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A living room is one of the trickiest spaces in a home to design, if not the trickiest. So many elements come into play, from creating features for relaxation at the end of the day to thinking about how you’ll entertain when guests are over, too. If your living room happens to be on the small side, then oh boy; you might feel even more frustrated as you attempt to come up with the best, most functional layout.
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Everyone makes design mistakes, but living rooms can be especially problematic because there’s just so much going on in them. For that reason, I asked five designers for their top tips on how to make every corner and cranny of a living room count. Feel free to borrow their ideas as you set out to level up your living room layout — I know I’m going to.
To make a living room look balanced and harmonious, choose a focal point to arrange your furniture around. This can be a fireplace, TV, or another architectural feature, as designer Cristina Lehman of C.LehmanHome says. Designer Amy Leferink of Interior Impressions says to consider a piece of artwork as well.
Amy Peltier, founder and creative director of Amy Peltier Interior Design & Home, is partial to using a rug as a focal point. “Use a rug to start as the foundation to group your furniture pieces around,” she says. “This way, all the pieces have a common connection to each other. Keep in mind that the rug needs to go at least under the front legs of the sofa or sectional. If not, then it will be too small.”
This one may seem a little obvious, but according to designers, it’s always worth mentioning at the beginning of any decorating project. To achieve the best layout for any living room, measuring correctly is critical. “Make sure to measure and buy appropriately-sized furniture,” Lehman says. “A sofa that is too big or small for a space will make the entire space feel off.”
When first or rearranging a room, you can take the whole measuring process a step further by using painters tape to block out major pieces. This will help you get a sense of the flow without any heavy lifting. You can also use cardboard or paper cutouts of the pieces as well, which can be even easier to rejigger and change up on a whim than taped outlines.
Your living room should be a place where conversation flows easily, and that can be achieved with abundant seating options for guests, even if your space is diminutive. “Make sure you are providing enough seating in your living room that does not disrupt the flow of the space but provides enough seating for gatherings,” says designer Fanny Abbes, creative director and co-founder of The New Design Project.
Leferink recommends having a main furniture piece, such as a large sofa or sectional, paired with accent chairs and stools that can be used as additional seats. Stools in particular can be a genius way to bring extra seating to a room because they’re such space-savers. “I love adding stools to a living room to provide additional seating when you have larger groups,” says designer Alexandra Kaehler. “When you have just a few friends over, they make a great ottoman or can be tucked away really easily.” Look for something stackable if you’re really short on square footage.
Choose double-duty furniture as much as possible
Whether you have a spacious living room or one that’s teeny-tiny, you should always aim for multifunctional furniture — you know, items that provide two or even three different functions. For example, Abbes says an upholstered ottoman with a hollow interior compartment can serve as a coffee table but also conceal everyday living room items such as throws and pillows. If you prefer a real-deal coffee table, simply pick one with shelving or drawers so it’s still serving that secondary purpose of storage. Peltier agrees. “Coffee tables can take up huge amounts of living room real estate, so it’s really important to maximize their function,” she says. “When you buy a coffee table that has two levels or has drawers, you can get all those games, photo albums, and coasters underneath without cluttering the surface.”
You might want to consider a sofa with a pull-out bed for this same reason. That way, you can use your living room to comfortably sleep a person or two when you have overnight company. Other double-duty pieces to consider might be a trunk as a table, a bench with cubbies for storage, or a console table behind your sofa that you can pull stools or ottomans up to and use as a surface to serve or eat.
Don’t overfill the room
“Sometimes less is more,” Leferink says. “A lot of people want to overcrowd their spaces with too much furniture or decor,” which is a recipe for a clogged living room layout.
Beyond limiting the sheer number of items in your living room, the scale of the pieces you pick matters for creating visual harmony, too. “Ensure you are buying furniture that is proportional to the space to create a functional flow throughout the room,” Abbes says. “For example, if you are working with a small layout and you purchase a sofa that is too large, it could look unbalanced and not functional in the space.”
Relatedly, designers say you’ll also want to keep the traffic flow around your decided pieces in mind. “Ensure ample walking space around furniture pieces,” Lehman says, adding that a minimum of two-and-a-half to three feet of border space between items is ideal for being able to navigate around furniture safely and easily.
Make the most of your walls
It’s always worth working your blank wall space to get more out of your living room setup. Even if you live in a rental and are a little squeamish about putting holes in your walls, you can find semi-permanent solutions with things like 3M command hooks, battery-operated lights, and no nails photo rails. “Utilize your living room wall space for shelving, entertainment, and lighting to maximize your floor layout if you are working with a small space,” Abbes recommends.