Pro Panel: Designers' Golden Rules to Maximise Small Living Rooms

Author: Amanda Pollard   Date Posted:11 February 2020 

Follow these small-space tips from interior designers and architects to help you plan your compact living room


When it comes to designing a small living room, most professionals have a few golden rules they use to make the most of the space. Here, two architects and two interior designers share their go-to tips and tricks to ensure a small room is big on style and function. Houzz caught up with architects Sean Ronnie Hill of RISE Design Studio in the UK and Eva Byrne of Houseology in Ireland; and UK-based interior designers Olga Alekseev of Black & Milk and Claudia Dorsch of Claudia Dorsch Interior Design.
Designers look at the space beyond the walls
“It’s important to think about how a space is perceived, rather than focus on its dimensions,” says Ronnie Hill. “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 orientated 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,” says Byrne. “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.”
Black and Milk | Interior Design | London
They consider zones
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,” says Alekseev. “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 says. Here, for instance, the seating area is zoned by a simple rug, and the dining space is differentiated by open shelving.
Claudia Dorsch Interior Design Ltd
They go for bespoke joinery
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,” says Dorsch. 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.

Need help with redesigning your small living room? Find a local interior designer or decorator near you on Houzz
Thorne Wyness Architects
They add a feature
Dorsch 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.”

Ronnie Hill agrees. “Add a built-in eccentricity that will give a personal touch to a small space,” he says. “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,” says Ronnie Hill. “Each user will find a different purpose for it, making the room more personal and dynamic.”
They pay attention to details
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,” says Ronnie Hill.

“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.

The Golden Rules of Proportion: Decor Laws You Need to Know
colour + shape
They stay in proportion
“You can trick a room into looking bigger by choosing furniture that’s comparatively modest in size,” says Byrne. “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 the right proportions for 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,” says Alekseev.
Brittany Stiles Design
They let in light…
Simplicity is key when designing a small living space. “Use neutral colours and have simple walls, steering away from any superfluous architectural details,” says Alekseev.

Byrne agrees. “The brighter you can make the room, the larger it will feel,” she says, “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.”
RISE Design Studio
…But aren’t afraid of the dark
If your living room doesn’t benefit from plenty of light, however, white walls can make it feel dull, Dorsch 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.”
Lisette Voute Designs
They layer up the lighting
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,” says Dorsch. “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 says.

<div id="hzroot4583342" style="width:300px;text-align:center;font-size:12px;padding:0;border:0;margin:0;"><div style="font-size:14px;margin-bottom:3px;"><a href="" target="_blank">Pro Panel: Designers' Golden Rules to Maximise Small Living Rooms</a></div><div style="padding:0;margin:0;border:0;margin-bottom:3px;"><iframe data-hzvt="MjAyMDAyMTI6ZnVuY3Rpb24oKSB7CiAgICBbbmF0aXZlIGNvZGVdCn0=" name="HouzzWidget6390667" id="HouzzWidget6390667" border=0 frameborder="0" SCROLLING=NO style="border:0 none;width:300px;height:275px;" src=""></iframe></div></div>


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up