Designers' Tips and Tricks for Maximising a Small Living Room
Follow these small-space tips from interior designers and architects to help you plan your compact reception room
Professional advice from: Sean Ronnie Hill of RISE Design Studio; Eva Byrne of Houseology; Olga Alekseev of Black & Milk; Claudia Dorsch of Claudia Dorsch Interior Design
“It’s important to think about how a space is perceived, rather than focus on its dimensions,” Sean Ronnie Hill says. “When designing a living room, especially a small one, we have to assume there’s little scope to change its shape or extend its area without compromising other parts of the home.
“However, we do have control over what it feels like to inhabit the space,” he continues. “An oriented view through a large glazed feature, for example, can make a room feel twice its size.”
“Get your room layout right, starting at the door,” Eva Byrne says. “In a traditional house, doors open so you look at the wall of the room when you enter. If budget allows, re-hang the door, so you can see the whole room as you walk in. It makes it seem more spacious and easier to get into.”
If your living room doubles as a dining space or work area, clear zones can help it feel less cluttered. “When you’re planning your space, it’s important to understand your needs,” Olga Alekseev says. “Study your room, think about seating requirements and draw up a clear list of functions the space will have.
“Based on this information, you can divide the space into zones,” she continues. Here, for instance, the seating area is zoned by a simple rug, and the dining space is differentiated by open shelving.
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The best way to maximise storage in your small living room is to go for customised cabinets and shelves, rather than freestanding ones.
“Use every millimetre of space,” Claudia Dorsch says. She suggests a balance of open shelves and closed storage. “Lots of open shelving can make a smaller living room feel oppressive and cluttered,” she explains. “Storage that’s painted in the same colour as your walls will not only give you somewhere to put stuff, it will also recede into the background.”
Here, the open storage blends in with the wall colour, while the closed cabinets tone with the accessories on display.
Claudia recommends bringing in a focal point. “That way, the living room’s smaller proportions won’t dominate and you’ll give the room its own identity,” she says. “Try a large piece of art or a fabulous chandelier to create a sense of indulgence.”
“Add a built-in eccentricity that will give a personal touch to a small space,” Sean suggests. “It could be an oriel window where you can curl up and read a book, or a built-in seating space that ends up being used as a table by the little ones.
“By taking a leap and introducing something bespoke and unexpected, you’ll bring up surprises,” he adds. “Each user will find a different purpose for it, making the room more personal and dynamic.”
Elevate the impact of a small living room by giving it a high-quality feel, our experts suggest. “One of the most important factors that makes any room stand out is the quality of its finishes,” Sean says.
“It’s amazing how sometimes the perception of beauty in a space comes down to details, such as whether the corners are well finished and sharp,” he says.
“You can trick a room into looking bigger by choosing furniture that’s comparatively modest in size,” Eva says. “A large sofa in a small room, for example, will dwarf the space and accentuate its diminutive size. Choose a two-seater sofa, of compact design and raised on legs. This will allow for a greater sense of space and flow. Apply the same logic to every piece of furniture you choose.”
The opposite applies when it comes to choosing a rug, however. “People tend to make the mistake of using small rugs and cluttering the room, but in fact a big rug may give the illusion of a bigger space,” Olga says.
Simplicity is key when designing a small living space. “Use neutral colours and have simple walls, steering away from any superfluous architectural details,” Olga says.
“The brighter you can make the room, the larger it will feel,” Eva adds, “so choose a pale shade for the walls and add colour through accessories and art. Carefully placed mirrors will magnify the space and boost the light.”
If your living room doesn’t benefit from plenty of light, however, white walls can make it feel dull, Claudia warns. “Instead, use darker, richer tones, which will give a small room drama, or a cosier, enveloping feeling,” she says. “Make the size of the room the statement.”
You can use lighting to add a feeling of depth to your small living room. “Strategically placed lamps and wall lights will add a wash of light to different parts of the space, or focus on a specific feature,” Claudia says. “This draws your eye around the room, as it creates depth and shadow.
“Hidden LEDs in ceiling coving are another great way to achieve mood and grandeur in a smaller living room,” she adds.
Is your living room compact and cosy? Will you be using any of these tips to design it? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section.
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