7 things interior designers never have in small living rooms

The styles and items experts say are no-gos, plus what you can decorate with instead

A small living room with a gray L-shaped couch, shelves, and a coffee table with decor on
(Image credit: @simplysanfordco)

Keeping in mind what things interior designers never have in small living rooms is useful when decorating your home. They’ve dressed all kinds of spaces, mastering what does and doesn’t work in rooms of every size and shape.

We’re all about making the most of smaller spaces here at Real Homes, which is why we've grilled experts to nail down furniture items and styles designers steer clear of, why they do it, and what you can use instead.

If you’ve been searching through small living room ideas and want to learn about what you shouldn’t be decorating with, you’re in the right place. It’s the room guests see the most, and one you'll likely spent a lot of time in. Let our designers help you make the most of it.

Things interior designers never have in small living rooms

These tips and tricks will all help you organize your small living room effectively. We have also picked out some of our favorite buys, for must-have items in your home. 

The prices below were correct at the time of publishing this article.

1. Too many dark colors

A light wooden console table with decor in it, with wall art hanging above it and white walls behind

(Image credit: @sundayharris)

While dark colors can make a small living room look cozy, too many of these can have the opposite effect. "For example, if your house color is gray, avoid adding additional shades, such as dark blue couches or green accent walls," says Ricky Allen, interior designer and director at Ever Wallpaper. Instead, complement these with warm neutrals like beiges, browns, and creams.

A picture of Ricky Allen in a suit
Ricky Allen

Ricky Allen is an interior designer and the director of Ever Wallpaper. It sells high-quality wallpapers and murals, using non-toxic, odorless, and environmentally friendly materials.

2. Oversized furniture

A white living room with cream and brown furniture and black blinds

(Image credit: @aloftlife_)

When you’re living in a small space, less is always more when it comes to decorating. "Oversized furniture can dominate the room and make it feel cramped," explains Guillaume Drew, designer and founder of Or & Zon. Instead, be more intentional with what furniture you choose

Allen suggests opting for multipurpose furniture such as storage ottomans or a small sofa bed as an alternative to bulky furniture. "These will save space and serve a dual purpose," he adds. 

Guillaume Drew in a black jumper with a black and white filter
Guillaume Drew

Guillaume Drew is the founder of Or & Zon. This is a home decor store which blends sustainable luxury with global artisanal treasures to enhance everyday living.

3. Overbearing art pieces

A brown wall art print of a face outline on a wall shelf next to a vase of orange roses and pink white tulips

(Image credit: @simplysanfordco)

We’re sure your home is a masterpiece — but this doesn’t mean you need to dress it like it’s the Louvre. 

"One thing you'll rarely see in an interior designer's small living room is large, overbearing art pieces," says Stefan Bucur, interior designer and founder of Rhythm of the Home. "Oversized art can dominate a small space and throw off the room's balance."

As an alternative, Bucur says to choose smaller pieces of art and group them in a gallery wall arrangement to create a focal point without overwhelming the space. 

Headshot of Stefan Bucur, a white man with a beard and short hair in a black shirt, with a yellow sign in the background
Stefan Bucur

Stefan Bucur is an interior designer and founder of Rhythm of the Home. He has over six years of experience in home decor and interior design, and is based in Lewisville, Texas.

4. Excessive decor

A small living room with two arm chairs, a coffee table, and an L-shaped couch

(Image credit: @simplysanfordco)

It can be easy to fill your home with all the best candles and vases you own. Decor doesn’t always equal style, though.

"Clutter can make a small room feel even smaller," Drew tells us. "The approach should be towards selecting meaningful and versatile decorative pieces which best reflect your style, without adding too much noise to the room."

You could always take the Marie Kondo approach, and simply select the items which bring you the most joy.

5. Overbearing lighting

A small living room with a creamcouch and wooden coffee table

(Image credit: @sundayharris)

Many interior designers say never to rely on overhead lighting as the only light source in the room. "Solely relying on overhead lighting can create harsh shadows and doesn't allow for creative lighting moods," Bucur explains. 

As an alternative, layer different types of lighting (ambient, task, and accent) to give the room depth and flexibility in setting different moods. 

6. A lack of plants

A woven chair with a white cushion and throws, plus plants around it

(Image credit: @simplysanfordco)

Bringing the outside in is a clever way to bring vibrancy and color to your small living area. 

"The absence of greenery can make a space feel sterile," says Bucur. 'Most interior designers incorporate indoor plants to add life to any space, regardless of size. "They also look for air-purifying plants, as these can improve the overall ambiance. If you aren’t the best at plant care, be sure to choose plants that don’t need much maintenance, such as snake plants."

7. Dark curtains

A living room with a gray couch coffee table, and large windows

(Image credit: @sundayharris)

Dark, heavy, curtains tend to absorb light, which makes rooms feel smaller — something you don’t want when your room is already short of square footage. "I suggest choosing beautiful, light-favoring materials instead, such as cotton and linen," Drew says. 

If you are living in a rental that has come with dark curtains, store them away and pop them back up when you leave. 

What’s the top thing interior designers never have in a small living room?

The top thing that interior designers never have in a small living room is dark colors, as these can make a room feel colder and smaller, which is the opposite of what you want in this space.

Why are small living rooms difficult for interior designers to decorate?

Small living rooms are difficult for interior designers to decorate — especially when working with tight spaces. "There is often limited space, making it challenging to fit in everything the client desires," Allen explains. 

It’s good to be as ruthless as possible when decorating your small living room. "Some items must be sacrificed in these cases to make the living room functional and aesthetically pleasing," Allen finishes by saying. Learning how to declutter a small space will benefit this area, as well as other rooms in the house.

Eve Smallman
Content Editor

Hi there! I’m a content editor at Real Homes. I've been a lifestyle journalist for over five years, previously working as an editor across regional magazines. Before this, I graduated from Nottingham Trent University a degree in journalism, along with an NCTJ gold diploma. I love running, decorating my rented Victorian home, and discovering new cheeses. For Real Homes, I specialize in interior design, trends and finding the best viral buys.