture up against the wall," she notes. "Play with pulling pieces outward—perhaps bookshelves behind the sofa or a console table with lighting and accessories."

Layout options to consider:

Modsy—Narrow Room Layouts
Render courtesy of Modsy

Create zones in a long and narrow space rather than trying to design one conversational area.
"If you have a room that is narrow but long, creating 'defined' zones, such as the main seating area and reading nook, will help break up space," Woods says. "Use a chaise or small sectional to segment the room and break up the narrow feel."

Instead of using a traditional coffee table, play with small nesting tables, or an ottoman.
"This allows for a place to kick up your feet or set down a drink without taking up valuable space," Woods continues.

Add extra storage where possible.
"In a narrow bedroom, get a storage bed. If the room is too small for one with drawers, you can get one the lifts up," she adds. "In your living room, opt for a media cabinet that can conceal your devices and provide extra storage. In narrow spaces, you need to have places to store excess goods so they don't feel overly exposed and cramped."

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