27 Designer-Approved Tips for Small-Space Living Rooms

Small living room with two chairs, a coffee table, and a tree

Design: Katherine Carter, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

Call us crazy, but we prefer styling a small living room over a large one any day. There's something incredibly thrilling about size-challenged decorating that really forces you to get creative. Yes, you'll make mistakes arranging furniture in a small living room, but when decorated well, petite rooms can look seriously stylish (tiny bathrooms are proof). Just because there's less space to work with, doesn't mean you have to compromise on taste, either. If you're looking for small living room ideas, follow these decorating tips.

01 of 27

Plan Your Layout

small space living room with tree, chairs, and a coffee table.

Design: Katherine Carter, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

When it comes to small–living room ideas, designer Tom Stringer says that prior planning is key when space is so limited. "The first step is to ensure that the layout will be functional for your needs," he says. "Then confirm the sizes of the pieces."

02 of 27

Decide What the Room Will Be Used For

Furniture arranged in a small living room

Design: Max Humphrey

If you're stumped on how to plan your layout, answer celebrated interior designer Max Humphrey's simple question: What will the room be used for most? "While you might plan on having friends over all the time for movie nights, chances are it'll be you and your family using it the most, so keep that in mind when designing it," Humphrey says.

03 of 27

Consider Your Furniture

Camel colored sofa in a small living room.

 Design: World Market

Since you don't have the luxury of a lot of space, you can't just throw a bunch of pretty things together and hope it'll work. Australian interior designer and The Tailored Interior author Greg Natale believes that it's important to first consider all the pieces of furniture you'll need in order to create a "welcoming, livable space." Ask yourself questions like, Would stools or ottomans work better in the space than armchairs? Would a side table be a more size-friendly option than a coffee table?

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Go Big with Your Sofa

small living room furniture arrangements

Design: Katherine Carter, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

So you have a tiny living room, but does that mean you have to compromise on the big furniture you love? Humphrey doesn't think so. "I always recommend buying the absolute biggest sofa that will fit in the space, because if you're anything like me, chances are that's where you'll spend most of your time lounging around."

05 of 27

Size Down

Flush mount statement lighting in small living room

Design: Studio DB, Photo: Matthew Williams

Natale believes small furniture is a better bet if you want "more opportunities to include all the pieces you like." Consider what's more important to you: comfort and big style, or having more variety?

06 of 27

Choose Narrow Pieces

small space living room with light furniture and black art

Design: Tali Roth, Photo: Claire Esparros

If you decide that bigger is better when it comes to furniture, Natale recommends pieces with a sleek silhouette, such as a "sofa with a low, narrow shape and slender arms; chairs with narrow or no arms; and tables with glass tops and narrow or cutaway legs."

07 of 27

Neutral Is Failsafe

Small space living room with narrow furniture

Design: Sara Tramp for Emily Henderson

When it comes to small-space living room ideas, you really can't go wrong if you stick to neutral and natural hues. You can carry this over to your furniture, too. "Use furniture that appears light or disappears, such as a glass or acrylic piece," Designer Trip Haenisch says.

08 of 27

Be Bold

Small space living room with blue painted walls

Design: Studio McGee,

If you're all about color, you aren't out of luck. Designer Jeff Andrews believes there's absolutely a place for it in a small living room. "Go dark and go big," he says. Speaking of which, we have a few favorite dark paint colors, including Benjamin Moore Black Beauty, Clare Prince, and Sherwin-Williams Charcoal Blue, if you're feeling adventurous.

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Mirror It Up

small living room mirror ideas

Photo: Julia Robbs

When in doubt, revert to mirrors. For a small living space,Australian design firm Cordony opted for mirrored panels across an entire wall, which doubled the size of the room. Mirrors can work like clever optical illusions.

10 of 27

Trick Your Eye

Small living room design with daybed and nesting tables

Design: Fantastic Frank

This trick is one you've probably never even considered before, but it's a total game-changer. Opt for a sofa with legs and no upholstery on the base. It will visually open up the room, advises Natale.

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Incorporate Multifunctional Furniture

Repurposed vintage and existing furniture in small living room

Design: Amber Interiors Design Studio, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

In a small living room, the more uses each piece of furniture can serve, the better. "Make an ottoman work double time by placing a tray on it and [turning it into] a coffee table when you don't need it as a seat," says Natale.

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Layer, Layer, Layer

small space living room with black and white rug and yellow chair

Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel

A thoughtful mix of furniture and décor in varying styles and finishes adds depth and coziness to any space—not to mention it seriously ramps up the style factor. "If you fill a room with things you love you can't go wrong," says Humphrey.

13 of 27

Go Minimalist

Minimalist small living room with black and white furniture

Design: Pella Hedeby

The key to minimalism is to find your style, stick to it, and then edit. Designer Christine Gachot says, "My home is edited with a capital E. I live in a constant state of chaos with my schedule, so I need to be organized and to live minimally (shoe collection aside). This is about small spaces. Be thoughtful and precise."

14 of 27

Whiten Your Walls

Small Living Room

Design: Ginny Macdonald, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

When it comes to wall color, each of our experts recommended a neutral palette with white walls and ceilings to visually brighten a room and make it appear larger. If the bleached-out look isn't your flavor, Natale suggests adding pops of color through soft furnishings, accessories, and artwork.

15 of 27

Play With Gray

Gray living room with gray sofa and wooden coffee table

Design: Fantastic Frank

If you're keen to ditch white completely, go gray instead. Stringer loves Benjamin Moore HC 173 Edgecomb Gray as a "great neutral with undertones that work with most spaces."

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Incorporate Wallpaper

Printed wallpaper and colorful throw pillows in a small living room

 Design: Katherine Carter

Feel free to forgo paint altogether and add use a removable wallpaper instead. Whether you opt to do an accent wall, or wallpaper the whole room, Cordony says it will layer the space with texture.

17 of 27

Edit Yourself

Small-space living room design tips

Design: Stefani Stein, Photo: Tessa Neustadt

Ensuring that everything in your small living room works together comes down to careful and constant curating. Natale says you need to "step back at every stage of your design and assess its effect, particularly in terms of balance and contrast."

18 of 27

Organize Your Clutter

Colorful small living room with organized clutter

 Design: Dazey Den

If you live by the motto that "more is more," an edited space won't appeal. Stringer says "clutter is good as long as it is organized," so group like items together (think baskets for magazines). Organize your items into vignettes so the clutter feels more cohesive.

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Make Sure Furniture Fits

Small space living room with white desk and bamboo sofa

Design: Blue Copper Design, Photo: Life Created 

Most importantly, "make sure your furniture fits through the front door, in the elevator, and up the stairs," says Gachot. "If it can't turn the corner in your walk-up, then it's probably not going to fit in your studio. I learned this one the hard way—twice." Noted.

20 of 27

Take Risks

small living room with sloped ceiling and Eames lounge

Design: Katie Martinez

If you're feeling hesitant, Andrews wants you to ditch the fear. "Don't be afraid to try something and take a risk with styling," he says. "Go for the unexpected, take a look, and then edit."

21 of 27

Be Practical

L-shaped sofa in a small space living room

 Design: Dazey Den

Even if you love occasional seating, a big comfy sofa will probably be the most practical in a small living room. "You can always bring in a chair or two from the dining room when you have extra people over," Humphrey suggests.

I always recommend buying the absolute biggest sofa that will fit in the space, because if you're anything like me, chances are that's where you'll spend most of your time lounging around.

22 of 27

Think About How You Like to Relax

Small space living room with a gray sofa and two end tables

Design: Coco Lapline Design 

If you like to lounge across a sofa, filling your small-space living room with armchairs may not be the best idea in the long-term. So be sure to purchase furniture that suits your needs. "It's no fun trying to stretch out on a loveseat," Humphrey says.

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Dark small living room

 Design: Becca Interiors 

“I love dark, glossy walls in a small room to create a sense of drama and intimacy," Andrews admits. There's something so dreamy about living room swathed in a darker shade and we love the look of a dramatic navy. After all, what's more relaxing than the color of a night sky?

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Add a Mirror

Small living room with a mirror above the mantle

Design: Bespoke Only, Photo: Nicole Franzen

According to feng shui experts, mirrors can double what's in front of them, so using a mirror (or two) in your small space living room can instantly make it feel bigger. "If you can't panel the whole wall, hang large mirrors on the walls, ideally opposite a window or door to reflect the light," Cordony advises.

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Ask the Right Questions

Smal living room with three different types of seating and a black coffee table

Design: Katie Hodges Design 

Natale suggests asking a few questions about your space and how you live to make sure there's a balance of light, color, and texture. A few key ones include: Is there too much of something or not enough of another? Is a particular color or shape dominating the space without enough highlights or drama, or conversely, does the room look bland? 

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Know Your Style

Small living room with grey furniture

Photo: Julia Robbs

"Each person should recognize his or her individual lifestyle needs and then commit to a simple vision that suits it," Gachot advises. Don't outfit your space in trends if those specific styles don't appeal to your personal taste. Be sure to purchase pieces that make you feel happy and at home.

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Size Matters

Small living room with teal sofa and patterned rug

Design: Katie Martinez Design

Make sure you don't choose furniture for one specific home because, if you love it, you'll want to bring it with you to your next home. "Purchase pieces that will grow with you one day into a larger home, or your next pied-à-terre," Gachot says. Before you decide on a piece, make sure it's not too big or too small so that it will work in your future home.

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