The 15 Best Living Room Design Ideas We Saw This Year

updated Dec 8, 2020
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Lily Bunn's NYC Living Room

We’re constantly inspired by the home makeovers, upgrades, and designer projects we see at Apartment Therapy and have taken glimpses into hundreds of amazing spaces over the course of 2020. This year has had its challenges for many, but lots of people have shown their places some love over the past 12 months and really made their houses feel more like homes and their living rooms feel more like family rooms.

To close out 2020 with a big dose of living room inspiration, I’ve rounded up 15 of my favorite living room design ideas—both big and small—all of which come from creative renters/homeowners and pro decorators who shared their tips this year. These techniques are all easy enough to incorporate into your own space, so maybe you’ll end this year with one of these fresh ideas or start 2021 with your own mini living room makeover that we’ll be marveling at come next December.

Credit: Minette Hand

1. Embrace a large rug

Even if your living room is relatively small, you won’t want to skimp on the size of your floor covering. “Choose an oversized area rug—almost wall-to-wall—instead of a smaller piece,” explains designer Tanja Hinder of Marrimor Interiors. “It will visually enlarge the space instead of chopping it up.” With so many stunning oversized rugs on the market—both new and vintage—I’m fully on board with this piece of advice.

2. Paint your ceiling

Yes, really! Painting the ceiling may sound a bit “out there” to some, but it can do wonders in transforming a space. “People often forget about ceilings as the ‘fifth wall’ in a living space,” says designer Lindsay Hendrix of HI LUXE Interior Design. Choosing a bold color to place on the ceiling will add a pleasant element of surprise and put a pep in your space’s step without going overboard.

3. Change out your lightbulbs

It turns out that painting your living room walls isn’t the only way to give them a new hue; using a LED color changing lightbulb in your overhead fixtures will work the same kind of magic. Pink walls—or any color for that matter—can be yours with just the flick of a switch! In even better news, many of these types of bulbs also use less energy and could even lower your electric bill, too.

Credit: Kirsten Buck

4. Rethink your layout

What was originally designated as your apartment’s “living room” doesn’t have to serve as a living room at all if you don’t want it to. I was super inspired by one renter’s decision to switch her living room and bedroom to design a space that best served her needs. Whether you choose to follow this example for an aesthetic or functional reason, you may be shocked at what a transformation a role reversal of rooms can make.

5. Use a nightstands in the living room

I’m constantly coming across cute nightstands that I wish I could incorporate into my bedroom, and now I’m feeling pretty tempted to style one as a living room side table instead. Nothing beats an extra drawer—or two—to hide remotes, cords, and the like, and there’s certainly something to be said for going against traditional decorating norms if a piece makes you truly happy.

6. Add a vintage rug to warm up your space

A beautiful vintage rug will turn an ordinary living room into a stylish, storied space. Whether you purchase yours at a flea market, local retailer, or via an Etsy shop, you can’t go wrong. “Vintage rugs only get better with time,” says Audrey Margarite, a Decorist elite designer. Try layering smaller vintage rugs over more modern jute pieces for a cozy, collected look that won’t break the bank.

7. Install a fireplace or faux mantel

An electric fireplace will add a whole lot of comfy and cozy to your living room and can help provide a focal point for your space, too. If you’re renting and unable to make this type of change to your apartment, consider adding a faux fireplace mantel instead. It will work wonders in making your space feel more Parisian, Victorian, or cabin-like, depending on the style of mantel you choose. Personally, I purchased a faux mantel off of Facebook Marketplace over the summer and couldn’t be happier with this decision. It brings a nice touch of character into an otherwise blank-slate space.

Credit: Minette Hand

8. “Raise” your roof with this curtain trick

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that just hanging a curtain rod as high as possible can create the illusion of a higher ceiling. Just make sure to still opt for curtains that graze the floor. Anything too short can look sloppy! It’s up to you what color or pattern of curtains you hang; this trick will work with any style.

Credit: Sarah Clark

9. The accent wall is back and better than ever

You don’t need to spend big bucks to transform your space. Need some proof? Just take a peek at the stunning upgrades that renter Sarah Clark made to her living area on the cheap. An accent wall and a freshly-painted fireplace can inject new life into any room. This type of project can be completed in a weekend, so it’s great for those with limited DIY time. Black is also a great color to choose for a living room accent wall, since it can disguise a flatscreen TV fairly well. Make your design decisions count by truly thinking about what a color can do for you beyond just adding ambiance to a room.

10. Swag overhead lighting if there’s no hard wiring

This simple fix—swagging a pendant where you don’t have hard wiring—can take an apartment without overhead fixtures from dark and drab to nice and dreamy. Even better if said light is outfitted with a smart bulb that can be turned on and off with a remote or via an app. This kind of solution can be done without an electrician, and you can do something similar with battery-operated LEDs and sconces, if you want to save space in your living room with wall-mounted fixtures.

11. Choose a more unexpected style of wainscoting

I thought I’d seen it all when it came to wall coverings, but this fluted half-wall wainscoting takes the cake. Using plywood, half-round moldings, and a nail gun, Instagrammer Cynthia Moreno of HotPinkPineapples gave her room character and warmth with this bespoke wall treatment. Bonus points for that curved plywood shelf she incorporated, too. Why not choose a style of wainscoting that will work harder for you and provide some much needed storage? I know my living room could certainly benefit from that.

12. Living room art can be 3D

Gallery walls are still great, and there’s no denying the power of one big statement piece hanging over your sofa either. Many people have embraced textured wall hangings for the living room, too, but why not go a step further with a mobile? These pieces aren’t just for nurseries; they can provide color and visual interest wherever you put them, including in a corner of your living room or even over a doorway.

13. Put it on a pedestal

Have a favorite vase, plant, or even a fun bust-like sculpture to display? Give it pride of place with a pedestal, just like you’d see in a fancy store or art gallery. You can find these perches secondhand or online, and they’re great for adding a little classic charm to a corner of your living room. Keep in mind though that it’s best to steer clear of this trend if you have small children or pets for safety reasons.

14. Strategically mount a mirror

Mirrors work wonders in small living rooms, but you have to make sure you’re putting yours in a place that maxes out its light-reflecting abilities. “Hang a big mirror on your wall opposite a window to bounce off the light or rest it against a mantel or shelf,” says designer Lilly Bunn. A mirror on a mantel, in particular, will always create a classic, elegant feeling in your space.

15. Texture is always your design best friend

Move over, marble! It’s all about tessellated stone and travertine coffee tables these days, if you ask designer Shannon Claire Smith, whose living room is picture above. What’s nice about these pieces is they tend to be topped in see-through glass, which helps them recede visually in smaller living areas. While completely acrylic or glass tables can read as cold though, the creamy stone bases of these designs can bring some warmth to an otherwise sparse, minimal space. They also work well in the maximalist interiors that have been trending as of late, too. Subtle texture will never go out of style, no matter what kind of decor you favor for your living room.