9 neutral small living room ideas that are truly not vanilla

Think cozy, textured, interesting neutral small living room ideas with top tips and picks from our experts

Neutral small living room with brown leather sofa and wooden floors
(Image credit: Madeline Harper)

If you're leaning towards neutral small living room ideas but want to avoid being vanilla (that's 'uninteresting', for the uninitiated) our experts have nine gorgeous ways to deliver this aesthetic with intrigue.

Gone are the days when neutral shades were synonymous with overdone minimalism and looked upon as bland, because there is lots of fun and joy to be had with this soft and gentle color palette. 

Nowadays, nicely-done neutral small living room ideas are some of the most lust-worthy. Far from boring and cold, a soft, textured palette of neutrals leaves all the more room to get creative with cozy styling. Get neutralizing confidently, with our interior design professionals at the wheel.

Intriguing neutral small living room ideas

If you think cream living room ideas make a lounge look plain, you may have been going about decorating with them the wrong way.

"Using neutrals with white walls or trim, in a small living room helps keep a space feeling open and not overwhelming visually," says Keira Schultz, interior designer and owner of KSDesigns LLC. So no, a nice neutral small living room is not out of reach, and we have some looks that are 100 percent gorgeous, and achievable.

White woman with blonde bob smiling sat on brown leather couch wearing white shirt and blue jeans is designer Keira Schultz
Keira Schultz

Keira Schultz takes a unique approach to interiors and believes good design is possible no matter your budget. With degrees in Textiles and Interior Design, Keira loves working with clients to share her skill and inherent love of design.

1. Make them shades of toast

Accent chair dressed with shag rug in the corner of neutral space with wooden floor and round wooden coffee table

(Image credit: Madeline Harper Photography for KSDesigns LLC)

Who said neutral colors were all white and ivory? Lean into toasty and caramel shades (we love this faux leather mid-century accent chair with oak frame from Amazon) for a cozy hit and your space will be far from cold or boring. 

For dimension, choose darker neutrals for furniture pieces, like your coffee table, and keep walls and trim white to enlarge the space.

2. Cut through neutrals with thoughtful layers of color

Modern rustuc living room with camel colored leather couch, draped sheepskin throw and patterned soft furnishings

Styled by KSDesigns LLC, with photography by Madeline Harper Photography

(Image credit: Madeline Harper Photography for KSDesigns LLC)

One of the fears you may have of going all in with neutrals in a small living room space, is that it might feel cold and a little, well, blah. 

Overcome this by gently incorporating brighter or deeper hues for an expansive, interesting finish that will enhance your beautiful, neutral palette. 

"In order to keep the space interesting and warm, use layers and textiles to add pops of color," recommends Keira. The bright throw pillow as we can see in the space Kiera designed above, and finer detail on the corner lifts the neutral shades (these textured Tosleo boho set of two throw pillow covers from Amazon are in the right ballpark).

If you are working with a white sofa instead, consider deeper caramel shades like the below pic from our roundup of affordable Target throw pillows.

3. Include nods to nature

Neutral living room with patterned white wallpaper and stone wall framing central round coffee table and wooden console with vases of dried neutral colored flowers

(Image credit: @thistle.harvest)

From the wooden console, to the floral wallpaper, Hannah, creator of @thristle.harvest has tapped into nature on every level in this cute den of a living room. 

This small space has many neutral layers, soft details from all the patterns and natural materials working together to bring lots of gorgeous visual design interest, making this neutral small living room so very far from bland. We love a good rug at Real Homes, and reckon this geometric Palazzo Latte Re-Jute Ruggable number is a cracking match.

4. Put art and your personality on display

A small living room with a coffee table with decor on, a wooden console table, and a couch

(Image credit: @simplysanfordco)

There is always room for personality in a space, no matter how small a neutral living room may be. Let artwork and an array of unique home accessories bring your personality to the table. Make sure your small space is uncluttered so it attracts the right kind of attention.

"In addition, using unique and interesting pieces like ceramics (we love the Joshua Ceramic Vase from Pottery Barn) to add character to the space is a must," explains Keira. "It is a good idea to keep a small living room simple and thoughtfully curated in order to keep the space from feeling cluttered."

5. Let pattern define a gentle color palette

Stone square coffee table over textured square patterned rug, with candles, books, and a large bouquet-filled vase for decor

(Image credit: @thatsophiahome)

Neutrals make the perfect canvas for motifs, even in a small living room. "Textures and patterns in a neutral space can have a big impact," says Keira. 

Choose geometric and bigger prints to complement a small space and make it flow. Area rugs, blankets, and our fave Urban Outfitters throw pillows all make cute buys for a burst of intricate design to define a soft color scheme. 

6. Punctuate a blank canvas with gray

Living room with light colored walls and couches punctuated by dark gray hearth and round stone slab coffee table with greenery.jpg

(Image credit: Davis Interiors and Spacecrafting Photography)

If you're wondering whether gray paint is going out of style, take pause. The versatile shade has seen a resurgence in recent times, and for the neutral small living room of dreams, it's the perfect accent shade.

Jennifer Davis, Founder and principal designer of Davis Interiors tells Real Homes it is key to play around with different hues to lift the room as a whole, as we can see so well mastered above. 

She says, "Designing a welcoming and visually appealing small living room with a neutral color palette involves several key considerations. It's essential to layer neutrals using various shades and textures to add depth and prevent the space from feeling flat."

White woman with long golden blonde hair wearing animal print rust colored dress in white room near window is designer Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis

Jennifer fell in love with design at a young age and has been working in the industry for over 25 years. She has developed an eye for detail and a talent for creating timeless designs. Jennifer offers a balance of creativity and forward-thinking with a structured, organized, and detailed mentality. 

7. Vary crafted and natural details

Neutral corner of living room with white couch, gilded sconce lighting, plant in a ceramic vase on stool in the corner and sculpted wooden small stool in view underneath small frame

(Image credit: @mycityapartment)

From the shapely wooden stool that punctuates this tiny neutral living room (of Carly's 450 square foot apartment might we add), to the ceramic pot holding the gorgeous indoor tree, the (gorgeous) devil is in the detail. 

Not only will the addition of taller houseplants draw the eye up and add the illusion of height to a small neutral living room, but their natural curves, texture, and vibrant green color will offset a light room very well, softening it in all the right ways.

"We love incorporating natural elements like plants, wooden furniture, or stone (we also love concrete accents like the Cosiest Concrete Hexagonal side table from Amazon). They add warmth and give a connection to nature," adds Jennifer.

8. Lift the room with soothing lighting

White living room with stone coffee table and solid wood stool addition in front of white fabric couch with arch mirror above

(Image credit: @thatsophiahome)

Thoughtful small living room lighting ideas are essential when decorating with neutrals, whether you are blessed with natural light or not. By layering table lamps (we love this table lamp set with nightlights from Wayfair) with sconces (this handmade moth sconce from Anthropologie is gorgeous) and reflective elements like mirrors, the ambiance will be beyond. 

"Good lighting is key, that perfect mix of ambient, task, and accent lights," explains Jennifer. It's what really makes a space feel cozy and inviting."

9. Offset with reflective accents

Large ornate Anthro mirror reflecting bouncle cream armchair in neutral living room loft space with large plants

(Image credit: @aloftlife_)

Reflective elements can give even the tiniest room more visual scope, and by combining a mirror to bounce light around, with an ornate gold or silver frame, it can be the cherry on top of a small neutral decor scheme. We even rounded up our favorite gold mirrors if you love this look.

To avoid taking neutrals into the undesirable dull design zone, you need to cut through shades of pale with some color.

"Excessive use of the same shade can come across as institutional or cold," warns Jennifer. "Introducing subtle pops of color through accent pillows, warm metals, throws, or decor items can prevent the room from appearing overly sterile." If you have a fireplace, tile ideas can go down a treat.

Particularly if you are not ramping up on texture, including touches of a brighter or pretty pastels can go a long way in elevating a small neutral living room space.

To avoid taking neutrals into the undesirable dull design zone, you need to cut through shades of pale with some color. 

"Excessive use of the same hues can come across as institutional or cold," warns Jennifer. "Introducing subtle pops of color through accent pillows, warm metals, throws, or decor items can prevent the room from appearing overly sterile."

Particularly if you are not ramping up on texture, including touches of a brighter or pastel hue can go a long way in elevating a small neutral living room space. We like a nod to Pantone's Color Of The Year Peach Fuzz, with this Mina Victory textured peachy blush throw pillow from Ashley's furniture.

Warm up neutrals and add visual depth with texture, a slight color hit, and unique details that are both thoughtful and unexpected to take your small space to the next level.

If you're feeling on a roll with inspiration, we love America Ferrera's accent chair and we're rolling into the weekend with easy upgrades for small living rooms knocking at our door.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Former Deputy Editor

I'm Cam, the former deputy editor of Real Homes who worked on the site from 2020 to 2023. As a renter myself, sharing a home with two friends (and my cat) in London, I know all too well the challenges that this can pose when it comes to creating your perfect setup. As someone who has always loved everything interior design-related, I cannot rest until a home feels right and I am really passionate about helping others get there too, no matter what their living situation, style, or budget may be. It’s not always the easiest to figure out, but the journey is fun and the results are so worth it.

After interior design, travel, art, and photography are my next big passions. When I’m not writing or editing homes content, I’m usually tapping into other creative outlets, exploring galleries in London or further afield, taking photos, scribbling, or drawing!