Design Tips for Small Living Rooms

Originally posted on November 04, 2022 3:00 pm
Updated on October 24, 2022 10:42 pm

All New Yorkers know that urban living comes with a lot of trade-offs. In exchange for easy access to some of the world’s best museums, restaurants, business centers, and cultural institutions, we have to sacrifice natural greenery, a hefty chunk of our paycheck, and, of course, our dreams of having a cavernous banquet hall as a sitting room. But the quality of your parlor is not defined by its square footage—and, with a few designer’s tricks, it’s easy to maximize the aesthetic appeal and functionality of even the most “fun-sized” living rooms. 

Space-Saving Tips

There are plenty of cosmetic illusions that can be used to make your living room appear larger than it is. But, on a base level, the best way to maximize the space in your living room is to be very deliberate in selecting the furniture and accents you choose to include.

Multi-purpose furniture items can be incredibly useful when it comes to conserving space. If you can find a piece of furniture that can replicate the function of one or even two other items, you can sometimes get away with filling your apartment with less stuff overall. For example, if you need a comfortable place to get some work done but don’t have room for a desk, you could try using an adaptable couch workstation like the one pictured above. When you’re finished working, it can easily be tipped over and used as an accent table. 

This coffee table can be elevated to double as a dining table, allowing your living room to also function as a dining room. The space that otherwise would have been used to house a separate dining table is thus left free for other furniture. 

If you enjoy hosting dinners for large groups of friends and a regular-sized kitchen table isn’t going to cut it, you can always invest in an expanding table like the one above. These can be adjusted to accommodate large dinner crowds as needed and then condensed afterward to a much more manageable size.

Another option is to use wall space to “store” furniture, as demonstrated by this ingenious unfolding desk suspended from the wall. When your horizontal square footage is scarce, it’s crucial to get as much bang for your buck as possible from your apartment’s vertical real estate.

If you want to get the perfect viewing angle on your television but cramming in a table or entertainment console to support it would block traffic flow, mounting your TV to the wall is a great way to free up floor space and make your living room easier to navigate.

Nesting furniture can be an excellent way to maximize the flexibility of your furniture while minimizing its footprint. The nesting tables above are both convenient and effortlessly chic and can easily be condensed when the need arises.

It’s helpful to have lots of seating options at your disposal when hosting guests, but unpleasant to have too many chairs cluttering up your living space on a day-to-day basis. Finding furniture that allows you to store your seats creatively, such as this nesting ottoman, will do wonders to conserve space. 

For a slightly less high-tech option, you can look for chairs that nest perfectly inside your dinner table. This creates a quaint breakfast nook that seamlessly compresses to free up the surrounding area.

Try to avoid floor and table lamps as much as possible, as these fixtures take up floor space that could be used for other furniture. Instead, opt for overhead lighting to illuminate your home. Experiment with different hanging fixtures to find what best fits the aesthetic of your living room!

Be sure to pick the furniture based on the actual needs of your household. If you’re living with your partner and don’t particularly like hosting gatherings, you can save space and money by investing in a cute two-person dining nook.

Storage Tips

Half of the battle of space-saving is devising clever ways to store your belongings and knick-knacks while maintaining a streamlined look and avoiding cluttering your home. 

Making use of your vertical storage space is key. This full-wall shelf takes this idea to the furthest extreme and effortlessly succeeds in combining beauty with functionality in the process. 

If you want to utilize every square inch of your wall space, make sure that you invest the real estate above your door frame! These high shelves aren’t accessible enough for everyday storage but can be used to stash seasonal clothing or other goods that you won’t need to reach regularly.

While not ideal for all items, open-edged floating shelves can lend your living room a more modern feel while blocking less light than their bulkier counterparts.

Shelves are not the only method for storing belongings on your walls. Racks and hooks can be used to keep large, cumbersome items such as bicycles, skateboards, and sports equipment off the floor where they can easily be tripped over. If you’re using this method to store heavier items, make sure that you have a professional assess your wall’s weight-bearing capabilities.

When picking out furniture, keep an eye out for items with built-in storage space, like these adorable wire stools whose hollow centers can be used to stash pillows and blankets. Every square inch counts!

Even the room underneath your coffee table can be worth its weight in gold. Keep an eye out for pieces like this one that includes deep pockets of separate storage. This especially comes in handy when you must de-clutter quickly before guests arrive.

An old-fashioned steamer trunk can serve as a fascinating statement piece, a comfy seat, and even a coffee table—all with the bonus of incredible amounts of storage space. Load yours full of blankets, winter wear, or linens to keep it lighter and easier to maneuver.

Minimalism is a beautiful ideal to aspire to, but it’s an aesthetic that not everyone enjoys and can realistically achieve—especially the sentimental packrats among us. Instead of resigning yourself to endless cycles of purging your trinkets and memorabilia, invest in extra shelving and turn the act of organizing into a work of art. For example, try sorting your books by color to create an eye-catching display!

If regular shelving options feel boring to you, a ladder shelf provides a playful substitute that can take up even less floor space than a traditional shelving unit.

As another alternative to wall shelving, consider employing some hanging baskets to create an eye-catching and less utilitarian storage option for lightweight items.

If you have the space for it, an entertainment console can be a solid investment for the extra storage it provides. The age of streaming makes it easy to cram its cubbies with household essentials rather than DVDs and old Blu-Ray players. 

You can even take this idea further by repurposing a bookshelf to install your TV. This “mega console” will further maximize your storage opportunities and help separate your living room area from your kitchen. 

Moveable shelving units can be an excellent and flexible storage solution. If you want to free up space for exercise or hide excess clutter before guests arrive, you can wheel your shelf into a bedroom or private area. 

At the end of the day, don’t let yourself be tricked into believing that less is always more. Your friends won’t care how adorable your minimalist living room is if it doesn’t provide enough seating to comfortably accommodate everyone at the party. Go ahead and buy that big, comfy couch if you want to—and remember that your apartment should be pleasant to live in and look at.

Layout/Design Tips

Even if you’re not in a position to acquire nesting furniture or explore versatile storage solutions, there are still ways to work with what you have to make your apartment feel more spacious! Some involve the careful arrangement of your furniture, while others rely on clever illusions.

Many smaller apartments make use of an open floor plan, so it can often be helpful to strategically place your furniture to help designate separate areas within your combined kitchen/living room. For example, sectional couches can be very useful when blocking out the borders of your living room.

Another option is to place your couch with its back toward the kitchen, which serves to both create a clear separation as well as make it easier to focus on the movie playing on the TV without being distracted by what’s happening in the kitchen.

The placement of shelves can be used as a handy, natural-looking way to separate different areas and provide extra privacy.

If your apartment’s layout includes any irregular bump-outs or cubbies, turn them into a snug little alcove rather than viewing them as an inconvenience! These areas have an inherent coziness factor that you can embrace to create a comfy living room hideaway.

Color blocking is another useful trick for delineating different areas of your home. For example, the white, gray, and beige color palette of this kitchen sets it apart from the bright blue couch and other vibrant living room pieces.

Alternately, some designers prefer to stick with a single color throughout the living room/kitchen area to make the room feel more cohesive and thus appear a little bit larger. This cream and wicker living area correspond beautifully with the matching kitchen behind it.

Specific colors can be more useful than others in interior design. The color white is often used by interior designers to create a clean, fresh look that can make apartments feel a bit roomier. The color white reflects light very well, which also serves to brighten up your living space—and, as a bonus, it pairs well with almost any accent color.  

This principle also applies to flooring. While pairing a dark floor and light walls can create an interesting contrast, adding a white or neutral rug to the space will allow the room to feel more open.

Once you have your furniture in place, it’s important to consider how you plan to fill the blank canvas of your apartment. When decorating, going with a few large, expressive pieces can sometimes be the best way to add a bit of extra pop to the space without overwhelming the eyes. 

On the other hand, filling your walls with as much art as possible can also be a great way to fill your living area with pizazz and personality. Just be sure that you’re being intentional with how you curate your artwork: if your collection looks haphazard and disjointed, it will make the room feel cluttered and smaller than it is. To compromise, consider filling a single “accent wall” and leaving the other walls empty.

If you prefer not to hang anything on your walls, either as an aesthetic choice or to avoid spackling nail holes after your lease ends, patterned wallpaper is another excellent way to add visual interest to your living room. You can use a subtle pattern that magnetically draws the eye or a loud, flashy design that will make an outsized impact.

If you’ve got a green thumb, house plants match almost any aesthetic and can also serve to make your living space feel more open and inviting. 

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Tall curtains can produce the illusion that your ceilings are higher than they are. To heighten this effect, install them as close as possible to where your wall meets the ceiling rather than just above your window frame. Go with sheer curtains to ensure that your living room continues to receive as much natural light as possible. 

A low-lying sofa can also make your ceilings appear much higher. Playing with different furniture levels can also add more depth and texture to the space.

Carefully-placed mirrors can also create the effect that your apartment is deceptively large. For best results, use a single large mirror rather than a scattering of smaller ones. It also helps if you can find a mirror with a smaller frame and place it opposite a window or another light source that it can reflect.

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