How To Decorate Small Living Spaces

Back in June 2018 I wrote about designing a small living room; today I am updating this article for small living spaces in this new decade. 

For most of my life, I’ve lived in small places: apartments, condos, and even small homes.  If you live in an apartment or a neighborhood of cottages and small houses, you understand how frustrating it can be to try and fit everything in. At the end of the day, you can’t change the size of your room, but you can try and make it feel bigger.  It is a design challenge. The key to living happily and beautifully in small spaces is combining space-saving and multi-functional solutions while expressing your individual style.  Let’s consider some of your choices when dealing with a most important area, our living spaces. Many home owners take down walls to open up multiple rooms. Living spaces can include any of the traditional living room, dining room, family room and even kitchen. Many apartments and condos have a living-dining room area. Even in a smaller house, open spaces seem bigger but can fill up quickly with furniture to meet all your needs.

Design Trends 2020

Let’s start by reviewing the latest design trends for 2020.  I’ll mention a few ins and outs as described by top designers, but I must preface this with my belief that you take current trends and adapt them to your personal style.  Whether you are a modern minimalist or a cottage lover, decor trends come and go.  Anyone remember scads of geese and ducks from the 1990’s?  How about palm trees?   There is nothing wrong with a duck, palm tree, or other vintage item in your home decor today if that fits your style or has a personal meaning to you.  I believe adding a few trendy items with the items you love and cherish can make your room more update, but it is still  you.

I wrote that paragraph and then was reading more design trends at  Guess what was listed as #4?  Decor will reflect personality and your own unique sense of design! I say Amen.

Christiana Coop, who is the co-founder of Hygge & West explains that uniqueness should reflect individuality. “People are designing their homes to reflect their personalities and creating spaces that tell their story. What makes you truly happy is more important than what you see in magazines or on social media.”

In 2019, there were fun ideas including arches. Now designers say that arches are out.  I’m sorry but when you tell people to embrace a change in architecture one year and then throw it out the next, that is unreasonable.  Most of us cannot make a change to the wall every year. I think arches are a classic look if it is in your style. Sometimes I think designers think we’re all rich and can call them to redecorate our homes every other year.

Other trends include more earthy colors, more sustainable materials, less traditionally defined spaces like a formal dining room, swags and easy-to-use lighting,  terrazzo floors, and a shift from real granite to faux stone or quartz in the kitchen.  The move to faux stone or quartz counter tops is the common need for easy care fixtures.  Maintaining granite or real marble can be time consuming.  Outs include too many monochromatic bland rooms and an updated farmhouse look.  According to Rebecca Breslin of Wayfair Professional,

While the typical farmhouse look is becoming as tired as a Live, Laugh, Love sign, this style will lean towards a more sophisticated, European-inspired look…This trend is all about mixing patterns, antique with new decor as well as paying homage to the countryside with botanicals and muted primary tones

I’m older than many of you and have seen decades of design fads.  The current forecast sounds like a 21 st Century retelling of the 1970’s in terms of color and bringing natural elements into the home.  I really like that, but I must warn everyone to not go overboard in the next few years with all the warmer colors in fixtures and appliances.  You may live to regret having a colored refrigerator or toilet. To this day, I hate avocado green and harvest gold. Does anyone want to invest in an orange island in the kitchen?

Designers also predict more classic interiors and warm woods. I’m sitting here looking at my natural wood side table from the 1930’s (my grandmother’s) and love it’s simplicity. It has worked with modern, cottage and traditional furniture in the 30 years I’ve owned it.  I’m glad wood is back.

My Grandmother’s Table

Good Housekeeping had an article on 54 Outdated Home Trends.   I agree  with their choices on many of the design elements but often find them in contradiction with designers quoted on Forbes and  Designers have their own tastes just like every one else.  They recommend ditching nautical decor – sorry not going to happen in my Florida home.  Again we have to choose wisely what reflects our own personal style.

Now let’s get planning your small space!

Declutter & Evaluate

Before designing your space, take time to declutter. See How To Create More Space in Your Home for ideas on de-cluttering. Evaluate each piece of furniture and accessory. Get rid of duplicates. Consider how you will use the room.  Set a budget for your redesign.  How much can you do yourself?  Take measurements.  Now you know what you have to work with.  Maximize light and space, and pay attention to how you use color, scale and weight.  Check out suggestions at some of the online experts.   The idea is to develop a plan with both form and function. It looks good and you can live beautifully in the space.

Small Apartment Decorating IdeasPhoto via HouseMethod

Remove Walls

If your home is filled with small rooms, one of your first options is to remove walls and create open spaces.  A living room can be a larger open space of a living, dining and kitchen  if you remove the walls that separate them. Luckily my little home was built with a U shape for the living, dining, and kitchen area. There is one half wall in the middle of the U separating kitchen from the living room. I have a friend in a condo with 300 more square feet of space than my home, but it feels smaller. Too many walls making little boxes.  She should remove one wall separating the kitchen from the living dining area.   The main concern when removing walls is to not remove a load-bearing wall without additional support. Dumpsters has a great post on how to remove an interior wall.

Below part of the wall was removed and replaced with a glass window making the space more open.

Use Built-Ins For Hidden Storage

When adding shelving continue the shelves all the way up the wall. Make a custom wall unit to hold media and accessories. Built-in sofa and chairs and provide storage space underneath for a clean look.  Think multi-task use of your space and plan accordingly with built-ins. Add a small table space to the wall unit and you now have an office or homework station. In the dining area build in a bench against the wall to replace chairs. This provides seating and storage underneath for say games. Pull out the games after dinner and play on the dining table.

Can’t add a complex built-in? How about baskets on the wall for magazines?

Creative Furniture Layout

Arrange furniture to create a separation between functional zones.  For example, arrange your chairs and sofa in a way that clearly separates the living room from the dining space.  Place a different overhead light fixture in each area to help define the space. 

Photo via Dwelling Decor

Light Weight & Low Profile Furniture

Everyone knows this but often have trouble doing it. Ditch the large over-stuffed couch. Large over-sized furniture will make the room claustrophobic.  Avoid furniture with a heavy appearance. Go with low-profile, streamlined furniture, particularly sofas. Low-profile means the sofa and chair legs are short. This leaves more wall space that can then accommodate large art work.  Balance the space with wall decor that starts low and goes high. A statement piece like a large painting or mirror will balance the room and draw the eye up. Add cushions and a throw for a cozy and comforting feel. Want a room with a difference? Try hanging a hammock chair in the corner. It adds seating without taking floor space. Use house plants for an airy feel.

A hanging hammock chair is visually lightweight and does not take floor space

Photo via HouseBeautiful

Photo via Elle & Co

Use Rugs

If it’s possible, use a rug that extends beyond the furniture in each functional space.  A rug that sits under the sofa, coffee table and additional seating will draw the eye wider and make that living space appear bigger. If stripes fit your design, a striped rug can make your room look way longer or wider than it actually is.  Use it in layers with other pieces. 

 Photo via IDA Interior Lifestyle

Smart Lighting Choices

Make smart choices in lighting the space. Overhead lighting, wall sconces, and even swinging arm lamps save floor space without the loss of function. Consider your light options when planning. Choose pieces that help define an area like a striking hanging lamp over the dining table. See Home Lighting Ideas for more help in making your space bright. Below the small living room has a pendant light which takes no table nor floor space.

Keep It White & Light

To brighten up a small rooms go with light color choices.  A pleasing white wall can make a small area appear larger. It’s a perfect way to make your colored couch the statement piece in the room. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to bring the whole room together and to make it feel warmer with the natural light bouncing from the walls.  If you want to add color to the walls, then consider light green or light blue. This will instantly make your room feel more spacious.  Below the gallery wall with wide matted white frames above the green and white plaid couch make it the focal point without looking cluttered.

Add Mirrors

If your room lacks natural light, mirrors brighten a dark room.  Hang a mirror adjacent to a window to reflect the light.

Photo via DwellingDecor

A living room is a great place for your family to hang out.  Make smart design choices and then add personality. Use items that tell the story of your family. Creatively framed family photos, mementos of vacations, treasured items from a beloved aunt or grandmother – the choices are many. Personal artwork or mementos are great one-of-a-kind decorative elements that personalize your cozy living room and make it your home.

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

22 thoughts to “How To Decorate Small Living Spaces”

  1. Fun post Carol and of course right up my alley, as we have lived in small spaces for years.. In decorating, we’ve taken a lot from our years as full-time RVers …. lots of built-ins and hidden storage to eliminate clutter. The hint on low-rise furniture was definitely a good one. Hope you’re keeping Florida well for us, now that we’re on the other side of the country.

    1. I’ll try to take of Florida but you know how it is during Hurricane season. Have fun this summer!

  2. There are some great actionable tips in here. I have an awkward small living/dining area in my house. I like the carpet idea – now that my kids are older and less spilly we could put a carpet down for sure. We have purged a ton of stuff so we are feeling a little more space in our limited space, but we have a ways to go still.

  3. These are wonderful tips, Carol! It really is amazing how much bigger you can make a small space appear. I love built in furniture, and lighting really does make a difference as well. Thank you so much for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party! Have a lovely week!

  4. What a great post. You really covered the whole topic very well. I’ve always loved small space ideas because it seems like there is always a small space that is not being utilized very effectively. Thank you for sharing at Saturday Shuffle Blog.

  5. Always best to add colour with accessories. My parents had an avocado bathroom suite for years – yuk! Your advice is good about not installing an orange kitchen – event though it looks good! #MMBC

    1. Yes, the orange island is attractive but I think many of us would tire of it too quickly. In my home my walls are neutral and my accessories like pillows and art add the colors. Have a beautiful day.

  6. This is a fun post, Carol, but it makes me realize how SO not trendy I am. And I’m good with that. I’m cozy cottage style, whether I’m north or home, lots of old stuff, too many books. Eclectic. Anything too minimal or too light makes me nervous!

    1. You are a remarkable lady and I’m so happy you are content. That’s really all that matters.

  7. All of my living spaces are small. The RV is the smallest and it’s nice not to worry about “things” taking over the space. Everything is built in and very functional. The only missing thing is a nice place to sit to watch TV, but there’s no space for a real chair. We ended up bringing in a folding camp chair that we can use and then put away. – Margy

    1. RV’s are a whole different thing and so compact with so many built-ins. Sounds like you are totally organized.

  8. Great tips and beautiful eye candy to go with them. I love cozy spaces. I read somewhere that if you have a smaller space you tend to spend more time outside, I liked that.

    1. Oh I totally agree – I couldn’t believe the orange island. Big mirrors and light walls sound lovely.

  9. Lots of ideas here! Thanks so much for linking up with me at my #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 10, open March 1 to 26. All entries shared on social media if share buttons installed.

  10. Good info! I agree with home decorating should reflect your personality. A furniture store perfect room is just not for me. I choose colors that reflect my personality and not always the trends. My home decor often times has sentimental appeal. Visiting from Funtastic Friday.

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