The Best Rectangle Living Room Layout Ideas, According to 3 Designers

published Dec 14, 2023
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I’ll share a secret with you that just may put your design mind at ease: Nailing your living room layout is likely more important than selecting the furniture itself. It’s nice to have a newly minted modular sofa next to a totally trendy side table, all on top of a graphic area rug. But if that rug is too small and that sofa is pushed into a corner — heck, if that trendy side table is set in a walking path — then you have a problem. Style is only as covetable as its function, particularly if you want a comfortable home. And when it comes to the best living room layout ideas, arranging pieces intentionally can make all the difference in how an overall design scheme looks and feels. 

So, don’t kick your well-loved surfaces or seats to the curb just yet, and try moving pieces to a more optimal position to see how that makes everything feel more airy and inviting (two words everyone wants to use to describe their living area). While no one expects you to be a master at this specific game of Tetris, there are a few tricks to keep in mind in order to maximize flow and symmetry. I asked three designers for their advice on a classically shaped space, and here’s what they had to say about the best rectangle living room layout ideas. Read on for four easy layouts to try and plenty of actionable tips. 

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

Float the Sofa Just So in a Large Rectangle

It may seem like the best place to put a sofa is directly against a wall, but if there’s space to do otherwise, then choosing this route can make a rectangular room feel far too large. Instead, designer Alvin Wayne suggests “floating” your sofa in the room, ensuring there’s enough square footage around it to move comfortably. “If there’s a fireplace, then position it toward the fireplace as a focal point,” he adds. By floating the sofa in the room, you’ll make the area feel larger and cozier at the same time. Side tables can be placed on either side with a coffee table in front (or just one side table with a plant or table lamp opposite it works as well), or a small console table can be placed behind the sofa for vignettes and lighting. Add in accent chairs for extra seating as your room allows spatially (again, you want to make sure there’s enough clearance to move around each piece). Go asymmetrical with their placement, or team up a duo either on one side of the room or across from each other on opposite sides of the room.

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

Let Sofas “Talk” to Each Other If Space Allows

Alternatively, very rectangular living rooms may mean there’s a special opportunity for avid entertainers. Designer Amy Vroom, owner of The Residency Bureau, has this to say: “Do you want to create a conversation zone where you’re entertaining a lot?” she asks. “If so, place two sofas facing one another. Put a coffee table in between for easy access to drinks and appetizers.” Book-lovers could also consider adding a chaise to the corner of this long room scheme as a secondary spot for lounging, she says, as long as there’s no risk of tripping over furnishings. 

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

Anchor a Sofa Using an Off-Center Focal Point

Many designers will say installing a television over a fireplace isn’t the most optimal layout option, mostly because a TV often competes with this architectural feature for attention. But that’s not the main reason why designer Jessica D’Itri Marés of Renovate 108 advises against it, where and when possible. “I know there is no second option in some homes, but doing this will inevitably make your TV too high for you to be physically comfortable watching it,” she says. “The absolute ideal solution is to hang your TV centered at eye level while seated! This creates a much more immersive and ideal viewing experience, while also being better for your posture and your neck.” To that end, if your rectangle living room layout allows it, hang yours above a media console table for a finished look, or consider mounting the screen on a swivel. Pepper in chairs, tables, and other furnishings as space allows.

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

Consider Working a Wall with Your Sofa in a Small Space

You may find working the perimeter of a rectangle living room to be a more effective use of space in a smaller apartment or home. Think of it this way — floating your sofa too far off the wall could mean there isn’t enough clearance to add a coffee table without bumping into it when walking around … and so on. For that reason, consider centering your sofa on a wall, opposite some kind of a focal point, and then add in the amount of tables you have space for as well as some kind of a chair or ottoman for extra seating. 

Depending on the orientation of your rectangle and the actual dimensions of your room, Vroom suggests a second alternative. “In smaller rooms, I often place two chairs opposite a sofa with a focal wall in between, like the fireplace or an art feature,” she says, which is similar to the sofas “talking” setup above, only scaled way down. “If there is a little extra room, you could also add a small bench or two small stools for extra seating when guests stop by.”

Keep These Other Tips in Mind for a Rectangle Living Room Layout

Most of the above layouts can be customized to suit your unique needs; for example, sofas can be swapped for some kind of a sectional in every case (except for the sofas “talking” layout, where one U-shaped sectional could create a similar setup instead). That said, you may find you need to add or subtract accent furniture — and layer in lighting for visibility — to make sure your room doesn’t cause a traffic jam as you and others move around the space. The pros had a few more words of wisdom on choosing tables and rugs, too, so keep these ideas in mind as you fine-tune your rectangle living room layout now and in the future. 

Make Sure Tables Are Appropriately Sized

As long as a coffee table isn’t going to teeter over, that’s good enough, right? Well, there’s more to this anchoring piece than meets the eye. “Coffee tables should be 18 inches from the couch, and no more than two-thirds the width of the couch,” Marés says. So, if your current coffee table is significantly smaller than that, think about pushing it to the side of your sofa or next to a chair, as it might be better side table material. 

Drink tables are experiencing something of a revival, too, even in the tiniest of living rooms. “I very much like the idea of a small cocktail table between two chairs, in addition to side tables and coffee tables,” Marés continues. “They are especially useful in small spaces, as they typically have a pedestal base, and therefore, can easily slip between two chairs, even if they are placed close together. One last bit of math to remember: “Don’t force two side tables with a sectional if it’s not working,” Marés says. “Side tables should be an inch or two within the height of the sofa arm.”

In specific regard to side tables, Vroom says she layers them in according to how she hopes the living room will be used. “Do I need a small drink table, or do I need something larger for a lamp? If lounging is the name of the game, I’ll add an upholstered ottoman to kick your feet up.” A larger one can take the place of a coffee table, if you so please. 

Find the Right Scale Rug 

While you should be able to repurpose a familiar coffee table or sofa in a layout rearranging exercise, a too-small rug may just have to go. Wayne, Marés, and Vroom all agreed that a teeny rug is often the biggest layout mistake they come across in living rooms, and it’s likely factoring into a loss of style and function — it’s easy to slip on a rug that looks like an island in the middle of a room! 

“Typically, I choose a rug that is slightly longer than my sofa. My preference is to go slightly oversized to help ground the room,” Vroom says. “At a minimum, select a size where the front legs of your sofa and chairs can rest on the rug. You could also mix things up with an asymmetrical or round rug. I’d still try to get it large enough that some of the furniture rests on the rug.”

But if you really, really love a too-small rug, Vroom offers up this suggestion. “Layer in a neutral rug, like sisal, under the one you love to solve that issue.”