I can identify when I started to reconsider the design of the living room. There I was, standing in my new, empty apartment. Every austere wall in the living room felt like it was crumbling, making the very limited space feels smaller by the second. Wow, this living room is tiny and impossible, I thought. But after standing there for several minutes, I had a realization: the coin was not missing. It was a flurry of opportunities to get creative with my decor. That’s when I started to dive deep into small living room ideas that would make the most of my space.
Truth be told, many of us fall into a living room rut. (The TV goes there, sofa there, lamps on the side…) But space limitations, so often present in urban apartments and small houses, can trigger a wave of creativity. A compact piece challenges you to consider and honor every inch of land you have. “Small spaces require a little more thought and planning, especially multi-functional spaces, like a living room,” says a San Francisco-based interior designer. Regan Baker. “It’s important that the room is welcoming and comfortable, given the space constraints, but also because it’s so multi-functional and heavily used.”
So where do you start when tackling the living room when space is at a premium? Baker believes you start by considering function, flow and proportion in the room. And as several other interior designers discuss below, it’s important to lean in and have fun with what you have. Stick with me as I reveal these designers’ top 10 modern small living room ideas to implement in your home. As you will see, with a few tips and tweaks, limited space can actually be a catalyst for your interior design dreams.
Idea #1: Embrace Built-In Features
Photo above courtesy of Design by Regan Baker.
Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was known for the fluidity and functionality he breathed into his homes. Much of this came from his love of shelving and built-in seating. This tactic is a giant victory in a small space in the eyes of Regan Baker. According to the interior designer and founder of Regan baker design. Plus, the built-ins “bring more texture into the space rather than a standout piece that looks like another ornate piece of furniture,” she says.
Idea #2: Honor every anchor
Photo above courtesy of Karen Harautuneian of Hub of the Studio House.
Consideration is the gold mine of all positive decorating decisions. It means that we must love and appreciate what we choose to have in our homes. This approach is essential when space is limited, implores Karen Harautuneian of Hub of the Studio House. “Every piece of furniture should be both comfortable and usable,” she says of a small living room. “Always start with a solid, simple space plan that includes the major anchor pieces, then build around those pieces.” In the case of Harautuneian, these “anchor pieces” include a sofa, an ottoman and a wardrobe.
Idea #3: Encourage flow with less furniture
It’s a common mistake: trying to make up for the lack of space with extra furniture. Although it may seem like the right decision, it restricts the flow and makes the room look smaller, says Regan Baker. “Too much furniture, or one object that’s too big or too small in the room, can really alter the overall feel of a home and whether or not it’s inviting,” she says. “The real goal of an ideal living room, regardless of size, is for it to be inviting and free-flowing for all the functions it hosts,” Baker continues. So rethink that extra table and consider the negative space a worthy accessory.
Idea #4: Embrace a Simple Color Palette
Photo above by Kate Zimmerman Turpin.
When it comes to small living rooms, simplicity is a plus. This goes for the shades on the walls and the color of decorative accessories. Simple is the ticket, believe Harautunian, which favors natural tones in small living rooms. “In my living room, the palette of rugs, fabrics and leather was derived from the natural wood tones of the pine wall panels, bird’s eye maple nesting tables and side table made from wooden hatboxes. stacked antiques,” she tells us. A side note: Simple can mean concentrated, rich tones, such as deep greens or purples. Just try to keep them flowing and complementary to each other.
Idea #5: Plan Plan
This is where the complacency comes in: it’s common to think that a living room designs itself, with the sofa against the wall, the coffee table in front, etc. Truth be told, a well-designed living room starts with taking a close look at the space. Layout planning is “imperative”, implores Amy Youngblood, lead designer and owner of Interiors of Amy Youngblood. Considering flow and size will help you determine which furniture to choose for a modern small living room. “It will also prevent costly mistakes when shopping for furniture,” says Youngblood. You can draw the part on a sheet of paper or get more technical using design software such as autocad.
Idea #6: Incorporate stunning curtains
Photo above courtesy of Butler Armsden Architects; design in collaboration with Design by Katie Martinez.
Not just any curtains, of course. Consider floor-to-ceiling window treatments in sheer fabrics. The reason for the length is that it gives a small living room more height, says Trisha Snyder of Butler Armsden Architects, and organically invites the eyes to look up (proving that there is always more to appreciate in a space). This tactic also lights up a room, adds Snyder. It allows natural rays to shine through and envelop a smaller room.
Idea #7: Bring multifunctionality
If there’s a rallying cry for the design and decor trends of 2022, it’s that multifunctionality is king. We work, play and relax where we live, so each piece should have a nuanced purpose. In small living rooms, aim for each large piece to have a dual role. Regan Baker is a big fan of incorporating large ottomans that double as ottomans and can be stored under a coffee table. She echoes the sentiment of built-ins, stating that a built-in shelf can double as a desk in a small living room. And feel free to consider using a large coffee table as a place to dine. Karen Harautuneian shares these sentiments: “Every piece of furniture should accommodate both larger group gatherings and solo moments, like getting your feet up after a long, satisfying day.”
Idea #8: Maximize seating and lighting
Photo above courtesy of Amy Youngblood Interiors.
Even though a smaller living room offers less linear space, there are still plenty of opportunities to work with vertical real estate. Amy Youngblood likes to do this by having seats maximized for various activities, which means everything from flat surfaces for drinks to comfortable places to relax. Regan Baker expands on this idea by incorporating layered lighting that supports the multiple functions of the living room.
Idea #9: Think outside the box (sofa)
Photo above by Nikola Ramsay.
You might be inclined to think you need a big sofa, but think again, suggests Amy Youngblood. She notes that when living room space is limited, you can skip an entire section and select a medium or small sofa. You can even pull yourself off the couch completely and bring along a lounge chair or set of accent chairs “for a better outing,” she says.
Idea #10: Add concentrated doses of color
Photo above courtesy of Design by Regan Baker.
While sticking to tip #4, you can still incorporate punches in bright colors. Amy Youngblood believes that concentrated doses work wonders for small salons. She recommends adding pops of color via vibrant artwork, pillows and accessories. “It will make your space look bigger while incorporating color,” adds Youngblood. In his home in San Francisco, Regan Baker takes a similar approach (see above), adding doses of yellow via artwork on the walls.
Do you like to decorate but you lack space? Share which of these game-changing tips you’ll bring home.