We’re not afraid to admit that our fascination with small spaces has developed into somewhat of an unhealthy obsession. That’s because, for most city-dwellers and young homeowners, downsizing isn’t just a trendy thing to try—it’s the only option. And while you’ve heard us talk before of tiny living and the savvy space-saving solutions that ensue, rarely do we think about what it’d be like to have the opposite problem.
Okay, so not everyone can relate to having too much space, but when you find yourself in said predicament, making the most of a palatial living room can be just as tricky as maximizing, say, a 100-something-square-foot apartment. Aside from strategizing a furniture layout that feels cohesive and cozy, filling a room with pieces that fit the sheer scale of the space can get pricey. When proportions are off or space isn’t divided properly, a large living area can quickly feel empty and unfinished.
Given this challenge, we asked a handful of interior designers for the lessons they’ve learned when decorating an extra spacious living room. Ahead, five big rooms that master every inch— plus tips for pulling off a similar arrangement in your own roomy abode.
When Genna Margolis of Shapeside learned that her client’s biggest problem was that her breezy Brentwood, CA home was too big, the designer swiftly stepped in with a trove of clever ideas to take advantage of the home’s proportions. “I decided on this layout because the living room needed to function as two spaces—one [area that was] comfortable for watching TV and another part that would accommodate the piano which was an heirloom,” explains Margolis.
While most deem a room formal when they see a piano lurking in the corner, laid-back furnishings give the whole room a more relaxed and casual feel. Keep reading for Margolis’ advice for executing this same scene.
Tie the Room Together With a Rug
“Making a larger room feeling cozy can be achieved by adding rugs. When laying out furniture in a space, you first want to make sure that the majority of the sitting area can fit on the rug. It’s okay if it’s not perfect and the backs of chairs or sofa are not on the rug, but you need a key element to bring all the pieces together.”
Leave 3 ft. Between Divided Living Zones
“If you are dividing your living room into more than one sitting area you need at least three feet of distance between each section. Anything less is too cramped but you also don’t want a ton of space either because it can feel disconnected.”
Function Comes FIrst
“Make sure your layout accommodates the principle reason of why you have it. If it’s to watch TV, arrange the layout around the TV, if it’s around a piano make sure you have the right size pieces to accommodate a piano.”
Cheat with Neutrals
“If you are looking to fill a room with smaller pieces but it’s a large room, I would stick to a completely neutral color palette. You will need more pieces to fill the room but if it’s all neutral it will flow. Pops of color will look over-decorated.”
California-based designer Tracy Lynn and her team at Tracy Lynn Studio recently faced one of their most all-encompassing projects: a 12,000-square-foot home. Yes, you read that right. Given her client’s passion for entertaining, Lynn designated the home’s main living room as a place for conversation and gathering. Bordered on one side by an expansive built-in bookshelf, the space encompasses two separate living areas—one, a large lounge area with a traditional coffee table and another a more intimate conversation area with four accent chairs and a grouping of stumps to set drinks. Here are Lynn’s main takeaways from the project:
Mix and Match Scale and Style
“By adding in different styles of furniture, you add interest, and by making them all connect with a common thread, you are creating unity. For the ‘lounge area’ we made sure that the furniture was comfortable, cozy, and oversized for lounging while watching TV. For the ‘conversation area,’ we made sure to have smaller-scale, more formal chairs for sitting up straight while chatting with guests. This helps make the space feel inviting, and functional when having gatherings that are not revolved around the TV.”
Designate Zones with Lighting
“Use lighting as a way to create separate areas. For example, using a chandelier over a seating area to define the space.”
“Some common clearances include 18” in front of sofas to the coffee table, at least 36” behind sofas and in major walkways to be sure people can get through easily.”
One would never define designer Kate Davis’ edgy, European-inspired apartment in La Cienega as huge. That said, her one-bedroom spread boasts a seriously open living room—a space that required plenty of attention and thought before settling on a layout. With friends constantly rotating through the door, Davis decided on a dual living room set up where the space is divided into two visually independent hangouts. So how exactly did she make her sizable space feel so snug?
Divide and Conquer
“To make a large living room feel cozy, divide the room into separate areas if possible—maybe one smaller area moment next to a larger seating area, or flanking the room with back to back furniture into equal parts.
Don’t Crowd the Room With Clutter
“I would be careful to not over clutter a space just because it’s large. Make sure there is still a nice flow and rhythm in the space and that each selection serves a purpose. Large area rugs, a warmer color palette, nubby textures and plants also add warmth to a large space.”
Having too much floor space is one thing, but add sky-high ceilings on top of that and you have a serious undertaking. Just take it from Homepolish designer Rosa Beltran. When she was hired to overhaul this dreamy Mediterranean-inspired home in Altadena, California, conquering the 30-foot high ceilings was high on her priority list.
“When you have a large cavernous room like this you have to be sure to activate all the space,” shares Beltran. “No TV in the space meant that the seating could be arranged facing each other and not the wall to facilitate conversation and lingering in front of the fireplace.”
Read on for a few of her other tips for maximing tall spaces.
“We used an oversized capiz globe light and a custom designed four-foot lantern in the entry foyer for this. I also searched high and low for the biggest indoor tree I could find to draw the eye up and make the whole space feel utilized!”
Don’t Splurge, Layer
“With respect to area rugs, ideally all four legs of each piece of furniture would sit atop the rug. But, sometimes, to economize, we cheat it and let just the front legs of the sofa or chairs rest on the rug so we can get away with using a smaller size. Or, we layer a more costly rug atop a less expensive solid jute rug.
Think in Pairs
“I also try to be mindful of the flow of foot traffic in a room so that I don’t block the circulation with the back of a sofa or anything. A pair of chairs is a much easier obstacle to step around.”
Natalie Myers is no stranger to suiting up large living spaces. The Cali-based designer has worked with a number of clients who want to fix up mid-century homes, which often boast vast family rooms, large glass doors, and high slanted ceilings. For the living room of this retro ranch in Mandeville Canyon, Myers’ clients knew that they wanted an extra large L-shaped sectional for the family to lounge on.
“The goal was to configure a sectional with a longer side and a shorter side to fit the wall lengths. We were actually able to find what we needed by building a sofa through the pieces available at RH Modern in their family-friendly Perennials fabric. We pushed it against the walls to frame the large planter and left enough floor space for the accent chairs and ottomans.”
In addition to the sofa, the coffee table was also made to be a custom size that was large enough to unite the different sitting zones without leaving too much of a gap in the middle of the room. Ahead, the designer shares a few words of wisdom on mastering a similar footprint.
Provide a Center of Gravity
“When not utilizing a sectional in a large room or having a focal point like a fireplace or TV, I like to cluster a group of variously styled sofas in the middle of a large room to create a more intimate conversational zone.”
Follow the “U” Rule
“Always float the biggest rug you can get your hands on that will fit the room in the center. Then arrange a U-shaped configuration with three sofas or two sofas and two accent chairs. The U-shape keeps one side open for people to seamlessly join the group. Getting the correctly sized coffee table to connect the various furnishings is key.”
Group to Soak Up Space
“A collection of ottomans or low stools that double as side tables helps fill space. Move the eye along different height elevations and keep the arrangement dynamic.”
Where to Shop for Large Furniture
Simply filling an immense space in a way that makes visual sense is not a cheap task. Considering few big-name retailers sell oversized furnishings, most people have to resort to custom pieces. To spare you (and your wallet) the pain of investing in one-of-a-kind furniture, here, the pros share the shops and budget-friendly hacks they swear by:
“Sourcing furniture for large spaces can have its challenges, but there are ways to create a “custom size” look for less,” suggests Lynn. “Using sofas that are armless and putting them together is one option to fill the need for a longer sofa. Also, using sectional pieces to make a longer sofa can work as well.”
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to shop for used pieces. “Mixing styles of sofas and chairs opens up vintage as an option to mix in and save money,” says Myers. “While one or two larger custom pieces lock you in, a collection of smaller pieces lets you play around with different arrangements and offers flexibility to swap in and out as you upgrade piece by piece.”
If you’re working on a tighter budget, Margolis suggests checking out All Modern, Restoration Hardware, or Pottery Barn. “They all offer great sofas of various sizes at amazing prices,” she tells Domino.
Beltran is a big fan of Urban Outfitters and CB2 for affordable, well-designed pieces. “Craigslist and flea markets are my jam,” she adds. “I’m lucky enough to live in LA with some of the best of them going on all the time.”
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