How to lighten up a small living room, according to design experts

Make your small living room look brighter with these expert-approved tips and tricks

A small living room with colorful furniture and a large window
(Image credit: @picsfromcandice)

Learning how to lighten up a small living room is a key part of making it look bright and stylish. Good lighting can even make it look bigger and more open, which is always useful when you don’t have a lot of space to play with.

The living room in my rental is split into two zones — the zone with a window and the zone without a window. You can guess which one I spend more time in. That’s a whole lot of space that I’m not actively using, though so if there’s a way to lighten it up without upsetting my landlord, I’m totally game.

Thinking lightening up your space is a fab small living room idea? I’ve spoken to experts to find out the best ways to do that, that don’t involve painting your walls or drilling into them. Get ready to take notes, as there are some seriously clever tricks coming up.

6 expert-approved ways to lighten up a small living room

Want to know how to decorate and organize your small living room so that it looks light and bright? Here are six tips that interior designers swear by.

1. Utilize natural light

A living room with a gray couch and colorful furniture and decor

(Image credit: @picsfromcandice)

It can be so easy to shut the curtains at the earliest opportunity, especially in cooler months — but making the most out of natural light is really important. “Keep your curtains and blinds open during the day to allow as much natural light into the room as possible,” explains Ricky Allen, interior designer and director of Ever Wallpaper. He says that will create an illusion of a larger and brighter space.

A picture of Ricky Allen in a suit
Ricky Allen

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

2. Choose lighter-colored furniture and decor

A small living room with white furniture and decor

(Image credit: @aloftlife_)

Even if you can’t paint your walls, you can still choose what color your furniture is. “Dark or heavy furniture can make a room feel cramped and oppressive,” Allen tells me. Instead, he suggests opting for lighter-colored furniture.

Wondering what shades to go for? “Decorate with beige and tan, as they can help make a space feel bigger and brighter,” adds Christina Giaquinto, professional organizer and brand ambassador for Modular Closets. “For example, incorporate a soft tan couch, beige candles, or even beige throw blankets.”

A picture of Christina Giaquinto standing in front of a colorful closet
Christina Giaquinto

Christina Giaquinto is a professional organizer and brand ambassador for Modular Closets. She focuses on giving her clients the tools, methods, and techniques to transform their lives and homes through decluttering and organizing.

3. Declutter your living space

A small living room with a couch, TV, and a large window

(Image credit: @picsfromcandice)

This is an easy, almost instant way to make your living room look lighter. “Clutter creates a feeling of chaos and can make any room feel so much smaller,” explains Giaquinto. “When you live in a smaller space, it is so important to simplify your home and commit to keeping it decluttered, simplified, and organized.” She adds that it can actually be a blessing to have a smaller space because you have no choice but to fill it with items that truly matter to you.

4. Create your own lighting

A staircase leading to a small living room with a couch, decorative shelf, and lighting

(Image credit: @picsfromcandice)

You might not be able to change whole fixtures in a rental — but you can create your own. “Buy swag hooks and cord stays, some cloth-covered wire in a color that excites you, and choose plug-in pendant lights or chandeliers to add to the spaces in your living room without enough light, or where the existing overhead light is just not your style,” says Meggan Fadden Wynja, interior designer and co-founder of Color Cord Company. This is not only a budget-friendly idea, but will also allow you to create unique pieces that no one else will have in their home. 

A picture of Meggan Fadden Wynja in a green dress
Meggan Fadden Wynja

Meggan Fadden Wynja is a certified interior designer (ASID, NCIDQ) who has been working in the field for more than 20 years. As the design director and co-founder of Color Cord Company, she currently specializes in creative lighting design.

5. Hang up or prop up a mirror

A large gold mirror reflecting a small living room

(Image credit: @aloftlife_)

Mirrors are an amazing way to make a small room appear bigger. “Hang or place a mirror on a wall opposite the mirror,” Giaquinto explains. “The mirror will reflect the natural light from the window, making your living room feel larger, cleaner, and more open.” This will also help make the room look even brighter. “You can also hang multiple smaller mirrors to add dimension and brightness,” adds Allen.

6. Replace darker curtains and blinds

A colorful living room with a gray couch, colorful cushions, and decorated shelves

(Image credit: @mylifeinmulticolor)

While your rental might have come with boring and bland curtains and blinds, that doesn’t mean you have to stick with them. “Consider carefully replacing them with a light-colored shade instead,” says Fadden Wynja. She notes that if you do this, be sure to put the originals in a closet, to reinstall before moving out.

3 buys to help you lighten up your small living room 

Get your small living room looking bright and beautiful with these three renter-friendly buys.

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


How can I lighten my small living room?

There are three quick ways you can do this. Firstly, choose light-colored decor, such as whites and beiges. Then, add lighting fixtures and furnishings in places where there isn’t any light. Finally, hang a mirror onto a wall near a window, to reflect light from this.

How to make a small dark living room look bigger and brighter?

If you can’t choose your wall paint, going for light-colored furniture is a great way to instantly add lightness. Make sure to keep curtains and blinds open to let natural light in, and choose lighter fabrics for these. Mirrors will also create the illusion of space — go for a larger one if you want to maximize impact.

Now you’ve lightened up your small living room, you might be wondering how else you can make your home look more airy and spacious. These are our favorite ways to brighten up a dark room, with 26 expert-approved ideas.

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.