Small Living Room Decorating Ideas

Living Room with Grey Couch

Moving furniture around the room trying to get the design or style that you want? Sometimes when we are decorating we move everything around and then find out when we are finished that there isn’t enough space left to walk through the room. Ugh!!  How the heck did all of this stuff fit in here in the first place anyway?

Need some small living room decorating ideas?

Having a Plan Will Help

Sometimes, especially after painting, we want a completely new look.   I’ve been discussing ideas for choosing the best color of paint, preparation tips, and necessary supplies on previous pages.   With the right plan, you can rearrange all of your furniture one time and know that it will work.  It will take a bit of time to set it up the first time but you’ll be able to use it each time you change your mind and want to rearrange and it won’t seem like such a mega-project.

You’ll need a few items to start:Living Room Plan

  • Graph paper
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Pen or Pencil
  • Ruler or Straight edge

Take the measurements of your room and then use your ruler and mark the room out on your graph paper. You can use each square or 2 squares for each foot of length (or if you want to make it 1 sq per inch, that’s ok too) in your room.  I like to use 2 boxes so if my room is 13 feet wide, then I’ll count out 26 boxes and mark that line close to the edge of my graph paper. This is my first wall, and I’ll continue doing this around each wall until I have a room layout roughly drawn out on my paper.

It’s a good idea to measure and mark out the placement of the doors and windows too.  The measurements are important, especially if you really do have a small living room with walls that are 10 ft or less.

I have found several web pages that talk about decorating a small living room, but the diagrams and photos are of living rooms that appear to be about 12 or 14 ft by 15 to 20 feet.   They have great ideas!  Unfortunately, I was never able to make use of them because my living room was about 10 sq ft, maybe.  ; )

So measure carefully and while it doesn’t have to be exact, you want to be aware of a 6 inch variation because every inch adds up when you don’t have many of them.

Making Paper Models

Now let’s grab another sheet of graph paper and our pen and scissors. We’ll measure out our furniture in the same way. You can measure out the base of each item, but I like to the widest or longest parts.  I don’t bother with trying to be exact with the shapes of each item.  We just want a basic shape, like a rectangle for a couch, and the amount of space that is taken up by the item.  You’ll get the idea.  If it’s an 5’x4″ oval table, then I’ll cut out an oval that is 10 squares long by 8 squares wide.

We want to know how much space we will need for the whole set when it’s in use.  It’s important to make sure that we can walk through the room when we are done, right?  Cut out and label each furniture item in the room.  It will be helpful to have cut-outs for each area rug that you have too.  You can get as detailed as you like by using a colored pencil or marker and marking the approximate color of the item.  This will help to plan the balance of color in the room.

Arrange and Rearrange Until Your Heart is Content

Now that you have all of your paper furniture pieces cut and labeled you can arrange them in your paper room and not be intimidated about trying out different arrangements.   I note the amount of space that each item takes up on the back of each piece of paper and then pay attention to how much space is left for pathways.  You may discover that exchanging a larger chair in the living room with a smaller chair in your bedroom will make a noticeable difference in the available space.

Okay, I know these photos are of different rooms, but can you see a difference in how much perceived space is taken up by the chair here when compared to the other?
The white chair is lighter and allows more light to pass through so it gives the room a feeling of being more spacious.








In between arrangements I store mine paper furniture and room plan in a zip-lock bag so I don’t have to measure each time I rearrange my furniture.  I just pull it out and play around a bit, then when I have a plan together I move the furniture one time.  ; )

When designing a smaller room, there are a few things to keep in mind.

-We want to plan the layout and decorations carefully to save space.

-We  should choose smaller scaled items, like a convertible fold out ottoman/bed, or a sofa with storage and make them do double duty.

-We want functional storage space that looks great and serves              another purpose as well.

Knowing a few basic design principles will help you come up with better ideas for re-purposing items or re-decorating to accomplish your goals.

Basic Principles of Design

First, think about balance and symmetry.

When you place your furniture items try to create balance in the visual weight in the room.  A group of smaller items on one side can balance a single larger or brighter item on the other side.  You should also balance light to dark and opposing shapes will balance each other too.

Unbalanced Living Room
In this room the scale is wrong and the furniture is not balanced properly.
Balanced with Sideboard
The sideboard balances the weight of the couch in this room. A large piece of art above it with lots of blue would help, too.

Proportion is another principle to think about. It refers to the relationship between objects and will contribute to the balance in a room.

A very large print can overwhelm the form of a smaller object in the same way that a huge couch in a living room would overpower a smaller kitchen chair that is kept near it.

The next principle to keep in mind is scale.  Scale is similar to proportion but it relates to a commonly known measurement, like a typical human body, or the size of furniture as it relates to the size of the room. There should be about as much space around and between the furniture items as there is space that is taken up by the items.  This creates the balance between positive and negative space in the room. When a room is off balance visually or spatially it feels uncomfortable to be in.

Do You Have Rhythm?

Have you noticed that sometimes when you walk into a nicely decorated room for the first time it just sort of draws you in. It feels natural because it flows nicely. I think most of us have heard these phrases, but not as many people understand that these feelings are usually accomplished intentionally by the designers of the room. They have an understanding of balance, but also of rhythm. Rhythm is achieved by either repeating or alternating a certain element in the room, or by using a regular progression of an element.

Okay, so what’s an element?

Lines and Rectangles
Notice the repeating rectangles and lines. Again, the sideboard is used to balance the large couch.
Curves and Squares
Notice the repeating curves. They are balanced by the square rug and picture frames.

Artists learn how to use elements of design to direct the viewers eye around their art. The elements they use are lines and shapes, color, texture and pattern, light, and proportion and scale, which I mentioned above.

All of these contribute to creating rhythm in a design. Interior Designers are artists, they just use rooms instead of a canvas to create their artwork.

Using Lines

One of the elements that is used in design is line.  Lines can be vertical, horizontal, straight, diagonal, or curvy and each type has a slightly different effect.

Horizontal lines help the room to feel more grounded. The viewers eye has a tendency to follow lines, so they can be used to point to or emphasize a focal point.  Horizontal and vertical lines can give a feeling of stability and vertical lines typically associate with strength, balance and elevation.  Since they tend to lead out of your field of vision, vertical lines also help create a feeling of height.

Diagonal lines have a slightly different effect. If they are used correctly they will create a sense of movement or freedom in the space. They direct the eye upward or downward and will make the space feel larger than it is. Be careful though because if they are misplaced they can create a sense of imbalance and make the space seem confusing.

Lines that curve like arcs, circles, and ellipses feel natural and soothing.  Even free form curves give this relaxing, organic and sometimes playful sense.

Color, Texture and Pattern

Color is probably the most well-known of these elements. That’s because of how much color affects and is affected by its surroundings and the different ways that light reflects off of it.

Color can be used to create a focal point, like on a singleGreen Puffy Fireplace accent wall, or a bright colored painting, or maybe a bright piece of pottery or furniture.

It can be used to help direct a path through the room, or to direct the viewers eye around the room.  It will also add personality to the space.

Using bright warm colors, those on the red side of the color wheel, will make objects appear closer and sometimes larger.  Darker colors tend to recede a bit. They will feel a bit more heavy and seem smaller.

People generally choose the lighter colors for their homes because they can make the room feel more spacious while darker colors, if not used properly, will make the space seem more close.  Painting a bright or bold color on a wall but also painting the walls leading to it a light color can give an illusion that the room is wider.   Teal Small Space

Texture and pattern add visual interest and they can be used for definition and emphasis.  I have another post with some ideas and techniques for adding wall texture.

Let There Be Light

Light is very important because it will also create shadows that can really affect the mood in a room.

The different types of light that are used are ambient light which is the general light in a room, task lighting like a desk or reading lamp, and accent lighting that draws attention to certain features in the room.

Grey Texture and Lighting
A nice example of how to use light, color, and texture as accents to guide the viewers eye.

To get the right effect it’s important to think about reducing glare and creating a bit of contrast, but not too much.  A dimmer switch will help with this.

We also should consider uniformity and color. Color has an effect on our mood and too much of a variety of light fixtures and different colored bulbs will create an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Uniformity adds to a feeling of stability.

So these are the basic elements in a design and they are used together with the principles of balance and proportion to create rhythm and unity in a room.

Repetition of the same element, alternating elements in a regular or repeating pattern, progressing light or color gradients, or even progressing the sizes of shapes in a regular way all contribute to the flow.   You can also use patterns and highlights or accents of color to frame or direct the viewers eye toward a focal point and you will have done it intentionally!

Here’s a video that I thought might help you with some ideas:

I hope you have enjoyed this post and if you have please feel free to leave a comment or any suggestions or questions you might have.

I would love to hear about your own projects or ideas. : )

8 Replies to “Small Living Room Decorating Ideas

  1. Hello

    I thing this is a great website with such great pictures
    and so much information
    I can see and feel the love and creativity in your work
    and I thing you will have great success

    best regards

  2. Very informative. I could use a interior designer and better lighting in my house. I took a class on this in high school but found I wasn’t very artistic. Balance is the key, I have seen very unbalanced rooms and no flow. Designer’s nightmare I’m sure. Clutter will quickly unbalance a room, I’ve seen nice rooms with way too much stuff. Good job on the post.

  3. I can relate to this post as I have a small dark family room that has looked the same way for the past 14 years and I am ready for a change. Both my husband and I were so excited to paint deep vibrant colors on the walls seeing that we had been living with nothing but Navajo White interior for over 18 years. I also appreciate the graph paper idea-thanks for the tip!

    1. I’m right there with ya.. Sick of Navajo White! It’s a nice white, but I’m so done.
      I hope you’ll stop back by and share how your project turns out.

  4. Hi, Very good article here. What people don’t also realise is that its not only about space but how you utilise any given space to make it comfortable and functional. Sometimes its difficult to incorporate certain elements in certain places but ultimately a space needs balance.

    1. Hi Angee, You are absolutely right. So many people think that because they have so
      little space that there is no way to make it nice or comfortable. This is just not true.
      It can be challenging, but with a little imagination and creativity even small spaces can
      be balanced and made functional and appealing.

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