The 7 Biggest Living Room Decorating Mistakes You’re Making and How to Fix Them, According to Designers

updated Nov 13, 2020
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Four post bed and dresser in a beautiful white rustic modern design farmhouse tiny house bedroom with a white linen sofa and cactus on dresser.
Credit: Trinette Reed | Stocksy

For as important as living rooms are, people don’t always decorate them as effectively and efficiently as possible. “We often walk into a client’s home and see all of the furniture up against the walls in the living room,” says designer Anna Kroesser of Kroesser + Strat Design. “We understand that people think it will make the space feel more open, but it actually restricts the space, makes it feel less inviting, and doesn’t allow for as many furniture layout options.”

Curious what other design mistakes you might be making in your living room other than layout gaffes? I asked a handful of interior designers what common decorating oversights they see their clients making and what to do instead, and these mistakes are what topped their lists.

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You’re using too many large pieces of furniture

Designer Michelle Lisac says she often sees clients employing too many big pieces of furniture in their living rooms. “People tend to think they need the furniture suite with the sofa, loveseat, matching chairs, and coffee table,” she says. “However, in the average living room, that can be overwhelming and look much too cramped.”

Instead, Lisac recommends sticking to just one or two prominent pieces, which will open up the space visually. Even small spaces can benefit from a few larger scale furnishings. Just make sure you aren’t overcrowding the room with bulky pieces you don’t really need or aren’t using.

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You don’t have enough seating

When it comes to furniture, the quantity and variety of pieces can be just as important as their placement and scale. For designer Kendall Wilkinson, not providing enough seating in your living room is a common mistake that often results in a layout that isn’t really functional for family and guests.

“Make sure to strategically use various seating pieces: sofas, sectionals, chaise lounges, club chairs with ottomans, or occasional chairs,” Wilkinson says. “This way, the design has a layered and intentional feel—and everyone has a place to sit.” There’s no need to squeeze one of each of these things in though. Picking a few styles that will work best for your setup is all you have to do to create a welcoming living area.

You’re not changing up artwork

If you aren’t switching up the artwork in your living room on a regular basis, designer Gabrielle Santiago says you’re missing out on an opportunity to really leverage your pieces to their full decorative potential. “When we keep the same imagery hung in our living spaces for too long, we become immune to the emotion they originally sparked,” she says. “I suggest you change up your artwork and picture frames on a monthly basis to help usher fresh energy into your living room.”

You don’t have to always be buying new art to implement this tip. Try swapping a piece from your bedroom, for example, into your living room gallery wall. You can also change the mats on your frames or wrap a frame in washi tape or temporary wallpaper to make it look more luxe. It’s all about seeing what you have—just differently or in a slightly different decorative context.

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Your decor doesn’t balance out your furniture

If you ask designer Dana Wolter, decorative accents should be given as much thought and consideration as the furniture pieces in a living room. “Accessories are an important finishing touch and can act like jewelry does for a little black dress,” she says. “They personalize a room and make it look polished and complete.”

For Wolter, stacks of coffee table books are a must to add splashes of color and provide a collected feel to a room. She also suggests introducing plants or flowers to instantly add life to a space. You don’t have to become a maximalist if that’s not you, but it’s always worth adding in a layer of your personality to a space. Start with things from your travels or other prized objects that you’ve collected over the years and pepper in a few things, like a colorful vase or a fun bust sculpture, that you like just for the way they look.

You’re buying furniture that isn’t built to last

When you’re talking accessories and textiles, fast fashion for the living room is one thing. Larger purchases, however, shouldn’t be made in haste, that is, if you can avoid it. In fact, designer Marie Flanigan says that all too often she sees homeowners buying substantial pieces of living room furniture without longevity in mind at all. “I can certainly understand the desire to furnish your living room quickly and feel settled, but this hurriedness can lead to costly mistakes,” she warns.

Before purchasing furniture for a living room, Flanigan recommends ordering samples to test fabrics and finishes to see how they hold up to you really “living” with them. “Take the time to carefully choose pieces that you will have for years—hopefully generations—to come,” she adds.


You’re using too small of an area rug

While area rugs are a great way to ground a living room, Santiago says if they’re too small, they will make a room feel disproportionate. “An area rug should be large enough to go under your furniture,” she explains. “For formal living rooms, I suggest a larger size rug so there’s equal distance around your furniture—about two to three inches—beyond the backs of chairs, sofas, poufs, etc.”

For more relaxed family rooms, you can loosen up on these guidelines a bit. In these cases, rugs should start about half way under your furniture, or, at the very least, try to get the two front legs of every style of seating onto the rug with a little bit of space around those legs as a visual buffer. “This aids in scale and helps the room feel more cultivated, balanced, and cozy,” adds Santiago.

Credit: Trinette Reed | Stocksy

You’re mounting curtains too low

If you thought your living room curtains were supposed to be mounted right where your window begins, you could be missing out on a visual trick that many designers say can make your space look bigger and better.

Hanging your curtains anywhere from three to eight inches higher than your windows can actually draw the eye upward, thus making your room appear loftier and your ceilings taller in the process. The only catch here, says Santiago, is making sure that your curtains are long enough to do this. Properly-sized curtains will always kiss the floor neatly without pooling. Anything shorter, and it’ll only draw attention to the deficit in the fabric’s length.