When you’re house hunting or searching for an apartment to rent, your priorities for a home will soon become very clear, even if you hadn’t already written down your must-haves or deal-breakers. We often focus in on the updates made in a kitchen or bathroom, or the size of the bedroom and its closets. And when it comes down to it, we might be okay sacrificing the overall size of our living room in exchange for a spacious kitchen island or incredible backyard.
But it goes without saying that we still want a comfortable, inviting living space that doesn’t feel cramped or cluttered. After all, it is the room you’ll do the most living in, from lazy weekend lounging to hosting your book club for wine and snacks. And if you feel like your living room is too small to accommodate those activities, you’ll start to resent and avoid it. But guess what: you can avoid that altogether by making your small living room feel much bigger than it is by furnishing and styling it appropriately.
Maybe your living room is small because you live in a tiny apartment and every room is a small, walled-in box; or maybe you’re working with a decently sized space, but it also has to serve as the entryway or a hallway — whatever the limitations of your living room, there are several tricks for fooling your eye into seeing (and therefore believing) the space as bigger than it actually is. Here are six genius ideas to try, from simple changes to what you already have to new additions that will immediately make your space feel more spacious.
Use Color Wisely
You didn’t need to read this article to know that painting walls white can create the illusion of a larger space. White isn’t your only option though — any lighter neutral that feels bright and fresh can have the same effect, whether it’s a muted sage green or pale lavender. When it comes to your furnishings, you need not shy away from color either. A bright color will emphasize the size of object, though, since it brings attention to its existence, so be wary of what colorful things you incorporate. Overall, maintaining a limited color palette is wise — too much visual distractions will clutter up the room again.
Pull Your Furniture Off the Walls
It can be tempting (in any sized room) to push all your big pieces of furniture up against the walls to create more floor space in the center of the room for walking — and dancing. All that empty space in the middle of your room isn’t actually doing you any favors. Rethink your furniture layout by bringing a couple pieces off the walls, even if only by several inches. Seeing the space between the back of your sofa and the wall will instantly create the illusion of airiness in the room. Plus, furniture ought to be fairly close to create intimate conversation zones — if you can’t pass the popcorn bowl from the sofa to the chair, or reach the coffee table to put down your drink, you might benefit from cozying up your living room and bringing the furniture closer together.
Let the Light In
It’s no secret that natural light can help make a space feel larger and breezier than it might otherwise. That said, don’t do anything to inhibit whatever natural light source you have. Ditch the dark curtains that cover most of the window and don’t place a large armoire or the like right next to a window that would block the light from one direction. You could go completely treatment-less in your living room, or install a straightforward shade if you need privacy. If you like the look of curtains, be sure to hang the rod as close to the ceiling as possible, and keep the curtain panels completely outside the window frame, which will make the room appear taller and your windows bigger.
As for your electric light sources, don’t rely on one single ceiling light. Any parts of the room left in shadow will recede from view, making the room feel smaller. Use floor and table lamps as well as wall sconces to bring in several light sources and create a layered, warmly lit space.
Choose Appropriately Proportioned Furnishings
You might think a smaller space would benefit from smaller furniture, but an excess of smaller seating and storage pieces will actually just make your room feel cluttered and cramped. Don’t be afraid of using big pieces in a smaller room, but know the line between appropriately big and too big can be thin. Beware of sectionals that stretch awkwardly far into the room, or an armoire that almost brushes the ceiling.
Sometimes it’s not the piece of furniture itself but the style — a sleek, low-armed sofa will look slimmer than a cushy, overstuffed one. Ditto with arm chairs: skip the three-foot-wide club chair for a narrower (but still comfortable!) accent chair that serves the same purpose with a smaller footprint. Similarly, a pair of small ottomans will fit in better than a chunky coffee table — and can also double as extra seating in a pinch.
Use Your Walls
When you’re short on square footage, you want to take advantage of the vertical real estate on your walls as much as possible. Hang shelves up high for books and plants, which will draw the eye up and make the ceilings feel taller. And if you’re looking to incorporate a large statement piece, make it artwork or a strategically placed mirror you hang on the wall.
Invest in Eye-Tricking Furniture
If you are buying new pieces for your smaller living room, keep these additional tips in mind: anything with legs holding it off the ground will let the eye see the floor continuing under that piece of furniture, tricking it into thinking the floor (and therefore room) is bigger than it actually is. Ghost furniture — a.k.a. clear acrylic tables and chairs — can be your small-space best friend. By not taking up any visual space, these pieces will inherently make the room look less full and appear bigger.
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