Developing a floorplan for your living room when you move into a new house or apartment can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a lot of space and your room needs to fulfill multiple purposes because you don’t have separate rooms for them (such as a home office or dining room).

Below I discuss some common mistakes people making when they’re setting up the layout of a small living room and how to fix them.

My philosophy about living rooms

I think about floor plans in what might be best described as a feng shui “lite” manner. I think considering the energy flow and psychological impact of a room is critical, but I won’t go into detail about arranging furniture around compass directions or anything like that.

Example living room

To the right is a pretty standard small living room floorplan, especially for apartments and condos: the kitchen is near the entrance and the living space is roughly L-shaped, with the exterior of the home, with windows or a balcony, across the room from the main entrance.

Let’s assume we are working with some basic types of living room furniture: an entry cabinet, two book cases, a dining room table, a reading armchair and small table, a sofa, an accent chair, a coffee table, and a cabinet for a TV. Also assume for the sake of logistics that the dining room table and entry table must stay in the locations below.

Below I created a layout that many people might use for their living room but never feel quite satisfied with, even if they can’t identify why.

However, there is a lot of room for improvement in this arrangement.

Why this living room furniture layout isn’t very good

Here’s a rundown of some of the major areas for improvement in this floorplan:

  • The couch and TV: It may be instinctive the put the couch against the far wall, but that would not be ideal for two reasons:  1) the sofa would be blocking the windows (which should never be blocked if possible) and 2) the light would stream in through the window during the daytime and make the TV difficult to watch. Knowing you will have to constantly adjust your blinds or curtains creates a cognitive burden you are continually (if sub-consciously) aware of.
  • “Floating” furniture: The long bookcase on the right side at least doesn’t block the window, but it does create a “dead zone” with no apparent purpose for that section of the room. Every section of your living room needs to send a message for what it should be used for. Further, its spacing (in terms of physical distances between different pieces of furniture) is farther apart from the rest of the furniture in the room. Try to make everything in your floorplan is spaced apart roughly evenly.
  • The living room chair: This armchair will feel exposed for two different reasons: 1) its back is to that odd, dead, uncomfortable dead space, and 2) it is directly in line with the entry door. Places meant for relaxing should not be directly in line with the energy that flows in through the primary entrance to the room.
  • The reading armchair: Even though this space is meant for reading and relaxing, it is right next to the kitchen, which is usually the most “energetic” room in a home, and the TV, which is another major source of energy. If you are planning to use the space for quieter activities like knitting or reading, which can make you oblivious to what’s going on around you, you need greater psychological safety. In this floorplan, you would probably be reluctant to ever sit there during leisure time, even if you don’t realize exactly why
  • The floor lamp (and any other small pieces of accent furniture): Try to avoid blocking off a place where traffic would naturally flow if it would cause there to only be one way to enter an area. In this case, the red lamp next to the couch blocks off traffic flow on that side and forces people to enter the seating area from only one side, which creates a feeling of psychological discomfort and having only one “exit”. Also, if possible, make all walking spaces at least two feet wide to avoid feeling trapped.

These comments can be a lot to consider at once! I think it will be easier if you can see what a better layout would look like, which will hopefully help you understand how much more comfortable your living room could be.

A better small living room furniture arrangement

In your own living room, you’ll might have to make some sacrifices from what the “ideal” floorplan would be, especially if you’re renting and don’t have the ability to make major structural changes. Here’s just one way that you could vastly improve your layout.

  • The couch and  TV: Now the couch gives people a clear view of the TV and of the windows, which are two improvements. If the TV will partly block a window, which is almost unavoidable in this floorplan, try to get a low media center to keep as much of the window visible as possible.
    • With the couch now in the center of the room, it is in a more “exposed” location than the previous floorplan (since its back is no longer against the wall). However, by using the bookcase to mimic the impact of having a wall at your back, that effect is mitigated.
  • The living room chair: The small gray chair now has its back protected by the wall behind it. There is also enough space in this section of the room for people to move freely between the seating options, coffee table and TV.
  • The reading nook: The armchair is now in the “safest” part of the living room, protected in a corner from the kitchen by distance and from the entry way by the book case and kitchen table. Also, having the chair be adjacent to the window but not blocking it will maximize natural light exposure in the whole room (always a good thing). Finally, putting the floor lamp here also helps set the area apart as its own space.

General guidelines for arranging furniture in small living room

Still need some guidance? Here are some more tips to get you to make your first attempt on your floorplan. Once you’ve got your furniture arranged it will be easier to see how you can make “edits” to improve the flow.

  1. When you’re deciding your general furniture arrangement, work from the biggest to smallest items, deciding where you’ll put your largest pieces of furniture first.
  2. If you have a TV or other media equipment, try to put it either in front of (if it won’t block it) or near the room’s natural focal point, whether that is a window, fireplace or other architectural detail.
  3. Consciously think through all the functions you need your living room to serve (home office? Children’s play area? Workout area?) and see if you can create small self-contained sections for each activity, like the reading nook in the example above. This will help you divide up the floorplan more naturally.
  4. Finally, remember the importance of subconscious safety and vulnerability. Try to “protect” the rest of the room from the chaotic energy caused directly flowing from  the entrance to the outside and position seating carefully (using furniture as pseudo-walls if necessary) to maximize the sense of security in your living room.

Do you have any questions about your own living room or other comments? Let me know!