Make Your Small Living Room Chic With These 7 Decorating Ideas

Take advantage of these designer-approved decorating tips, which will help you live large in a small space.

Photographed by Erin Williamson.

Living in a small space doesn't have to be synonymous with living small. If you have a studio apartment or a home with a tiny living room, understanding how to deck out your small space opens up a whole new world of possibilities. If you're at a loss about how to best maximize your minimal space, you can make your small living room chic with these decorating ideas.

When approaching decorating a small living room, there are a few tricks of the trade that can make the room appear larger than it is. For example, while it's tempting to push all of your furniture up against the wall, floating your furniture will create the illusion that the room is bigger. When considering which furniture to buy, choosing low-to-the-ground styles makes your ceilings appear higher.

Your color scheme can also make or break a small living room. If you live in a rental, and you are allowed to paint, choosing neutral tans, light grays, classic whites, and rich blue-green hues for your walls can cultivate a feeling of expansiveness, according to My Domaine. If you can't change the color of your walls, white is a great color for small spaces, though you'll want to add large-scale artwork to make your walls pop. If you do plan to paint, don't be afraid to consider bold colors.

"Sometimes small spaces are the best place to make a statement," Utah-based interior designer Shea McGee told My Domaine. "It's bold and moody without being overpowering because the space itself isn’t overwhelming in size." If your space doesn't get a lot of natural light, it's probably best to stick with white walls. "We use Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore all the time. It's a crisp white but with just the right amount of softness to it — perfect for a refresh that still feels cozy."

Aside from choosing a color for your walls, there are tons of other tips and trick to make your small living chic and comfy-cozy.

1. Float Your Furniture & Choose Pieces That Fit Your Space

I am guilty of wanting to push everything up against the wall when I lived in a small apartment. Almost all designers say this is a big mistake. "It may seem counter-intuitive, but moving your couch a few inches away from the wall can make your space feel more expansive. Just make sure to move your area rug accordingly," Décor Aid Interior Design explained on its blog. You'll also want to choose functional furniture that fits in your space like this George Oliver Enfield Mid Century Modern Loveseat from Wayfair, which is available in four colors.

"Furniture for the small space is all about proportions. Simply put, if a piece brushes up against the boundaries of the room, either up and down or sideways, it’s too large. To create a sense of roominess, always leave a little air in between the sides of your furniture and the walls," Justine Hand noted on Remodelista."Also avoid heavy, weighty pieces that eat up too much of the usable space in the room. For example, a sleek sofa or chair will give you as much sitting room as its overstuffed cousin but will take up much less of your room."

George Oliver Enfield Mid Century Modern Loveseat: Starting at $236

2. Hang Your Curtains High

Maximizing vertical space is a tried-and-true trick for making small living rooms appear bigger. Even if you have small windows, don't be afraid to go with long curtains and to hang them from the ceiling. These Riverton curtain panels from Wayfair are the perfect pick to accent the windows in your small living room. I am super into window treatments, and I can attest that this is one hack that 100-percent works.

"When you hang your curtain rod higher than the window — almost to the ceiling — the window will look bigger, and the curtains themselves will look much more high-end," Zillow noted on its DIY Playbook page. Zillow also offers a step-by-step guide to hanging curtains to create the illusion of space. This is also a decorating tip that most designers swear by.

"You can raise the rod a few inches, a few feet, or up to the ceiling to help your window appear taller. Whether you use a cornice board or lambrequin, you can move your curtain rods to the height you’d like your windows to appear to be. Of course, you won’t fool anyone paying close attention, but most people won’t be doing that, especially in this over-head area," Armand's Drapery, Shutter & Upholstery explained on its blog.

Riverton Solid Room Color Rod Pocket Single Curtain Panel: Starting at $49 each

3. It's All About The Rug

While you might be tempted to play it small when it comes to choosing an area rug for your small living room, you should actually select a larger rug to create the illusion of space. According to HGTV, "designers say start with the area rug first. From its design, you can choose colors to paint your walls and find throw pillows and paintings to complete the decor." This is how I decided how to decorate my living room, and it really helped me pull my entire design concept together. 

"The number one mistake for most people is getting a rug that is too small. Rugs that exceed the edges of the furniture can make a room appear larger. We like to say any rug size can work but some rugs are just too small. A small rug makes everything else look out of scale," NW Rugs & Furniture explained on its website. Aside from size, the color and texture of your area rug are also important.

NW Rugs & Furniture advises using a rug with light colors if you want your living room to appear larger. For example, this Unique Loom Sofia Collection Traditional Vintage Beige Area Rug from Amazon is a perfect pick. I have a very similar rug, and while you might think this means you can only choose white, brown, or beige furniture, that's not the case. "Many get hung up on color matching, getting an exact shade match. This is probably the most common frustration," NW Rugs & Furniture explained. "Relax … colors should not match exactly. The golden rule – stick with similar hues and it will all work out perfectly."

Unique Loom Sofia Collection Traditional Vintage Beige Area Rug: $98.59

4. Play With Plants

Plants are a great way to not only give your small living room more depth, they can also make your space feel fresh and alive. Even if you don't have a green thumb, there are plenty of plants, like succulents, that don't need a ton of attention. Alternatively, you can opt for fake plants that no one will guess aren't real. "Like wallpaper and mirrors, plants are a wonderful way to add depth to a small living room. Lush greenery softens corners and fools the eye into thinking there is more to the room than there really is. Plants are especially effective in corners and beside or behind chairs and sofas," the website Houzz suggested.

Amazon recently launched a Plants Store where you can get everything plant-related you need to live your best life. To elevate larger plants and take advantage of vertical space, consider also getting this Fox & Fern Mid-Century Modern Plant Stand from Amazon. If you live in a studio apartment, and you want to visually divide the room, plants are your best friend. 

If you just want a touch of greenery, plants can make a big difference. "If your couch area is looking a bit sparse, consider accentuating it with large potted plants. By placing one on each side, the eye will naturally draw to the sitting area," Get Green Now noted on its blog. "If you’re low on space, try placing smaller potted plants on side tables, one on each side of the coach. Not only do the side tables add much-needed storage space, it makes your home nicer too, with the plants!"

Fox & Fern Mid-Century Modern Plant Stand: Starting at $38.85

5. Be Bold With Artwork

When deciding how to decorate your small living room, you might not know that small pieces of artwork can actually make your room look smaller. Architectural Digest recommended choosing large-scale art to create a focal point in the room. "An oversize painting or photograph will command attention and set the tone in a small space. Try a black-and-white photo in a minimalist space or add color with a vibrant abstract piece."

If you don't know anything about art and you don't have any original pieces, that's OK. You can actually get some pretty rad stuff at places like Target and on Amazon. For example, this Orlco Art Hand-Painted Abstract Lion Painting from Amazon is priced right and can give a space dressed in light tones a pop of color. Alternatively, you can create a curated gallery wall of several photos and paintings. My roommate is the master of doing this in our apartment, and it looks amazing.

"Nothing adds personality and color quite like a gallery wall. Display a collection of art, photographs, or add wall hangings and other ephemera," Architectural Digest suggested. "Opt for simple, cohesive frames or bring in an array of ornate variations to mix things up."

Orlco Art Hand-Painted Abstract Lion Painting: $89.98

6. Consider The Cantaloupe

When considering table-top vases and accents, bigger is also better. Sabrina Soto, one of Target's Home Style Experts, told Women's Day that in a small living room each piece should be larger than a cantaloupe because small knick-knacks can create a feeling of clutter. This is definitely not the vibe you want to cultivate in your small living room. "Decorative accents that are smaller than a cantaloupe cramp a room," Soto explained. When choosing decorative objects, make sure they're large enough to appear sleek and expansive, like this Decorative Hand Crafted 3 Piece Table Vase Set from Wayfair.

If you think about it, this seems pretty obvious. Have you ever walked into the home of someone who has eleventy-million figurines on every available surface? Even in a large living room this can create a feeling of claustrophobia. Be super selective about your accent decorations so you can avoid that creepy porcelain doll-collection look. 

Decorative Hand Crafted 3 Piece Table Vase Set: $250

7. Let There Be Light

One thing that can make your small living room feel dark and dreary is lack of light. If you have very few windows, sticking to a light color concept can help brighten up your space. In addition, choose lights that you can hang from the ceiling to create a soft glow in your small living room. One of my favorites is the Gemma Glass Pane Pyramid Pendant Light from Urban Outfitters. The lamp captures and refracts light, which always makes for a stunning lighting concept. You can also opt for a bolder concept to draw the eye up.

"A large, even over-scale ceiling fixture can add illumination and drama, and also trick the eye into thinking the space is much larger than it actually is," interior designer and Lamps Plus trends producer Michael Murphy said on Elle Decor. However, one light is generally not enough, especially if it's a harsh overhead light. Think about the overheard lighting that comes standard in most apartments. It's horrible. While there is an overhead light in each room in my apartment, very few of them have ever been turned on.

"Ceiling lights can brighten a whole room, but only with other lighting sources. A single ceiling fixture used as the only light source is heinous and does nothing to enhance your room," Sid Pinkerton, owner of Manhattan Staging, told Elle Decor. In addition to ceiling lamps, tall floor lamps can help maximize your minimal space.

"Placing a floor lamp or table lamp can help disperse light in the room and provide illumination in the otherwise dim nooks and crannies," Murphy said. A great option is the Maverick Marble Floor Lamp from Urban Outfitters. With a polished adjustable design, this lamp can shine a soft light just where you need it.

Gemma Glass Pane Pyramid Pendant Light: $149; Maverick Marble Floor Lamp: $219

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