Published on January 16, 2020

Bland, cramped, and messy: three words you definitely don’t want to describe your living room. But when you’re dealing with limited square footage, not much storage, and low natural light, a white box apartment can be discouraging to decorate. Making a lounge feel layered and inviting is a whole lot easier with lots of windows, sky-high ceilings, sweeping vistas, and cavernous proportions. 

But even the darkest, smallest nooks can be brimming with potential—that is if you know what to do with them. The trick is to play up a small room’s features instead of going against them. Have short ceilings? Highlight them. Is it too dark? Go ultra-cozy. No space for furniture? Build it in. Here are nine small living room ideas that just may show you how much unrealized potential your tiny area really has.

Go Dark

Small living room with navy walls and citrine sofaPin It
Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Designers know that swathing a room in a dark hue doesn’t really make a space feel smaller—it just gives it purpose. If your living area doesn’t get much natural light, painting your walls navy, like Christina Bryant did in her Manhattan pad, will dial up the hygge so much that you’ll forget all about your lack of sunshine and square footage.

Pile on the Pillows

Small living room with pitched roof and multiple pillowsPin It
Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

One benefit that small spaces have is that they can feel incredibly snug. This is precisely the reason we all loved building forts and pillow tents as kids. Replicate that feeling in your small living room by layering rugs, pillows, and blankets to create a cocoon feel, as in Thomas O’Brien’s Bellport, New York, home.

Keep Storage Low and Seamless

Small living room with red chairs and blue sofaPin It
Photography by Trevor Smith

What Emily Farnham’s Los Angeles living room lacks in square footage it makes up for in wow factor. The narrow room (which also features a pass-through hallway on one end) was optimized with a long, low-slung cabinet that blends into the wall and continues into the next room. Suddenly, the TV on the hallway wall feels intentional and there’s no bulky furniture blocking the passageway. Bonus: Closet-to-the-ground storage makes ceilings seem taller.

Draw the Eye Up

Small living room with glossy ceiling and coral chairsPin It
Courtesy of Studio DB

What’s the best way to distract from four walls closing in on you? Just look up. Take a note from this New York City living room by Studio DB, which draws the eye toward the sky with a glossy lacquered ceiling and a statement six-branch chandelier. 

Customize Your Furniture

Small living room with built-in bookcase and seatPin It
Photography by Trevor Smith

This nook in Malia Mau’s Topanga, California, home exhibits precisely what a well-considered small space looks like: built-in furniture, simple accents, oversize art, and lots of natural light. Incorporating a bookcase into a small two-seater sofa saves a few inches and makes the most of the tiny (and otherwise unusable) corner.

Make the Most of Your Floor

Small living room with floor pillows and bookcasePin It
Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

If your room only allows for a small love seat but you like having people over for game night or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel marathons, XL floor pillows and a plush rug (à la Michelle Dopp) provide a great way to improvise extra seating at a moment’s notice. 

Keep Seating Arms Slim

Small living room with Hans Wegner sofa and floor pillowsPin It
Photography by Jason Frank Rothenberg

One of the easiest ways to save a few inches when furnishing a small living room is to cut down on bulky seating arms. Take the Hans Wegner sofa in Serena Mitnik-Miller’s Topanga Hills home. A single seat cushion and a slim wood frame keep things streamlined. 

Stick to a Monochrome Color Palette

Small living room with white linen sofaPin It
Photography by Julien Fernandez

Too many colors can feel overwhelming in a limited space, so if you’re going for a serene feel, do as Camille Boillot did in her Burgundy, France, home and stick to a palette of two to three hues. She opted for white, gray, and light wood tones, but any combination can work as long as you keep it restrained. 

Add Something Off-Scale

Small living room with cane sofa and bookcasePin It
Photography by Yoshihiro Makino

One of the easiest ways to throw off a room’s small scale is to add something oversize. In the case of Liz Gardner’s Minneapolis home, tall branches of pampas grass and a three-light hanging alabaster chandelier give the space a larger-than-life allure that distracts from its small scale.

Discover more stories like these:
3 Small Living Room Layouts That’ll Inspire You to Downsize
One Open-Plan Living Room, Four Different Layouts
3 Ways to Live Large in Your Studio Apartment (No Matter the Size)

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