10 tips to modernize an outdated small living room

Modernize an outdated small living room and say goodbye to trends of the past

Modernize an outdated small living room to look like this blend of neutral furniture and dark gray and black accents
(Image credit: Article)

If you feel like you're stuck in a style rut, it‘s time to modernize an outdated small living room holding back your aesthetic with these 10 pro tips.

A total revamp might seem daunting, but revitalizing your outdated small living room doesn't mean you have to drag out the sledgehammers and set a date for demolition.

From covering your couch, to properly seizing on natural lighting in your home, there are so many touches to effectively modernize an outdated small living room. Consider these simple — yet effective — changes and small living room ideas to leave your space feeling brand new. Best bit of all? No contractors or big spend required. 

How to modernize an outdated small living room

Whilst intentional vintage style is charming, there's no denying an outdated small living room can feel cramped, old-fashioned, and even uninspired. Transform your outdated small living room into a modern space that reflects your personal style by incorporating these easy tips. 

Our design experts cover it all, from using the best paint color for a small living room to organizing tricks, the best lighting and how to pick a color palette.

1. Start by decluttering

An uncluttered and spacious modern living room with wooden floors and patterned sofa

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

An outdated small living room can easily feel overwhelmed with too many items around. Step one of revamping your small living room isn't running to the store to buy something. It’s learning how to declutter anything that is no longer serving you. 

Don't let that sinking feeling of overwhelm set in, because decluttering a small space is actually easier than you think. Grab some trash bags (you can stock up on Glad trash bags on Amazon if you're running low) and toss anything you don't need. A good barometer of need is whether you’ve used an item in the last year. If not, let it go.

This can include unused furniture pieces, to books you no longer want around. Decluttering your space this thoroughly allows you to redesign with fresh eyes And the most space possible.

You can donate, sell, or throw away your excess items to clear space. 

2. Invest in long-lasting materials

Living room with white striped sofa

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

When shopping for new small space furniture for the living space of your dreams, it's  best to search for pieces made with long-lasting materials, such as glass, wood, marble, and leather. 

These tend to feel less trendy and will outlast any of your aesthetic phases. Plus, they can be pretty easy to take care of, if you know how to clean a couch.

We love this Anthropologie linen sofa for a luxury look, or try this leather lounge chair from Walmart for a smaller addition.

3. Use minimalist furniture

Living room with leather sofa, gray rug, and ladder shelves

(Image credit: Article)

A clear way to create a living room that feels more modern is by incorporating more minimalist style furniture (like these nesting tables available at Amazon). 

From sofas made in neutral tones, to sleek coffee tables, these modern silhouettes and styles can help your living room feel airy and spacious. Look for items with thin legs and low profiles to maintain an airy aesthetic. 

The good news is you don't have to spend a fortune on new furniture. We found some great affordable luxe living room buys that will make your space look bougie on a budget.

4. Stick to a color palette

Living room with white rug and blue sofa

(Image credit: West Elm)

Even if you want a colorful living room, opting for a variety of colors isn't typically a good idea. Instead, create a more cohesive design by choosing a set color palette for the room.

You can use this palette when shopping for rugs or curtains to avoid too many clashing styles. A good rule of thumb is to stick with three major colors when designing and decorating a small space you want to feel harmonious. 

Knowing what color your living room furniture should be will be helpful when deciding on new purchases. “If you're looking for a modern and minimalist style, neutral colors like white, gray, or beige would work well," says Ricky Allen, interior designer and founder of Ever Wallpaper

“For a vibrant look, consider bold colors like navy blue or emerald green.” Once you choose a color scheme for your home, it’s important to stick to it.

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.

5. Don't avoid funky furnishings

Living room with wooden floors, round rug, and pink curved sofa

(Image credit: Castlery)

Although it's great to find items that will last a long time and transcend trends, there are plenty of reasons to think out of the box when shopping for furniture. 

This curved Everly Quinn sofa from Wayfair has a modern design but a neutral color palette to softly complement any decor style.

Atypical shapes and unique textures can inject some fun into your living room decor, instantly updating. Try French-style decor buys for small living rooms for a chic transformation.

6. Utilize various textures

Living room with brown checkered rug, leather sofa, and gold fireplace

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

When designing a cozy living room to feel modern, varying textures across the space is everything. From adding rugs, natural materials, color, and other decor (like these fluffy pink pillows from Bed Bath & Beyond), you can inject just the right amount of personal style to modernize your space. 

Experiment with faux fur, feathers, knit materials, and natural additions like rattan and seagrass. There's no better way to break out of a styling rut than a feathery pillow.

 "I love using a variety of textures and materials to add depth to my small living room," says Emily Lambe, deputy editor of Real Homes. "I personally have a boucle blanket, velvet cushions, and a fluffy rug to add texture to mine."

Emily Lambe
Emily Lambe

Emily Lambe is the deputy digital editor at Real Homes. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Rochester Institute of Technology and has been writing ever since. Emily writes about all things decor, fragrance, organization, and other home essentials. 

7. Paint with neutral tones

Living room with brown love seat and orange rug

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

Combining various neutrals together helps to create a look that feels modern, chic, and new. 

"Neutrals are always in style," says Ricky. "They don't have to look boring if you mix different shades and tones together."

If light and airy is your goal for modernizing your space, then choosing textiles and decor that are in the range of white, off-white, and gray can help. Adding small touches like this cream-colored faux fur blanket from Amazon can help brighten up a small living room in no time.

8. Don't neglect comfort

Living room with white couch, wooden table, and patterned rug

(Image credit: Castlery)

At the end of the day, you're the one who needs to feel comfortable in your living room. There's nothing more inviting than a space that feels fresh, updated And clutter-free.

When shopping for new furniture, always take into account whether it will be comfortable for you and your guests for years to come. 

For maximum comfort, embrace all things hygge and try out some Scandi-inspired small living ideas for furniture that's just as cozy as it is chic.

9. Use large, staple pieces

Beige couch in dark blue living room with gray rug

(Image credit: Article)

Although many larger pieces of furniture — from floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to wrap-around couches — might take up square footage, those pieces can also work to anchor your design. 

If you establish these furniture items as statement pieces, then you can create a design around them that feels cohesive and harmonious. One of the worst small space design mistakes you can make is buying an area rug or couch that's too small as it will make your tiny room look poorly proportioned. 

"I used small area rugs for years that actually made my tiny space look even smaller," adds deputy editor Emily. "Using a large rug will elongate the room and make your small living room look expensive."

10. Fix tired elements

Blue living room with red arm chair and bookshelves

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

If your small living room looks outdated because it's in disrepair — perhaps your floors need replacing, or your built-in bookshelves are broken — then a more in-depth makeover might be needed. 

Before then, get to the root of why your space feels like it's in a funk. If it's because you need new flooring, consider at least investing in a new rug that can give you a more updated appeal and conceal the bits in need of repair till you’re ready, have the budget or time for a bigger overhaul.

For any problem, there's likely a DIY project to repair it and if not, there's always a clever way to spruce it up. 

Best buys to modernize your small living room

From long-term investment pieces to small living room buys under $100, we found some great pieces to instantly make your outdated living room look fresh and on-trend.

Prices were correct at the time of publishing. 


Can I modernize my small living room without replacing all the furniture?

There are plenty of ways you can upgrade your outdated living room without refurnishing. Incorporating sofa covers, throw blankets, new pillows, and other decor elements can help you usher in a new fresh vibe. 

What role does lighting play in modernizing my small living room?

Changing the lighting can change the entire look and feel of your living room. With floor lamps, sconce lighting, and lamps, you can create the ambience you like by using the right lighting. Another tip? Check your light bulb type. Different bulbs produce different lighting and the wrong one can create a cooler or warmer tone than you prefer.  

Changing lots of small details can add up to a major update in the look and feel of your space. Instead of a complete renovation, reclaiming your living room's potential is as easy as implementing a few of our experts’ 10 design tips.

Even rearranging your existing furniture can make a difference in updating your look. Knowing where to put a TV in a small living room can make the space more functional and less cluttered.

Bid farewell to your living room's outdated decor and usher in a new era featuring a fresh and modern vibe. 

Kate Santos

Hello! I’m Kate Santos, a writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. In the design world, I got my start working as an Editorial Intern for Dwell magazine in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve written about design and architecture in many national magazines and online publications, including Playboy, Hunker, and The Culture Trip.

I grew up in a very old house in North Carolina and am still influenced by the rustic, charming, antique and aged elements of a home. Sustainability and longevity is extremely important to me and I believe learning to reuse materials or purchasing items you’ll love forever goes a long way. I also lean towards the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi when designing my own home, embracing the perfectly imperfect items I can find.