The only 6 things you need to buy for a small living room

Your small living room can feel airy and spacious with these six essential buys

small living room with wooden coffee table and mid century style armchair
(Image credit: Ruggable)

Let's face it, most of us have a pretty small living room, so it's important that we learn how to make the best of the space we have. 

When working with a smaller living room idea, it's all the more important to be extra considerate about the items you choose to buy – each one will take up part of your precious footprint, so every item needs to work hard. 

There are so many small living room ideas, so we've narrowed your shopping list down to six essential items. No more, no less, these six pieces will combine to form a layout that will enhance the space you have so that you can cozy up, or dance away, no matter how tiny your room. And yes, the right couch and a clever coffee table take up two of these things, but you can keep on reading for the other four.

1. The right sofa 

a small living room in beige with wall paneling and corner sofa by Interior Fox

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

Whatever size your space, the sofa will be the focal point of any living room, so it's important to get it right. Start by considering what exactly you want. Do you want to embrace the potential coziness of a small living room with a large couch or do you want to ensure there's still plenty of negative space and opt for something more slimline?

'Many people think they need a small sofa in a small living room but actually filling it and getting the biggest sofa that can fit the space will make it feel cozier and bigger. Choose a sofa that has legs, it will reveal more of the floor and give the illusion of space.' explains Jen and Mar from Interior Fox.

Big corner sofas can be a really efficient use of space as they can hug the walls of your living room and won't take up too much visual space, especially if you opt for a lighter color.

2. A multifunctional pouffe

A midcentury modern living room with wooden wall decor, poof and indoor houseplant

(Image credit: Ikea)

'Maximize space in a compact living room by investing in multifunctional furniture. An ottoman footstool is a great place to start, it works as additional seating for when guests visit, it creates extra storage, and best of all, a place to put up your feet at the end of a long day,' says Mar.

A pouf can be used as a coffee table alternative by simply adding a tray on top to house your plants, books, and cup of coffee. Simply remove the tray and reposition your pouf to the side for instant additional seating, or treat it like a footstool. This is a three-in-one design and we are here for it.

3. Open shelving

A contemporary living room with modular shelving unit, Herringbone style flooring decor and round coffee table

(Image credit: Ikea)

There's no doubt that storage is essential for every room in the home, and that includes living room storage. But when you have a smaller space it can become a balancing act between including enough storage and keeping your space open and airy.

'Keep the clutter at bay by investing in shelving units or a freestanding bookcase.' advises Jen. 'Use the top and bottom shelves as storage, using stylish wicker baskets for storing items out of sight. Leaving the middle shelves where the eye naturally falls for an area of decoration.'

Floating shelves are a great idea for storing decorative pieces like books, photo frames, and plants. Opt for a shelving idea that's the same color as your walls so they blend into the background and make your space feel bigger. 

4. A large rug 

living room with large rug and wooden coffee table

(Image credit: Ruggable)

One of the most common design mistakes we see is with the size of living room rugs. Many people choose a rectangle shape that sits like an island in the middle of the room, with sofas and armchairs dotted around the periphery. This, in fact, creates far too many lines in your space and will make your room look and feel smaller than it is. 

'Our best design tip is to make sure to place the rug underneath the front of the sofa,' explains Jen. 'This will bring your key furniture pieces together. To avoid the room feeling overcrowded, give the rug enough space from the wall, ensuring the sides of the floor are exposed.'

5. The right lighting 

small living room in an apartment with a brown leather sofa and rug

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Lighting can make or break a scheme, and it's especially useful for adding atmosphere to a small space and zoning specific areas. In the above image, the floor lamp works to add a downward glow of light onto the sofa, creating a cozy nook for snuggling up with a good book.

As well as mood lighting like this, it's equally important to have the options of task lighting, or overhead lighting, to provide a brighter light when you need it. 

6. Statement artwork 

grey living room with pink pictures and curved sofa

(Image credit: Poster Store)

While you might be tempted to keep all your walls free of clutter in a small living room, hanging some large pieces of artwork can bring in that color and personality without totally overwhelming the space.

Just stick to large prints as your living room wall idea, as yes you do risk just adding clutter if you group lots of smaller ones together. Pick a general color scheme too to keep it looking cohesive and not too busy and choose frames very simple so the overall look feels clean and modern. 

What are the best layouts for a small living room?

The best layouts for small living rooms are ones that avoid having every piece of furniture pushed up against walls. Give your furniture room to breathe and pull it into the room so you don't have a space that's all floor, with no personality or shape to it.

When it comes to deciding on where to place your furniture, the best place to start is picking a focal point to arrange everything around. That might be the TV, a fireplace, or a piece of wall art, then you can choose whether to have a balanced space with equal amounts of furniture on each side of the focal point or a more relaxed look with less structure.

How do you maximize space in a small living room?

A living room layout idea by Mountain Mod with cream leather and brown leather sofas, wooden coffee table, modern cassette fireplace and TV in alcove

(Image credit: Mountain Mod)

So where do you start when figuring out how to decorate a living room? The key to maximizing space in a small living room is to stick to that age-old mantra of less is more. Really think about what you need in your living room. As we've just shown, you technically don't need more than seating, storage of some form, and decor to create a stylish, functional space. 

Obviously always be thinking multi-functional when it comes to furniture too as that's a super easy way to make your space work harder. And the colors you choose to decorate with can, maybe not add space, but definitely make it feel bigger. Stick to a neutral scheme for a straightforward way to make your living room appear lighter and larger.

How do you choose a sofa for a small living room?

Choosing furniture for a small living room will of course depend on your style and budget, but as we see it there are two ways to go – big and cozy and just accept your room will feel smaller but more intimate or go for something very simple and slimline that's going to sit higher off the floor and won't take up as much visual or physical space. 

Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer before moving to the Livingetc team in 2021 where she took on a role as Digital Editor. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration. When she isn't writing about interiors, she is renovating her own spaces – be it wallpapering a hallway, painting kitchen cupboards or converting a van.

With contributions from