The Small Space Dweller’s Guide to Designing a Functional Living Room

published Feb 8, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)

Living in a small space is never easy. Along with little to no storage space, you’re often stuck with the daunting task of figuring out how to arrange furniture in a living room that’s cramped due to the lack of square footage.

Thankfully, we know a few space-savvy designer friends to call upon for help. We reached out to four different small space aficionados for advice on how to design a functional living room when you’re not working with a ton of space and here’s what they had they had to say.

1. Rethink Your Coffee Table

(Image credit: Federico Paul)

“In small spaces, it’s important to design a multifunctional living room. Since often times a small city apartment lacks a traditional breakfast room, I will look to the coffee table to serve double duty. By selecting a slightly taller table, around 25 inches high, you have a surface that’s a good height for dining while seated on the sofa. An alternate solution is to have bunching tables in lieu of one single coffee table so multiple people can each pull up a table for eating or drinking.”

—MA Allen, MA Allen Interiors

2. Know the Basics

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

“I spent my twenties working for top designers in New York City, so not only did I have to find creative solutions for my own living room on the Lower East Side, I was usually tapped to help my friends with their small spaces as well. If you’ve ever been a twenty-something in NYC, you know those spaces can be tiny! Here are a few short and sweet ideas for arranging furniture in a super small living room:

  1. Employ wall-mounted shelving for vertical storage.
  2. Fill the space with a big sectional to fill the room (it’ll actually make the room feel larger!).
  3. Keep the walls light and bright and use mirrors to create the illusion of a larger space.
  4. Try a neutral and/or monochromatic color palette for your walls and larger pieces of furniture, and then add color and texture with the smaller details like pillows, throws, and curtains.
  5. Buy baskets! In a small space, everything is out in the open. Use stylish storage baskets to attractively conceal you stuff from plain sight.”

—Betsy Berry, B. Berry Interiors

3. Embrace the Layered Look

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

“Here’s a little trick that I use for my personal NYC small apartments! Place a pair of etageres on either side of your living room sofa—this will give you incredible storage and great height. Next, place your side tables in front of the pair of etageres to forge a chic layered look that provides you a lot of room for books, photos, and baubles.”

—Lindsey Coral Harper, Lindsey Coral Harper Interiors

4. Make it Multipurpose

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

“When possible, incorporate pieces of furniture that can serve multiple purposes. For example, consider poufs and stools not only as decorative accents but also additional seating that can be tucked under a coffee table or console table. Second, when space is a commodity, embrace wall mounted lighting fixtures instead of lamps that sit on the floor or on furniture so ambience doesn’t have to be sacrificed. Third, be bold and paint the room dark—ceiling, trim, and all. It’s amazing how much larger a room can feel when the transitions from ceilings to walls are minimized. If mirrors and drapes are part of your furniture equation, go vertical. Hanging these elements higher than usual will make the ceilings feel even taller in a compact room.”

—Jean Liu, Jean Liu Design

*Re-edited from a post first published 09.20.2018 -BM