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Living Room Furniture for Small Living Spaces

So it's time to move into a new home and you are eager to buy furniture to celebrate another new beginning. You might even have a vague idea of how you want the room to look when completed.

But after moving in, and ready to begin your decorating project, you realize that the space is smaller than you thought. Don’t be discouraged. Just because space is at a premium, you don’t have to sacrifice style to make everything fit. One magic key to decorating smaller rooms is to choose multifunctional pieces whenever possible. To help you to decide how to plan your perfect living room and create an inviting place for yourself and your visitors, whether or not there is space to spare, here are few basic suggestions.

Before You Begin

  • Take measurements and write them down. Include window and door widths and architectural details that can’t or shouldn’t be removed, such as a structural wall, fireplace or closet.

  • Make a budget. This can be a useful tool to keep you focused and your project on track.

  • Do you want to have someplace to relax and watch TV? Do you plan to entertain often? Will the space be occupied by adults only or do you have children? Decide what the main purpose and focus of your living room will be, and who will be using the room regularly.

  • Make a list of the furnishings you would like to include. Roughly sketch out a floor plan to give you a better idea of how it will look when completed.

  • Appearances are everything—if possible repaint the room. Painting the room with a lighter color will make it appear larger. If you have a little extra time and money, plan on repainting the ceiling in one or two shades lighter than the color you selected for the walls—this will make the ceiling appear higher.

What Will I Need?

Altra Furniture Small Computer Desk with Shelf in Cherry and Black

Someplace to Sit

While a sectional might be out of the question, there are still several fashionable seating options available to you when decorating a small living area.

Look for sofas that are short in length. If you are unable to find one that will work in your space, select a love seat. Since love seats are designed for two people, they are smaller than a regular sofa and just as comfortable, while using less floor space.

When decorating a small living room, planning for overnight guests might be a factor in the kind of couch you select for your living room. Sofa beds, also called sleeper sofas or hide-a-beds, are sofas with a bed frame and bed built into the unit. As needed, it can be unfolded from inside the couch and then retracted when not being used as a bed. Due to the bed mechanism, sofa beds tend to be heavier than regular sofas of the same size.

Because of their dual nature—a sofa by day, a bed at night—futons are ideal for small living rooms. Once used to decorate dorm rooms and basement bedrooms, today the futon is a popular, stylish choice for the living room, family room, den or guest bedroom. Since the mattress sits directly on top of the futon frame, it is lighter and more user-friendly than a sofa bed.

Choosing seating for a small room might be challenging, especially if your idea of relaxing is defined by a recliner or if you enjoy entertaining and want to have enough chairs for everyone. You might have to forgo the recliner due to the amount of room they need for clearance, but there are other options. Emphasize comfort and select accent chairs and armchairs that are not overstuffed, which sometimes can make the room feel cramped. By carefully choosing multifunctional pieces that can be used as seating, such as ottomans, storage cubes, trunks and chests, you will be able increase the room’s seating potential without sacrificing function or space.

Someplace to Put Things

Accent and accessory furniture increase the functionality of the room, improving its design and appeal. While you won’t want the room to look cramped, perhaps you still want some place to put a coffee cup, a magazine or the remote control. When deciding what other additional pieces to include, such as a coffee table, end table or TV armoire, take into account the focus or purpose of the room—relaxing, entertaining and multipurpose. But keep in mind, too many small pieces of furniture will create the look you wanted to avoid in the first place. Don’t be afraid to purchase large pieces of furniture, such as an entertainment center, but balance them with smaller items and sensible accessorizing.

Entertainment centers combine a number of features and components in one unit so that they can accommodate an assortment of multimedia equipment, including your TV. Most types come with adjustable shelving and can be adapted to your existing or future entertainment needs. While they are available in a variety of sizes and configurations, they will take up a large percentage of your available space. However, it might be space well spent, since it is not only convenient to be able to store all of your entertainment devices in one place, but it will also help you to declutter the room.

If an entertainment center is out of the question, a small TV stand might be the perfect solution. These cleverly designed units also have room for your components but take up less space than an entertainment center. A modern small home might do best with a wall mounted floating TV stand.

Coffee tables, end tables and console tables accent any décor, while giving you a place to park a bowl of popcorn, stash away the newspaper and put a lamp. However, depending on how much space you have to work with, they can disrupt the flow of the room or make the room appear crowded. A coffee table, for example, commonly is placed off-center in the living room, in front of the couch. If you want the functionality of a coffee table, but would like to open up the room, use nesting tables instead. They generally come in a set of two or three varying, corresponding sizes. They are versatile and can be moved around a room wherever they are needed, or they can be conveniently stacked together when not in use.

If you have room for only a few items of furniture, a bookshelf might seem like a low priority. But like an entertainment center, bookcases use wall rather than floor space. They will give you somewhere to put reading materials, plants and pictures, and to display those other little touches that personalize your home. A shelving unit of some kind, in addition to or instead of an entertainment center will also increase your storage options, helping you to cut down on clutter.

Avenue Six Regent Love Seat in Easy Brownstone
Sauder August Hill Corner TV Stand in Oiled Oak

Something to See By

Lighting a room correctly is important—not too dim, not too bright. Floor and table lamps are the most common choices for illuminating a living room, although both floor lamps and the end tables used to house table lamps can eat up valuable space in a small room. An unused corner might be the ideal place to put a floor lamp. If you can’t do without at least one end table, selecting table lamps that do not have shades will make the area seem less crowded.

However, if there really is no room for floor or table lamps, consider wall-mounted lighting such as sconces or lighting strips. Wall-mounted fixtures with extendable arms are also a practical choice. Keep lighting fixture details basic or minimal, as this will make the room less “busy.”

Avoid ceiling fixtures, if at all possible. Overhead lighting, especially hanging ones, can make the ceiling appear lower and make the room feel less spacious.

Maximize the natural light in the room with careful furniture placement and choice of window treatments. Stay away from bulky curtains: they will decrease the amount of available natural light and tend to make a small living room feel cramped. Choose instead a combination of blinds or shades with sheers; this will open the room up. For the same reason, keep away from valances; they will also make the ceiling appear lower. If you do select curtains and it is an option, plan to move the rods up to the ceiling; this will give the impression of extra height.

Something to Look At

You might have to be selective in the furnishings you choose when decorating a small living area, but accessorizing can fill in the blanks and make the room warm, inviting and personal. Again, as with your furniture layout, you don’t want to display oversized or “loud” pictures on the walls that might overpower your small room.

  • Dress up the walls with artwork. Select colors that will be complementary to your décor; avoid dark palettes.

  • Perhaps you would prefer several framed posters with a similar theme or a grouping of black and white photographs.

  • Add a wall mounted shadow box frame or two for displaying postcards, small pictures or memorabilia. A shadow box is a shallow, rectangular case with a glass front used to display small items and/or pictures—they have the added benefit of allowing you to change the display according to the season or your mood.

  • Include a mirror. Mirrors are a perfect choice for decorating small rooms since they will make the space appear larger by reflecting light, both natural and artificial, around the room, which creates a sense of depth.

Making It Work

After deciding what furniture pieces will fit your space, determine where they will go. You want to be able to place all the pieces you have chosen in the room without blocking exits, windows and traffic flow. Take into account furniture that will need to be near power sources such as an entertainment unit or an end table where you plan to put a lamp.

If the entertainment unit or TV stand will look better on a wall not near a power source, see if there are alternatives, such as running an extension cord from the unit to the power bar.

Arrange the larger items against the walls. This will leave the middle of the room open, giving the illusion of more space. Don’t kitty-corner furnishings: while placing furniture pieces on a diagonal can fill up larger spaces, in a small room it will have the same effect, making the room look cramped.

Wherever possible, use open slat or lattice back occasional chairs—this will let light in and the furniture won’t appear so solid. Along similar lines, when selecting units with doors, choose ones with glass fronts or mirrors to make the room feel larger and uncluttered.

If you have chosen to include a television armoire or a wall unit with hinged doors in your floor plan, ensure that there will be enough clearance to open the doors easily.

Choosing items with added storage and dual functionality will give you more places to put things. Being able to hide things away, especially in a room where extra space is an issue, will allow you to keep the room neater. And nothing can make a room feel cramped and small faster than clutter.

If furniture pieces with added storage or dual functionality aren’t an option for your small living room, place baskets or storage trays in a section of a bookcase or shelving unit. Use them to store items you would like close at hand but don’t want to leave lying around.

When arranging knickknacks, collectibles, photos, etc., display them in groups in one main place or a couple of selected areas. Spreading them out around the room can make the room appear small and even untidy.