38 Big Ideas for Small Living Rooms That Maximize Every Square Inch of Space

updated Dec 11, 2023
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Small living spaces are cozy, affordable and more often than not, completely adorable. But when it comes to designing your diminutive space to make it just right for you, challenges abound. You’ll need to filter every decision, from what furniture to buy, how to arrange it, and even what colors to use, through the lens of small-space living. But it’s worth the extra effort, because a well-designed living room can transform a little nook into a thoughtful gathering space for the whole household.

Your main living area may not be large, but there are tons of ways to create an inviting space that feels like home, all the while maximizing storage and placement of your favorite items. In this article, we’ve included some of our favorite small apartment living room ideas for you to browse for inspiration.  Fortunately, the beauty of creative freedom — and the power of the internet — mean no matter how small your living room is, there are plenty of decor ideas and layouts that can serve as the perfect solution for your living situation.

Small Space Design Tips

When it comes to small spaces, a few clever design tips can help you configure your living room in a way that tricks your eye into feeling like it’s plenty spacious. Below, Kathy Kuo, CEO and Founder of Kathy Kuo Home, shares some of her favorite small apartment living room ideas.

  • Make smart choices with color: Use white paint on walls, trim, and the ceiling to make your room feel more spacious.
  • Make sure your rug fits your space well: Going too small will make the space feel more cramped. 
  • Make use of reflective surfaces: Mirrors can make a room feel larger.
  • Curate your finishing touches: Aim for a well-edited collection of a few accessories; too many small pieces can make the room feel cluttered.
  • Prioritize furniture pieces that are multi-use: Borrow from the minimalist design philosophy: Any time you get several functions out of one item, you free up additional space and reduce clutter. Benches with hidden storage or nesting tables are a great way to save space and create versatility.

Small Living Room Layout

1. Use rugs to define spaces in a studio.

When you have a microscopic living room that isn’t quite defined in a studio apartment, rugs can help delineate a space. In this artsy New York studio, a large red rug sketches out the office space, which helps separate the small living area by the window.

Credit: Samara Vise

2. Skip the coffee table in place of an ottoman or pouf.

This space in Cambridge, Massachusetts is by no means a small living room, but let’s pretend for a second that it is to learn a thing or two from it. These homeowners smartly used an ottoman in place of a coffee table — and opting for alternative seating like ottomans or poufs over larger furnishings is a smart way to still have a spot to place a drink or remote but be able to move things easily (and of course, create more seating).

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

3. Use the windowsills.

If you have windows in your tiny living room, put those windowsills to work holding books, plants and other decorative objects as in this sunny Brooklyn living room.

4. Use the power of the tuck.

The main goal of any small living space is always to use every area as efficiently as possible. And the area under your coffee table (considering yours doesn’t have shelving) can be prime real estate! Mimic the clever space from this wine country home, where poufs that serve as additional seating are tucked neatly beneath the coffee table.

5. Don’t be scared of quirky set ups.

Just because this area’s called a “living room” doesn’t mean it can’t serve a purpose beyond just lounging. The roommates in this Oakland apartment actually squeezed a washing machine in the corner of their living room. Although unexpected, the white unit almost blends into the space, since it’s close in color to the walls. It even features a fabric accent that matches the living room sofa.

Credit: Liz Calka

6. Embrace a multipurpose room.

Not enough space for a separate dining room, living room, and breakfast nook? Follow the example of this dreamy, pink-walled Washington DC studio and carve those areas out of one room. With the right sized furniture, this decorating strategy can make a layout look more like a deliberately open floor plan — not just a one room apartment.

7. Elevate an alcove.

Even a tiny alcove, like in this New York apartment, can work as the perfect living room. Emphasize the coziness of a small footprint with soft textures and calming colors, both of which can make a tiny area feel intentionally small.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

8. Utilize under-bench storage.

It’s not just the natural tones and abundant light that make this small living room seem much bigger; it’s also the skilled use of storage for excess items. The renters in this Toronto apartment have stowed several baskets under a small bench to keep clutter out of the way.

Credit: Wyatt Mangum

9. Go long.

Looking for small apartment living room ideas for a  narrow room? Look to this sleek Brooklyn apartment for a layout that’s perfect. To cop a similar look, search for furniture with small dimensions and leggy, airy pieces that don’t have a lot of visual weight. Place key furnishings like your sofa and large bookcases against the wall to take advantage of every square inch of floor space.

Small Living Room Decor

10. Behold the power of threes.

Grouping items into threes is a great way to make a living room feel a bit bigger by adding more pieces to a space without taking up more real estate. (Not to mention, you can move smaller furnishings around as needed, as is the case in this Houston modern farmhouse-style home.)

11. Go big with a rug.

A large rug like this one in the West Village apartment of Lee Lenox makes a tiny space feel much bigger than it actually is, according to Kuo.

12. Fit it all in.

Packing your teeny space with lots of purpose is another way to trick yourself into thinking things are bigger than they appear. In this Chicago studio apartment, the living room seamlessly connects to an office area, feeling cohesive and interesting.

Credit: Jill Ruzicka

13. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, sweetie! When you don’t have a ton of room to play with but you want to inject some color, it’s best to keep it simple if you’re a newbie. Start with a foundation of neutrals and add in one feature color and one metallic and run with it, like this “joyfully minimal” Chicago space, which invites varying textures and finishes to add depth while remaining light and airy on the eyes.

14. Add height with floor-to-ceiling draperies.

Floor-to-ceiling curtains are the quickest way to add instant height to any space. The trick is to hang them from right around where your wall meets your ceiling and let them slightly puddle on the ground. Light-colored sheer panels are designed this way, popping against a dark background in this Colorado home

Credit: Minette Hand

15. Install a wall of books.

To turn a small living space into your favorite room, consider taking an empty wall and turning it into a top-to-bottom mini library. It’ll provide plenty of storage opportunities, but also makes such a statement and gives a luxe built-in effect. For an even more stylish push, pick a rich color, like the hunter green of this room, and add molding to polish off the custom look.

Credit: Cathy Pyle

16. Fill ‘er up.

In a tiny space, you might be afraid of overwhelming things with too-large furniture, but oftentimes, if you go full throttle with a large sectional that hugs the walls, you’ll get a room that 1) seats a ton of people and 2) feels super welcoming and cozy. Take notes from this home we toured in the UK that fits a family of four.

17. Add an accent.

An accent wall is nice, but if you’re looking for small apartment living room ideas, try defining a small accent area, like the one shown in this Dutch living room. The pleasant green arch creates visual interest in this small space.

Credit: Minette Hand

18. Go vertical.

Blankets are a must for a cozy living room experience. But when you’re short on space to store said blankets, you don’t have many options. Sure, you can stash them in a basket, but that takes up valuable floor space. A better option? A leaning ladder, as in this historic Charleston home, which doubles as decor.

Credit: Anna Spaller

19. Think clearly.

Acrylic or glass furniture has long been a designer trick for small spaces. They serve a purpose (i.e., holding drinks, etc.) while basically disappearing into the space, as this coffee table does in this Providence condo. The result is a room with all the function you need, but without all the visual clutter.

20. Be delicate.

Similar to the above trick, choosing accent furniture with delicate frames is another way to tone down the visual noise. This tiny living room (the home of content strategist Cole Wilson via One Kings Lane) feels full sized thanks to the delicate gold base and glass top coffee table, thin framed accent chairs and floor lamp.

21. Keep things linear.

To add to your list of small apartment living room ideas, try implementing varying geometric and linear prints, like the dramatic rug in this Houston apartment. This gives a small space a sense of structure while also providing the illusion of additional length and width.

Small Living Room Ideas with TV

Credit: Erin Derby

22. Fashion a frame TV.

With so little wall space in a small living room, sometimes you don’t want to visually clutter it up with a massive big screen. This Jersey City rental expertly “hides” the flat screen in a gallery wall with a DIY frame TV.

23. Don’t focus all the furniture on the television.

Not everyone has a formal living area where they can chat with guests and a separate den for lounging and binging Netflix. This Cape Town living room does both by positioning a rocking chair facing the couch, which creates a natural spot to have conversations but also doesn’t get in the way of the TV.

24. Position the TV above a small credenza.

The TV is out of the way yet still visible from the couch thanks to its strategic wall-mount placement above the credenza in this San Francisco apartment. The piece of furniture helps to anchor the TV and doubles as storage.

Credit: Liz Calka

25. Place the TV on top of a dresser.

This Washington DC apartment uses a dresser as a storage unit/entertainment stand in its small living space. The wood on the dresser is neutral enough to look like it belongs in a living room yet has the full storage functionality as it does in the bedroom.

Credit: Brianna Nunes

26. Mount the TV on a panel.

This 425-square-foot Los Angeles living room blends the mounted television in with the brick wall by installing it on a similarly colored panel. This helps it fade into the background when not in use or when guests are over.

Small Living Room Ideas with a Fireplace

27. Use a fireplace as a focal point.

This gorgeous brick fireplace in this light and airy Michigan apartment steals the show, so why shouldn’t it be the focal point of the room? The furniture is arranged specifically so that great conversations can be had around the warm cozy glow.

28. Use a fireplace to display oversized artwork.

When you have a small living room you often have limited wall space, so take advantage of any opportunity you have to display a large piece of artwork. A large modern canvas hangs over the ornate fireplace in this small Victorian living room, which makes it feel even larger and more grandiose.

Credit: Cathy Pyle

29. Use your fireplace to display your tchotchkes.

In this charming London living room, your attention is occupied and delighted by all the personal accents and accessories on the fireplace, which make the space feel cozy, not cluttered.

Credit: Aivi Nguyen

30. Embrace the cozy eclectic look.

Another example of a tiny space embracing all things cozy for the better can be seen on the fireplace in this comfortable, sunny Philadelphia condo. Layer in an eclectic mix of objects and furnishings that are special to you, and you’ll be left with a living room full of colorful textures you’ll never want to leave.

Credit: Erin Derby

31. Use the fireplace as a backdrop for color.

The neutral fireplace helps the vibrant wallpaper and the perfectly bubblegum pink walls pop in this colorful Brooklyn heights apartment. The colorful tapered candles inside the fireplace and the colorful accessories on the top are also *chef’s kiss.*

Credit: Andrew Bui

32. Use the fireplace as a plant stand.

If your home has been blessed with a built-in fireplace, use the natural shelf it provides to your advantage. Serving as the focal point in this stylish yet small Brooklyn studio, the fireplace is also the perfect spot to display a large vine-y plant.

Very Small Living Room Ideas

Credit: Andrew Bui

33. Use color to define spaces.

When you’re trying to carve a living room out of a smaller studio space, you can always use color blocking to your advantage. This Brooklyn renter anchored her sofa with a hunter green wall, which makes the space that also contains her bed look like two separate rooms. She kept the look as airy as possible by restricting her living room furniture to the bare minimum — just a couch, coffee table, and two pretty magenta pink stools.

Credit: Jason Rampe

34. Use L-shaped seating.

Even though the living room is small in this New York studio, the couple artfully arranged the area with an L-shaped leather couch, which is a great way to save space when you’re working with tiny square footage.

Credit: Senaida Mehmedovic

35. Stick with a color scheme.

Incorporating a continuous color scheme throughout your entire space is a clever way to make a studio or one-room space look larger and less cluttered. We love the boho-chic look Senaida Mehmedovic used in her Denver studio apartment

36. Use a dining table to define the living room boundaries.

A dining table serves as a room divider for the living room in this 700 square-foot apartment that a family of five impressively shares. On the other side of the dining table is the kids’ play area, but this small living space is expertly laid out with an L-shaped couch, a small trunk that serves as a coffee table/storage, and a credenza with the family television.

Credit: Liisi Väli

37. Small furniture, but make it luxurious.

Because this Estonian studio is only 248 square feet, the furniture just can’t take up that much space. But this small white couch in the living area looks larger than life thanks to the pretty fabrics in the throw pillows and the softness of the throw on top. The matching ottoman, which the renter of the studio made, serves as both a coffee table and an extra seat for a living room visitor.

Credit: Erin Derby

38. Use every corner to your advantage.

The quirky layout of this Brooklyn living room may have befuddled most, but this renter took it to new heights — using every corner and nook to her advantage. The bay windows are designated spaces for a writing desk as well as a tall storage unit, and the large antique green couch fits snugly against the gorgeous back wooden wall.