If you don’t have room for a 10-foot sofa or giant media console, you’re not alone. Those of us who dwell in an apartment or urban neighborhood frequently find that space is at a premium.
If this describes your experience, you can choose to look at your limited living space as a creative design challenge. The key to living happily and beautifully in small quarters is combining space-saving and multifunctional solutions while expressing your personal style. Smart decisions will give you the space you need while making your room extraordinary and welcoming. These 10 tips can help you make the most of an all-important room: the living room.
Open it up to other rooms
If you have limited living area, you may want to view your living room as a flowing space and, when possible, open up doorways or walls so adjacent rooms blend together.
A living room can be a larger combination of a living, dining and kitchen space if you take down the walls that separate them. Likewise, widening doorways and opening them up to the ceiling will create a larger, more open feeling. If making major structural changes is not possible, try simply removing the doors to each connected space.
This not only will improve the sightlines and light in each room, it will allow for an easier flow of movement.
Use built-in furniture and shelves
It’s a good idea to invest in built-in solutions and appropriate shelving to fit your space and needs. Custom built-ins are ideal in a small room because you can size each piece of furniture for your challenging space while adding a feature or two that maximizes its use.
For example, a built-in sofa can have useful storage hidden underneath. If hiring a carpenter or buying a custom piece isn’t in your budget, get creative and put your DIY hat on. Can you place an attractive rollaway drawer underneath your sofa? How about floating a deep shelf with brackets on a wall as a desk?
Similarly, instead of a custom-made wall unit, place shelves in an artful pattern on a wall to create a media unit. When hanging shelves, place them all the way up a wall to create a vertical pattern. Higher placement of design features helps create the feeling of volume in the room.
Get creative with your furniture layout and lighting.
When possible, try arranging furniture to create separation between functional zones. This helps define different uses within a single room. For example, place a desk behind a sofa to fashion a workspace, or arrange your chairs and sofa in a way that clearly separates the living room from the dining space.
You can further define the layout by placing a different overhead light fixture in each separate space. For example, in the living space zone, go for a light fixture that’s close to the ceiling (flush or semiflush mount). Then, in the adjacent dining space, place a hanging pendant directly over the table.
Let the sun shine in
Emphasize your natural light sources to make your room brighter. A sunlit room feels more open and helps eliminate shadows that can make an enclosed area feel smaller. The simplest way to enhance natural light in a room is to place a mirror where it will reflect the light from a window. This will not only reflect light but also create the illusion of more depth in the space. When possible, place your most-used pieces of furniture — such as the sofa or your favorite cozy chair — so that they have a view of the outdoors.
If natural light is minimal, consider installing track lighting. While not taking up valuable table or floor space, its bright light and flexible track heads can substitute for direct sunlight.
The classic tip of using white or paler hues is still spot-on advice for painting a smaller space. Also, painting the trim and walls in the room the same color draws the eye up and highlights the ceiling, as in this room.
But you can also use darker colors. Soothing hues such as navy or charcoal gray, for example, can make a smaller space stylishly inviting. The trick in a small room is to balance a darker wall with lighter elements to create depth and brighten the room. For example, place a lighter-colored sofa against a dark wall. Layer with more light-colored furniture, shiny accessories and a pale rug.
You can experiment with painted stripes on a wall. Whether vertical or horizontal, the stripes will visually expand or elongate that featured wall.
Ditch the overstuffed college-era sofa
This may be rather obvious, but it’s important: Avoid oversized and heavy-feeling furniture. It will take over and make the room feel smaller. Instead, opt for low-profile, streamlined furniture, particularly sofas.
Low-profile furniture essentially means low to the ground. A low-profile sofa, for example, means there’s a small distance from the floor to the sofa seat. From a design standpoint, this usually means smaller sofa legs, streamlined cushions or a narrow base.
Use the extra wall space your low-profile sofa provides to balance the space with wall decor that starts low and goes high. Great examples are hanging a large-scale art piece or arranging a vertical row of shelves that draws the eye up.
When living small, it’s imperative that you ask yourself: Can this serve more than one purpose? By having key pieces pull double duty, you can easily accommodate all your living room needs. Perfect examples are a console table or wall unit as a desk and the highly useful pullout sofa bed.
Storage is another useful feature to add anywhere it can fit. Instead of dining chairs, perhaps try a bench with hidden storage. Instead of floating shelving, opt for floating drawers. They serve the same purpose and give you extra compartments for necessities. Similarly, place a tray on top of a storage ottoman to serve as a multifunctional coffee table.