Decorating a small apartment is tricky business. On one hand, you have to pull more tricks to make the space feel beautiful, welcoming, and spacious. But doing too much will make it cramped and cluttered.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be difficult!
With the right approach to design, it’s entirely possible to strike a balance between aesthetics and spaciousness in your small apartment. Here are a few small apartment living room ideas that can make your humble abode a warmer, more welcoming place.
Things to Do Before Decorating Your Living Room
Before we get to the details, there are a few things that you should do first.
Measure the Room
It is extremely important that you have a clear idea of how much space you are working with before you set out to re-design or decorate it. Once you have measured everything, you will be able to sketch a more accurate layout. Additionally, you may also begin to recognize which styles or design ideas will work with your room’s shape and square footage.
Besides helping you sketch out a layout, the measurements will make it easier to purchase and size furniture and decorations. It could save you the hassle of having to return oversized, unnecessary furniture pieces and decorative items later on.
Determine Your Needs
With the room’s measurements in hand, it’s time to think about what you want out of your living room. This will influence everything from the layout of the room to the colors and decor. The reason is simple enough: all of these things should reflect what you intend to do with the room.
For example, if you want your living room to be a gathering or guest-receiving area, it should be designed with closeness, warmth, and eye-contact in mind.
In this design, the sofa and armchairs are arranged so that they are all facing one another. It is simple for everyone to see each other and talk without raising their voices. The coffee table in the center of the room pulls the rest of the space together, bringing it all in close and providing us with a visual nucleus.
Color-wise, the owner went with a light palette of mostly white and neutral colors. Commonly associated with calmness and warmth, these colors subtly encourage relaxation and open discussions.
In other words, this living room was designed around the singular idea of being a conversational space. That’s how important intention is. Decide on yours before you proceed!
Figure Out Your Style
Every room in the house should ideally reflect your style and preferences. Are you fond of a cozy, country-esque flair? Or maybe something a bit more opulent and classy like Hollywood Regency? Or do you vibe with contemporary design trends of the 21st century?
Whatever the case, it’s important that you write down an overarching theme before you proceed. This part can be pretty challenging. Every design style has its own attraction points. If you don’t particularly favor any specific ones, you could end up liking them all and become unable to choose.
In that case, browse through different design ideas and look at room samples of the ones that you like best and that will suit your room. Settle on your favorite before you start making purchases.
You also have the option of taking the best parts of one design and mixing them with others. Just be careful if you do decide to mix them up. You don’t want your multiple styles to clash with one another.
Research the Furniture and Create a Design Board
Do a little research before going out shopping. Find furniture outlet websites and pick models that you like. Write down important details like the dimensions and cross-check them with your room measurements. Make sure that their sizes fit your space.
Additionally, we also recommend saving photos of the furniture and making a design board, like so.
A design board will give you a better idea of how the room will look after it has been furnished. Additionally, it will also help you figure out how well all of the furniture pieces match. That will help prevent you from making expensive mistakes later on.
17 Best Small Apartment Living Room Ideas
1. Arrange Lengthwise
If you have a room that’s lengthy but narrow, try to take advantage of its strengths. Instead of trying to cram all of your furniture width-wise, arrange everything along the length of the room.
This design from Big Island Builders has it figured out.
Items like the sofa and the bookshelves which take up lots of space are pushed against the wall to conserve floor space.
Most furniture pieces in this room are selected for their length rather than width, which suits such a special space better. Notable too, several furniture pieces were selected by their size. For example, instead of armchairs, the designer opted for small ottoman-style stools.
2. Take Advantage of Vertical Space
If you’re lucky enough to have a room with small square footage but a high ceiling, focus on building up. Take full advantage of the walls’ height by installing shelves, picture frames, curtains, and mirrors. They will draw the viewers’ attention and distract them from the size of the room, thus making it feel bigger than it is.
Curtains are especially useful for creating the illusion of spaciousness. Note that this example places its curtain rod far above the window. It hides the actual size of the window and draws focus to the height of the ceiling rather than the room’s length or width.
3. Use Catchy Patterns
This is another tactic that you can use to create the illusion of space. Unusual, bold decor, designs, and patterns immediately attract the eyes, so visitors will be less likely to notice the size of the room. Instead, their focus will be on the “attention traps” that you lay all throughout the space.
The floor-to-ceiling abstract painting in this example catches the eye before anything else. Its quizzical pattern will hold people’s attention and may even spark a comment or two. It will be a while before anyone bothers to comment on the living room itself (if at all)!
But other than being an attention trap, the painting’s pattern also gives the room depth. Additionally, the painting unifies the entire design language of the room into a coherent theme.
4. Leverage Bold, Vibrant Colors
Another way to expand a small space is through the use of colors. In particular, bold, vibrant colors can expand the space when placed next to one another.
Such a color scheme will have the same effect as the painting’s catchy patterns above. Viewers will be a lot more interested in discussing your color palette than the size of the room.
There’s more to colors than that, though.
Brighter colors, paired with good lighting, also make it visually seem like the space is more open than it is — exactly what you want with a small living room.
You can use the colors to showcase your personal style. In this design sample from Yumi Interiors, the dramatic use of colors and patterns gives the space a very Bohemian, eccentric aesthetic.
The walls alone are inhabited by hues of three different colors. Furniture and decor further adds to the dazzling mix with colors of their own. Even the textiles — the pillows and rug — offer something special for the eyes.
The show definitely won’t go unnoticed by anyone who steps into your living room. And all that natural lighting streaming through the windows makes the bold colors here shine. The space doesn’t seem the least bit stifling.
One thing to note: exercise moderation and pair the bright colors with plenty of neutrals. Too many colors and patterns can turn your room into an eyesore. You can “ground” it by adding white or neutral colors. They will allow the eyes to rest.
5. Brighten Up with White and Neutrals
The exact opposite of the idea above can also help a small apartment living room. If you dislike bright colors and would like something more low-key and elegant, use white and neutrals.
Few things in this world brighten up a space the way white does. Plus, neutral colors like ivory or eggshell naturally complement white, making for simple yet highly effective color combinations.
As you can see in this design sample from designer Brittany Stiles, the brightening and space-enlarging effects of these colors are further enhanced by natural lighting. If you don’t have a lot of windows, make up for it by installing plenty of lights.
Lighting is incredibly important in a room like this. If it’s too dark, the monochrome palette will make the space feel even more closed-off than usual. So make sure you check that box too, if this is the direction you wish to go.
6. Spread Out and Layer Your Lighting
While we’re on the topic of lighting, here’s another great trick: spread out and layer your lighting fixtures.
Spread all of your lighting fixtures throughout the room so that lighting is uniform across the entire space. A dark small apartment living room will feel more cramped. Shadowy areas will make things feel closed off, no matter what else you do to the room.
In addition to distributing lighting, you should also try to illuminate every level of the room. There are three levels of lighting that you should take into account: the floor, the walls, and the ceiling.
The floor can be lit using standing lamps. Wall sconces can help you with the walls. The ceiling can be handled by ceiling fixtures, accent light strips, or many other options.
This design sample from Rachel Larraine is a good example of this technique.
In addition to natural light coming through the balcony and windows, the room is further illuminated with a floor lamp and a hanging pendant light.
Shadowed spots like the doorways that cannot be reached by the pendant light are separately lit. This keeps the atmosphere uniformly bright and less oppressive.
7. Natural Light Is Best
Although electric lighting has its own advantages, natural sunlight is always better.
Aesthetically, it looks better than electric bulbs. Psychologically, exposure to daylight is known to relieve stress and promote good moods. Economically, since you’re less reliant on electric lighting, you’ll save money on your bill.
Last but not least, in functional terms it will not only give you proper lighting, but those windows and doors also offer you a view to the outside. Like we’ve learned in earlier ideas, a view goes a long way toward making the room seem bigger.
In this industrial-style loft designed by Four Point Design Build Inc., a large window takes up nearly one entire wall. The amount of sunlight it lets in is good enough that you wouldn’t need to use indoor lights during the day. On top of that, the size of the window has a magnifying effect on the room, making it feel larger.
8. Work Around Obstructions
Not all living rooms have the traditional boxy shape. Some will come with a few weird obstructions that can be challenging to work around. But it’s not impossible! With a bit of tinkering and brainstorming, you can turn that strange obstruction into a highlight for the room.
This is a textbook example of architectural awkwardness. A wedge shape eats up a big section of the back wall. It substantially limits your decorative options.
The fix is quite smart: fill the remaining empty space with open shelves to turn it into a built-in bookcase. Each tier of the shelf is accurately measured to conform to the wedge’s slant angle.
Safety is also taken into consideration. The wedge structure presents a hazard for taller guests. As a result, the couches are positioned a bit more forward to keep people from accidentally bumping their heads.
In the end, instead of it becoming a hindrance and an eyesore, the wedge has now become a unique highlight of your living room. It lends the space some pleasant geometry and solidity, both of which are further complemented by the form-fitting shelves. Plus, with the side window bringing in natural light, it’s a terrific book nook.
9. Consider a Window Seating Area
Some window spaces lend themselves well to built-in seating. Guests can enjoy the sun and the view of the outside. Depending on the size of the windowed area, you may not even need a normal couch or chairs!
In this design from Bennett Lerner Interiors, the bay window area is furnished with conforming seating complete with a table. It functions in pretty much the same manner as a living room sofa set but in a much smaller package.
It is an excellent area for entertaining guests. Moreover, we don’t see any reason why it can’t function as a dining area, either.
In a different design from C&P Remodeling Inc., a more conventional windowed wall is lined with seating for a similar effect.
The diner-like booth takes full advantage of the wall’s generous horizontal space. It results in a seating area that’s spacious but also compact.
10. Mirrors Can Expand the Space
Small rooms benefit well from mirrors’ reflectivity. They can make the space seem larger, more open, and brighter.
It’s a good thing that mirrors come in many different shapes and sizes. Search out one that matches your room’s aesthetic.
In this design, a simple rounded mirror is hung right in the center of the room. Its position makes the mirror a focal point for the space.
As you may already recognize, the mirror pulls double duty. It reflects natural light, making the space brighter. At the same time, the mirror expands the space by giving a sense of continuation through the wall.
You can amplify these effects with large, full-length mirrors.
Large mirrors like this one reflect a lot more of the room. Nearly the entire space gets reflected, including the ceiling. More reflective surface means a greater illusion of spaciousness.
The size of the mirror also expands the space in other ways. Specifically, this one highlights the ceiling’s height. The right mirror can effectively expand your room both horizontally and vertically.
Another thing that we really like about this sample is how the interior window is arranged. It is placed directly opposite an outward-facing window. While subtle, it ingeniously plays to the strength of the mirror. By allowing it to reflect the outside view as well as natural light, the room feels a lot more open and bright.
11. Personalize Your Space
Your living room doesn’t have to be filled with expensive furniture or be arranged by an award-winning designer to be beautiful. A space that showcases your personal style and identity has its own charm, too.
You can do this by filling the space with personal trinkets and accessories. Deck it out with family pictures, models, souvenirs from your travels, books, paintings, et cetera. By putting them in your living room, a part of you is on display, making guests feel a lot closer to the owner — you.
This makes the living space feel more cozy and intimate, warding off the cramped impersonality of imperfect rooms.
This eclectic living room is a good exercise of this idea. The room isn’t big, but the owner has made up for that fact by turning it into a visual extension of their own mind.
According to the designer, the color and textile patterns were specifically chosen to complement the personality of the owner. So, beyond just their life and personal style, we get a glimpse of who they are on a deeper level. There’s really no better way to connect to your home!
12. How About a Personal Library?
If you’re a book lover, the idea of creating a personal library is probably already high on your bucket list. However, in a small apartment where space is a luxury, it may not seem feasible. So, here’s an idea: merge your dream library with your living room.
You get the storage space for all of your books, but your living room also benefits in a big way. Book covers can create a beautiful visual language for the space, giving it a smart, academic look.
In this design, the built-in bookshelves reach nearly to the ceiling. As usual, this highlights the height and expands the room in the eyes of visitors. By adding a few personal trinkets and paintings in and around the shelves, the space also becomes a lot more intimate.
The neutral color, combined with the warm lighting, create a relaxing and cozy atmosphere — perfect for a weekend binge-read.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to design a living room library. Bookshelves come in all forms and colors. Plus, with a library being such a universal design, you can adapt one to virtually any architectural and interior design style with little difficulty.
13. Less Is More
If you dislike clutter in your living space, minimalism would be perfect for you. The way to do it is simple enough.
First, cut down on decorations and embellishments. You don’t have to throw everything out, but keep it to a minimum. Afterward, select only the most essential furniture pieces. Do away with anything that you don’t often use so that you can clear up floor space.
If you do everything right, the result will be a very spacious, airy living room. The effect can be further compounded by using light color palettes.
The design above also benefits from the large windows that give it a bounty of natural light. It brightens up the space and makes the room feel larger.
14. Throw Away the Sofa
If you’re very short on space, consider replacing a sofa with something like armchairs or loveseats. They offer the same amount of comfort as a sofa but take up less space overall.
Their smaller sizes give you more flexibility with your seating arrangement, too. You can push them into small corners and arrange them in a variety of different layouts to suit your floor plan. Additionally, if you need more seating capacity, you can just add more to the room. That’s not an option with a bulky sofa.
15. Try Space-Saving Storage Solutions
Storage is one of the most space-consuming aspects of a room. In some cases it takes the form of small shelves and compact cabinets while in others it’s grand bookcases and media centers.
In an enclosed space, the best course of action is to keep it small. But you don’t have to sacrifice your total storage space in the process. There are plenty of creative storage solutions out there that are simultaneously aesthetically pleasing, functional, and compact.
Wall-mounted shelves, for example, can hold your books, decorations, and other things without taking up any floor space at all. The sleek form of this type of shelf also reduces its visual footprint, keeping the room from feeling confined.
Media centers don’t have to take up an entire wall. If space is very limited, you can invest in a small media cabinet like this one from Sierra Living Concepts.
If you have the funds, we highly recommend going the custom route for such furniture. Custom pieces will be tailored to fit your room without taking up too much space and becoming eyesores. Additionally, the designer will suggest a good color, texture, and material choice to fit your room’s overall style and look. It may not be cheap, but it is ultimately worth it!
16. Movable Furniture
Your furniture arrangement doesn’t have to be static. Choose small, movable furniture such as small coffee tables or ottomans that can be easily pushed somewhere else whenever you want. It makes your living room more versatile and allows you to clear up floor space whenever you need.
For example, a movable coffee table can have a “main job” as the centerpiece of the living room’s seating in the morning. But, when needed, it can be pushed elsewhere to serve as a small dining table or to clear up play space for the kids.
The same principle applies with an ottoman. You can place it anywhere you want and use it for a variety of purposes. You can sit on it, eat on it, set stuff on top — whatever you need. In the process, you’ll also remove the need for an extra seat, an extra table, or an extra cubby in your living room.
17. Create an Organic Space with Greenery
Adding greenery will make your living room feel more alive and organic. Your living room will feel a lot less confined if it’s a little closer to nature. If you can infuse it with natural light as well, the space will feel airy no matter its size.
As you can see in this ingenious design, you don’t need huge planting pots to fit some greenery in your space. Here, lithe vines take center stage and make the bookshelf look almost like a green wall. Such a piece will make quite a statement in your living room.
Alternatively, if you want something simpler to execute, the tried-and-true planting pots will still do your living room a lot of good. Even a single, small pot in the room will make it feel a lot more alive.
Don’t have enough floor space to fit in a planting pot? Hang them on the wall!
While a small room surely limits your decorative and furnishing options, it has nothing on your creativity. As you can see with these 17 small apartment living room ideas, it is entirely possible to make the space feel larger without compromising on functionality or aesthetics.
If you have a professional designer on hand, jot down your favorite ideas and consult with them. They will give you pointers on how to apply it to your own space. And even if you’re designing and furnishing the room by yourself, write them down for reference and pull together the best ideas for the final design!
Luna Regina is an accomplished writer and author who dedicates her career to empowering home cooks and making cooking effortless for everyone. She is the founder of HealthyKitchen101.com and HealthyRecipes101.com, where she works with her team to develop easy, nutritious recipes and help aspiring cooks choose the right kitchen appliances.