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How to Design and Lay Out a Small Living Room

Updated on June 26, 2016
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

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Every small living space offers design challenges. While it's important to make all of the rooms in your home functional, the living room is especially key because many people spend a lot of their time at home in the living room. From selecting furniture that is an appropriate scale for the space to maximizing hidden storage solutions to strategically placing a mirror to add depth and light, there are an extensive range of practical and easily attainable design ideas that will help you create the living room of your dreams in your small space.

The small round tables work beautifully in front of the couch but can be moved to provide table space or even seating elsewhere in the room.
The small round tables work beautifully in front of the couch but can be moved to provide table space or even seating elsewhere in the room. | Source
The trunk serves as a coffee table and storage piece while adding a funky vintage touch to the living room.
The trunk serves as a coffee table and storage piece while adding a funky vintage touch to the living room. | Source

Select furniture to fit the existing space

Determine scale and configuration

When you're working with a compact living room, large scale furniture often isn't an option. Be realistic about the space. For example, if an oversized recliner won't fit, choose a pair of smaller chairs. Many people also get hung up on common furniture configurations. For example, nothing says that you need a full sized sofa in your living room. A love seat paired with a bench and an armchair may work more naturally in your space.

Think multifunctional

Choosing multifunctional pieces will also make the most of your living room. For example, a bench with storage will provide seating while housing pillows and blankets. A coffee table or console table makes a great addition to a living room but only when it makes sense for the space. Your small living room may be better suited for two small tables that open up the space and can be moved as needed to accommodate different functions.

Consider floating furniture and low seating

Floating furniture and low seating can make all the difference when it comes to keeping the space open and flowing. Design a floating furniture arrangement in the center of the room instead of pushing pieces up against the walls. Install shelves and other built-in components off the floor to create the illusion of space. If you choose low seating, select pieces that don't distract from the focal statement in the room. For example, a pair of low stools in front of the mantel will keep the fireplace as the focus of the living room.

Placing the globe and plant on top of the suitcases pulls the display together. No one will ever know that you use the suitcases as storage.
Placing the globe and plant on top of the suitcases pulls the display together. No one will ever know that you use the suitcases as storage. | Source
The wall length built-in keeps this narrow living room streamlined and clutter free.
The wall length built-in keeps this narrow living room streamlined and clutter free. | Source

Consider hidden storage

Concealed storage is a great way to house items in the living room without creating a cluttered space. Furniture pieces that boast concealed storage, such as an ottoman with built-in storage, are a great option. You may also want to consider decor pieces that do double duty as storage, such as colorful baskets or jars. Are you having a hard time finding concealed storage pieces that don't take up a ton of floor space? Think about biting the bullet and devoting a single wall to built-in storage. To further streamline the storage, keep your items in the built-in hidden behind doors or curtains.

40 Simple Living Room Storage Ideas | Grig Stamate

The living room layout showcases the focal fireplace and mantel.
The living room layout showcases the focal fireplace and mantel. | Source

Create a focal point

A focal point is an ideal way to draw people into a space while making it more uplifting and even sophisticated. Think about focusing your living room around a fireplace, sofa, coffee table, artwork, or mirror. Once you've settled on your focal point, design the rest of the living room around your statement piece to pull the entire look together.

Plants add visual interest and depth while keeping a room fresh and inviting.
Plants add visual interest and depth while keeping a room fresh and inviting. | Source
The mirrors reflect the whole space, making it appear larger, while bringing more natural light into the room.
The mirrors reflect the whole space, making it appear larger, while bringing more natural light into the room. | Source

Add light and depth

Small living rooms with flat features and dark corners look dreary, even when they boast unique furniture and wall hangings. Maximize the natural light in the room, and don't be afraid to add artificial light sources as well. You'll bring even more light and depth into your compact living room with wallpaper and strategically placed mirrors and plants. Purely decorative mirrors still pack a visual punch and draw extra light into the space.

How To Create a Beautiful Starburst Mirror - DIY Home Tutorial | Guidecentral English

The lamp, seat cushion, and desk items bring color to the small office area of the living room without overwhelming the space.
The lamp, seat cushion, and desk items bring color to the small office area of the living room without overwhelming the space. | Source
The floral theme ties the colored items in the room together.
The floral theme ties the colored items in the room together. | Source

Don't be afraid of color

Many people steer clear of color in small living rooms, believing that it will overwhelming the space. While there is nothing wrong with designing a small living room that features neutral shades, color can be used to make the space appear larger. Select a color scheme with a maximum of three shades to create a unified aesthetic. If you want to use additional colors, incorporate them as accents. Typically lighter shades make a space look larger, but careful use of darker shades takes the style and drama in the room up a notch.

When you paint a small living room, select a satin or semigloss finish to reflect the light. If you want to tie the color scheme in the room together without painting or buying new furniture, consider an area rug. Layer a rug over carpeting to make the room feel more cozy or conceal dark flooring with a brightly colored rug to lighten up a dark space.

Placing the curtain rod right below the ceiling and hanging curtains that go all the way to the floor makes the ceilings appear higher.
Placing the curtain rod right below the ceiling and hanging curtains that go all the way to the floor makes the ceilings appear higher. | Source
This set of floating shelves draw the eye up while adding room for knick knacks in otherwise wasted corner space.
This set of floating shelves draw the eye up while adding room for knick knacks in otherwise wasted corner space. | Source

Take advantage of vertical space

Build up instead of out to maximize the available space. When you hang curtains, place the curtain rods right below the ceiling. Then choose curtains that extend all the way to the floor to make the ceiling look higher. If you're selecting art or other wall hangings, consider designing a gallery wall or choosing a few large pieces that fill the whole space. Do you have an odd nook that currently serves little or no purpose in the living room? Think about constructing shelves to simultaneously add storage and draw the eye upward.

Finally, creating the ideal flow for your small living room is an ongoing process. It often takes weeks, or even months, of living with a living room arrangement to determine what is and isn't working. Don't be afraid to keep making tweaks and adjusting the layout until you find a arrangement that suits you and your family.

Do you have other ideas for designing or laying out a compact living room space? Feel free to share them in the comments!

© 2016 Rose Clearfield

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    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 9 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub!

      I enjoyed going through your tips and suggestions to design and lay out a small living room. Using the place below staircase is a very nice idea. Very attractive pictures to complement your interesting and useful hub.

      Thanks for sharing!

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