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decorating a small living room grey slipcover sofa and black rattan cabinet

How to Decorate a Small Living Room: 10 Proven Styling Tricks You Should Try at Your Place

I bet you’ve found the process of how to decorate a small living room a tricky one. I reckon that’s because there’s so much noise online. So many tips. Just too much information coming at you.

Today, allow me to break it down real simply for you. Because here’s the truth: you can have a small living room and it can still look absolutely phenomenal. I know this to be true because I’ve styled small living rooms for my design clients. So you’re in safe hands, decorating junkies.

By the end of this post you’ll know what furniture to embrace. You’ll know which pieces to avoid. And you’ll pick up a few clever visual tricks you can play on yourself in the space to make the room feel larger.

And no, when it comes to how to decorate a small living room, you don’t have to have all white walls and a minimalist approach. Read on and all will become clear 😉

Hero image in this post via Temple & Webster.

sofas for small living rooms adams sofa casterly

1. Choose a Sofa with a Small Profile

When you’re approaching how to decorate a small living room, start with the most important item: the sofa. This can make or break the space. And all too often, people choose one that’s too large for the room.

A small profile is important. When I say small profile, I mean it should feel visually light in the room. You don’t want it to be chunky. Avoid thick arms, avoid high arms, and avoid a high back.

Also make sure it doesn’t hit the ground. You want your sofa to be on thin legs, with air flowing underneath. Timber or metal legs 15cm off the ground should do the trick. I’d also advise the lines be clean. But that I mean, no fluid or elaborate shapes like you’d see in the arms of a chesterfield sofa, for example. 

The Adams sofa above from Casterly is a stunning example of a sofa that’s small profile. Perfect for a living room that’s tight on space.

In a really cramped living room, definitely avoid a chaise sofa or sectional. Use a pouffe when you want to put your feet up instead. It’ll save loads of space.

ikea PS 2017 blue sofa and red round ottoman in living room

2. Use Round Ottomans as Extra Seating 

There’s a lot to be said for a round ottoman. Not one of those soft, cushy ball ottomans that are low to the ground. I’m talking a taller option, upholstered, that’ll fit in with the look and feel of the space. 

Round ottomans are great when decorating small living rooms because they’re so multipurpose. Pop your feet on them when you’re watching TV. Have guests sit on them when you have people around. Or pop a round tray on top and use them as a side table if you need.

There are so many chic looking round ottomans on the market right now that are great for small living rooms. The ones in the photo above from IKEA are ideal. 

molmic rydell sofa and mark tuckey black stool small living room decorating

3. Use a Side Table as your Coffee Table

The thing with a round coffee table is that they’re not made very small. Most that are classified as small are still around 90cm in diameter. And if you’re in a small living room, you need every inch of space you can get your hands on.

With that in mind, I’d suggest you shop for a side table instead. Better still, a nest of two side tables would be brilliant. One will be higher than the other, so the smaller one will tuck under the large one. This allows for loads of versatility in the room, and they save on space. 

The other bonus is how affordable side tables are compared to coffee tables from the same range or brand. 

The only thing to keep in mind with your side table is the height. When it comes to how to decorate a small living room, you want low furniture. So make sure the height of the side table is not a tonne taller than the height of your sofa seat.

The side table above in the image from Molmic is small living room dreams come true. You can get them from Marc Tuckey. Bonus points for Molmic here too. The Rydell sofa above is ideal for a small living room.

all white coastal living room with oz design white coastal sofa and jute rug

4. Define the Space with a Larger Rug

When decorating a small living room, a lot of people assume a small rug is the way to go. But it’s actually the opposite – especially if you have floorboards or tiles in the space. By rolling out a small rug along the length of your sofa, you trick the eye into thinking the living room doesn’t go beyond the border of the rug.

By rolling out a larger rug, you actually trick the eye. You’ll look at the border of the rug and assume that is the edge of the living room. Trust me, it works! 

It also helps to ground all of the pieces like the sofa, side tables, and pouffes. So despite all of your urges to go small, go big here. Also go for a rectangular rug. I know the urge to try a circle may be strong, but it will only make the room feel less inviting. The image above from OZ Design is a great example of a larger rug with a smaller sofa.

Here are my tips on buying the right rug for your home if you need more help.

blue and white abstract canvas art above dark grey sofa in modern living room

5. Draw the Eye Up the Wall with Tall Art

The footprint of your small living room is, well, small. There’s not a lot of floor space. And you already have so many pieces of furniture on the floor. What you want to do in this instance, to create balance, is draw the eye up the wall to the ceiling. It’s like fooling your brain.

In this instance, tall art is your friend. The same goes for tall sheer curtains, if you wanted to install those. You’d install them from the ceiling all the way down to the ground. You could also install an eye-catching ceiling light to take your eye up to the ceiling as well.

But back to the art. Choose a piece for the main wall in your living room and have it be the focal point in the space. Fill up that wall too, don’t be shy! I’ve seen too many small living rooms with teeny tiny art on the wall. But you have to do the opposite. Go big or go home; like in the photo above from Metricon.

And if you need help on the art front, here’s my no regret art buying guide. Check it out after this.


6. Introduce a Mirror on Another Wall in the Room

I know, you’ve probably already seen this one a thousand times. But it’s a classic tip because it does work. 

Placing a mirror on a wall in your small living room helps bounce light around the room. More light in the space equals a sense of more air and room. It’s another visual trick.

The other thing you do by placing a mirror on a wall near a window is reflect what’s going on outside. And if you have something gorgeous outside, it’s another opportunity to draw the eye away from the small footprint of the space.

It can also connect the interior to the exterior, which can again fool the eye and blur the lines between the small room and the outside world.

A big trend at the moment is round mirrors, and I adore them. Here’s my roundup of the best places to buy round mirrors if you need.

beacon lighting citta table and floor lamps

7. Opt for Lamps with no Shade, on a Thin Leg

Lighting is really important to get right when you’re working out how to decorate a small living room. I’ve already mentioned drawing the eye up to the ceiling by installing a cool feature light on the ceiling, but mood light is important too.

Rather than fill up your side tables with table lamps, I’d opt for a floor lamp instead. Because it’s tall, it will once again draw the eye up. And if you go for a lamp with just one thin leg as opposed to three legs that taper our, you’ll save loads of space.

The other thing to avoid is a large lampshade on a floor lamp. I’d go for an exposed bulb instead, or a small head like in the photo above. There are lots of really sophisticated floor lamps on thin legs without shades on top. The one above from Beacon Lighting is a perfect example. Isn’t it gorgeous?

house rules 2019 lisa and andy reveal living room with floating tv unit

8. Fix your TV and Entertainment Unit to the Wall

Anything you can get off the ground is going to make the small living room feel larger. So mount that TV on the wall sooner rather than later. You can buy mounts for your TV from places like JB Hifi and they’re pretty affordable. JB Hifi also has a mounting service you can use (I used them to mount my TV).

Before you mount, and actually before you buy, make sure the TV isn’t too dominant in the room. I know, we all have that partner who wants a TV the size of a cinema screen. But do show some restraint. A big black box in a small living room is going to be so overbearing.

Also try to mount an entertainment unit on the wall under the TV if you can. If that’s not an option, go for a TV unit that’s on thin legs (like the legs on your sofa) so air can flow underneath it. The TV unit should be slightly wider than your TV, too. 

living room with grey sofa and navy and tan cushions in metricon display home

9. Choose One Wow Moment, and Pare Back the Rest 

You don’t have to have a bland, empty, all-white space. When it comes to how to decorate a small living room, you can abandon all of those urban styling myths. 

Rather than feeling you have to strip back colour, or interest, it’s more about choosing your moments. Pick your battles with the room. You can’t have a bright red sofa, with a bright yellow artwork above it, with a leopard print rug. Sure, all of those things could look amazing, but it’s too visually overwhelming in such a small room.

Instead, choose one ‘wow’ or ‘loud’ moment. I’d suggest it be the art, followed by lighting on the ceiling. Then introduce colour and pattern in smaller details like in cushions. Any living room should have no more than three main hero colours going on, and in a small room it’s crucial you follow this rule. The art and feature wall above from Metricon gets this right.

Maya corner shelf in white and blonde timber in corner of room

10. Opt for Floating Shelves or One Tall Corner Shelf

Last but not least, taming clutter! I know, we have a lot of things we love. We want them on display. I am a vignette obsessive and love styling up shelves. But you have to be careful not to jam too many knick knacks into a small living room.

Instead try a floating shelf above your TV. Or stack a few floating shelves on one of your smaller walls. Style it up with some of your personalised mementoes and other accessories, but keep it simple. Allow pieces room to breathe. 

If you’re in a rental, or don’t want floating shelves installed, try a tall thin shelf. These are super affordable too and will, once again, draw the eye up from the floor. Your small living room will suddenly feel taller and you’ll still have all your fave thing to admire. The corner shelf above from Mocka is a fave of mine.

Did figuring out how to decorate a small living room just get easier? I knew you had it in you, it was just a matter of getting someone to confirm all of your styling suspicions. Drop a comment below and let me know what you’re doing in your small living room. I’d love to hear from you!


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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21 Responses

  1. I love that living room arrangement above, where there is just one very long sectional sofa. I might use that for inspiration. It looks pretty utilitarian and the design is simple but effective.

  2. I wish I could have a sofa that is not so high but 2 of my family members are over 6 feet tall and need a high back to be comfortable.

  3. Hi Chris, the block finished, I loved your recap each week, gave me an opportunity to vent my thoughts on the reveals, sorry, you were at the receiving end most weeks. Loved reading your advice on small lounge rooms. My lounge room adjoins dining area and is reasonably small. Want to replace my lounge, current one is dark navy leather, big, bulky and high back (the high back being the only thing hubby insisted on). Need your suggestion please, how do I keep hubby happy if I replace lounge with a low back? Do you have any suggestion?

    1. Hey Kerry, thanks for reading! Love how into The Block gets. Offer him an armchair? Or some lounges have back/headrests that can be removed. Not my ideal choice but you might need to compromise.

  4. Great tips Chris. I have just read one that I enacted on the weekend & one that I had never thought of. Thanks.

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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