Home Decor

15 Clever Design Ideas to Maximize a Small Living Room

Short on space, not on things.

April 20, 2021
Photo by Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photography

Let me make one thing clear: Living in a small space does not have to prevent you from enjoying all of the fun decor possibilities you’ve been keeping up your sleeve. So if you’ve been swooning over living rooms left and right and worry that you won’t be able to recreate the looks you love in your own apartment, I’m here to prove you wrong. Rather, minimal square footage just means that getting a little creative is key—it doesn’t mean you can’t showcase your personality, collections, or love of entertaining.

Not sure where to get started? Take a look at the 15 spaces below, all of which feature clever styling ideas for small living rooms and look quite chic, too.

1. Add a Pouf (Or Two)

Tucking a leather pouf underneath a coffee table is a great way to add warmth and texture to a space while also maximizing functionality—hello, instant extra seating for guests! There’s no need to keep folding chairs stashed away in a closet when you can find a solution as pretty as this one.

2. Bring Your Dresser Out of the Bedroom

If a beloved dresser doesn’t fit in the bedroom, why not use it as a non-traditional console table or media stand? This is an excellent way to infuse personality into a living room without sacrificing precious storage. Plus, this green dresser adds a lovely pop of color!

3. Go for Trunk as a Table

Having trouble sourcing a coffee table that fits your aesthetic or budget? Why not opt for a trunk instead. Trunks add a storied, vintage touch to any space while providing a place to store blankets, board games, and other living room essentials.

4. Take Advantage of Behind-the-Couch Space

Placing a wide table behind the sofa creates visual interest in a small space—and allows for additional styling possibilities. The piece you choose doesn’t need to be anything too bold; here, a simple, neutral find really shines.

5. Collect Antique Mirrors

Mirrors will make your space look bigger in a snap, but they don’t have to always be from big-box retailers. Keep an eye out for stylish antique-like finds that add a glam touch. Bonus points if you grab a few different mirrors and layer them to create an artful display.

6. Hang Shelves for Extra Stuff

Hanging shelves make it easy to stash your stuff while also serving as instant wall decor. Go to town showcasing your collections, favorite novels, artwork—you name it.

7. Make the Most of a Small Dining Area

If your living room is also serving as a dining space, make it chic by opting for a round bistro table in lieu of a clunkier option. When you’re not using the table for meals, jazz it up with accents, like a small lamp, to ensure the piece doesn’t constantly scream “kitchen.”

8. Big Plants Actually Work in Small Rooms

So that a small space doesn’t feel too crowded, use a large plant to fill an empty corner rather than crowding the area with excess furniture. You can truly never go wrong adding a green friend to your living room; the aesthetic (and health!) benefits are endless.

9. Try Keeping the Color Palette Cohesive

Decorating with neutrals is always a smart solution in a small space. You can still layer various hues and textures, but a room won’t appear too overwhelming or chaotic because all of the pieces share a common thread.

10. Don’t Forget About Windowsills

Make use of a large windowsill by using it to style a cute vignette that will make you smile every time you see it. All you need are a few books, a fun trinket dish, and a small candle or succulent.

11. Divide the Room

Room dividers work wonders in small spaces. The more intricate and special a piece, the better. The solution will feel artful and clever rather than utilitarian.

12. Try Out Clear Pieces

Acrylic pieces take up minimal visual space and are the perfect choice for small living rooms. Whether you opt for a classic ghost chair, a lucite coffee table, or something else entirely—you can’t really go wrong.

13. Drape Some Ivy

Hanging faux ivy is also a fun way to transform rental walls and make a space feel more lived in. No green thumb, no problem.

14. Make the Bar Cart Do Double Duty

Style your bar cart to serve as a multi-functional display by placing booze on the top shelf and books on the bottom. The end result looks chic and means you can cut back on furniture pieces.

15. Wall Mount Your Books

If you’re installing a bookshelf, why not find an option that you can mount to the wall? This solution ensures that you won’t be surrendering valuable floor space, and better yet, you can really put a small wall to work.

Which of these styling tricks do you (or would you) use in your living room? Tell us if you have any other tips below!

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Sarah Lyon

Written by: Sarah Lyon

Freelance writer and interior design enthusiast

1 Comment

Kim S. April 25, 2021
I've used most of the tips listed in various rental situations. My trunk-as-coffee-table is also my filing cabinet. Other tricks I've used:
* put wheels on it! whether ottoman, small case good, bar cart, kitchen island or coffee table/trunk, caster wheels on certain pieces can make a quick-change rearrangement a breeze in a small space without scratching up the floor! It's possible to use one or two locking wheels so your piece remains securely in place until you want it to move.
* benches and ottomans with storage (there is no "lazy" furniture in my home....every piece has 2 jobs)
* a stack of sturdy decorative boxes as an end table
* nesting pieces (tables, stools or plant stands) allow you to expand and contract your life's activities
* make all your tech pull double duty. 'cast a screen to your TV instead of buying an extra computer monitor. Use smart devices
* wall hooks in strategic places will help reduce clutter or a need for a shelf (key ring near the door, coat hooks for outer wear or umbrellas
* use versatile lighting: start with one or two floor lamps that can serve for general, key and task lighting, then start adding other light sources as your space needs.
* Floor lamps that provide general lighting can also provide some storage/display space (check out etagere-style fixtures).