A small living room can pose some difficult design and decorating challenges, but it is definitely possible to get a stylish room that reflects your personality without feeling cramped or cluttered.

Choose a color scheme

Small living rooms can’t support a wildly mismatched or varied color theme. A “complement” (two opposing colors) or triad (one main color and two corresponding colors) are usually the best color balances for small rooms.

Blue and yellow are complimentary colors. © 2007 drothamel

There are literally hundreds of effective decorating color schemes you can use. You can work with a theme that someone else has created on a site like ColourLovers.com or make your own at a site like Color Scheme Designer, which helps you find balanced, harmonious color schemes that you can use in your living room.

Also, medium to lighter toned colors are better for decorating small living rooms, because darker colors tend to make a space feel smaller, which you don’t want. Try to use colors that aren’t extremely saturated and bright.

If you are working with a complementary scheme, you want about 2/3 of your room to include one of the two colors, and about 1/3 to use the other. If you choose a triad color scheme, you want about 2/4 of your room to include the main color (the one opposite the two next to each other), and about 1/4 for each of the two secondary colors.

Obviously, not every single item in your living room must conform to your color scheme, but the more that your living rooms reflects an appropriate balance of your selected colors, the more well-designed it will look.

Choose a decorating style

My results on Sproost.

There are dozens of popular interior design styles, and those can be further combined with others or tweaked to create truly unique rooms. If you don’t already know what your preferred decorating themes are, there are many decorating quizzes online to help you find out. Sproost is one of most popular interior decorating style tools for seeing what combination of styles you are drawn to.

Another option is to comb through Flickr or Pinterest to collect  rooms that appeal to you and analyze them to determine what elements they have in common.

Select a focal point for your living room

This modern fireplace is the centerpiece and focal point of the living room. © 2007 Jeremy Levine Design.

A focal point gives the eye a place to “rest” and makes the room seem more put together and a cohesive unit. Older buildings with more architectural detailing and built in structures tend to have more “obvious” choices for what to base the room around, but a focal point can (and should!) be created in any room.

Popular focal points in living spaces include:

  • Fireplaces
  • Windows with attractive views
  • Artwork or sculptures
  • TVs/media centers
  • Interesting architectural details
  • A wall of framed photos or art prints

When decorating a small living room your furniture and accessories should be arranged in a way that makes the view of the focal point unobstructed visually, and also doesn’t compete with the focal point.

Creating balance in furniture and decor

Interior decorating is about creating visual balance, and while your eye should first go to the focal point, it should then be able to move freely around the room and still feel balanced. It’s common to balance a focal point with a small grouping of smaller objects opposite it: for example, a couch and love seat across the room from the fireplace. Most focal points, especially architectural ones, tend to have a high visual “weight”, that should be balanced out; however, if your focal point is a single piece of art, for example, it may need a correspondingly “lighter” balance, such as a single chair.

Below are two examples of living room designs: one unbalanced and one balanced.

Notice how the visual “weight” in this living room is all to the upper and right side of the room. © 2008 Peter Baer

On the other hand, the visual weight of the large fireplace in this room is balanced by the substantial couch, along with the art above it and the floor lamps beside it. The far end of the room is also well-balanced. © 2007 Andrew Morrel

Make your small living room look professionally decorated

You don’t need an extravagant budget or a personal designer to decorate a living room well, especially a small one, and in a way that makes the whole room both beautiful and comfortable to be in.

A well-balanced, stylish small living room. © 2010 Dey

Here are some of the easiest ways to design a better living room:

  • Remove non-vital items that are the wrong color or style for your decorating theme. They can be relocated elsewhere in your home or donated/sold.
  • Find areas of imbalance in the room (taking a picture and analyzing the photo instead can be helpful). Search for blank spaces or places that are too densely decorated or too much of the same color next to each other.
  • Have clean, open surfaces visible. Not every square inch on your coffee table, mantle, media center, etc., should be covered. Allow the materials of the furniture itself to be seen and admired.
  • Search for ways to bring cohesiveness to any mismatched decor that you can’t get rid of. Throw pillows on a mismatched couch can put your seating back on “speaking terms” with the rest of the room. Dated accessories and hardware can be spray-painted, wood furniture can be stained or painted. Couches and chairs can be slip-covered.

Decorating a small living room doesn’t have to happen in a day or on a huge budget. Just by paying attention to some of the major principles of interior decorating, such as use coordinated colors and styles, and creating balance with your furniture and accessories, you can quickly design a living room that feels comfortable and welcoming without ever feeling cramped or too small.