The One Thing You Always Should Do When Decorating Your Living Room — and the One You Shouldn’t

updated May 27, 2021
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If kitchens are the heart of a home, then living rooms are the soul of a space. Not only are they where you relax at the end of the day (or at least try to), living rooms often are the spot where you host and entertain guests, so it’s crucial that they’re comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.

Whether you’re itching for a small but significant interior switch-up or contemplating a total living room makeover, there’s one important thing that interior designers say you should always do when outfitting a living room: Instead of overstressing the wall decor and big-ticket furniture pieces, you should focus your energy on making sure you select the right size of area rug for your living room. Sure, it might seem like NBD, but it’s the one decorating tip that designers default to time and time again, because it can make such a big impact in a room. 

New York-based interior designer Tina Ramchandani says the correct size of living room rug is key because area rugs are typically used to ground the space. “When the proportions are off, the room feels uncomfortable, even with gorgeous pieces in it,” she explains. “I find that many homes I walk into feel ‘off,’ and clients don’t realize it’s because of the rug.”

But practically speaking, how do you go about selecting the right size rug? Interior designer Beth Diana Smith says measuring the room is a great place to start. “My rule of thumb is to measure the room before you go shopping, then make sure you choose a rug size that allows for at least the front legs of furniture to sit on the rug,” she explains. “If the rug is too small, the space can appear smaller or more cramped than it actually is.” 

For more specific rug measurements, interior designer Becky Shea recommends measuring a 12- to 18-inch margin around the entire perimeter of the room, from the wall to where the rug should sit. “If that feels too large, then work backwards by appointing your furniture and then measuring 12 to 24 inches beyond the furnishings,” she explains. “Start from the back of your sofa and pull the tape 12 to 24 inches beyond that point.”

If you’re torn between two rug sizes, Ramchandani says it’s safest to go with the larger one. “You can always purchase a larger size rug and have it professionally cut and bound,” she explains. “It’s sort of like buying a dress and having it tailored to fit.”

Once you have the right size of area rug for your living room, interior designers say that there’s one thing you should never do when decorating the rest of the space. “Don’t try to fit too much furniture into one space,” Ramchandani warns. “Always leave a safe distance in between furniture items so they have room to breathe. I like to leave 12 to 15 inches between my coffee table and sofa so that it’s still functional for use but allows folks to pass through without having to jump over you.”

Similarly, Smith says that no matter how much you may love the idea of having both a sectional sofa and a corner lounge chair in your living room, incorporating too many large-scale furniture pieces into a tight space can create unnecessary visual clutter as well as an unsound spatial flow. “In a small space especially, instead of opting for an oversized sofa that dwarfs the room, consider picking a more compact one along with a statement accent chair,” she advises. “This way, you’ll still have ample seating — sans the overwhelming feeling.” 

Bottom line: Whether it’s too small of an area rug or too large of a sofa, interior designers say that disproportionately scaled decor elements can wreak visual havoc on a living room, and make the space less functional and welcoming. Your best bet when decorating a living room is to measure the room first, pick a rug that sits at least a foot from the wall, and then arrange a small handful of furniture pieces so that they’re about 12 inches apart from each other, with at least the front legs resting on the rug.