How to arrange furniture in a small living room - tricks to make every inch count

Increase the sense of space in a small living room by being savvy with your layout

Small blue living room with built in window seat
(Image credit: Future PLC / Dominic Blackmore)

When a lack of space is against you, it can be tricky working out how to arrange furniture in a small living room. While seating is the top priority, there are also tables and resting surfaces to consider, not to mention storage too, so the challenge is how to include all the essentials without the space feeling overcrowded.

Our living rooms have also become much more multi-functional over recent years, with many of us now WFH and needing our small living room ideas to double up as office space for part of the time. But by re-thinking the layout and re-working the furniture arrangement, it shouldn’t be too difficult to make the most of any small living room’s potential.

How to arrange furniture in a small living room

One of the big challenges when it comes to placement of furniture in petite living room ideas can be tackling where to place the TV so that it doesn’t dominate the space.

‘When it comes to how to arrange furniture in a small living room, I always start with the main pieces of furniture first - the sofa and chairs,’ says Lisa Mitchell, Design Director at Interior Style Studio. ‘My pet hate is designing a layout around the TV. I like to envisage how the layout of furniture will best induce conversation, reading or enjoying the views.’

Built-in storage is the solution according to Simon Tcherniak, Senior Designer at Neville Johnson. ‘Built-in TV storage units can be individually designed to meet bespoke storage needs and fit perfectly within the space required,’ he says. ‘But the main benefit of opting for smart TV storage in small, cosier living rooms, is that it maximises space for larger items within the room, such as sofas and coffee tables.’

1. Keep it symmetrical

small living room with nautical theme and striped chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

One of the easiest ways for how to arrange furniture in a small living room is to opt for a symmetrical layout with two sofas (or a sofa and two chairs) positioned facing each other. Often used by interior designers, a symmetrical layout works well in rooms big or small, creating a sociable set-up with sofa ideas for small living rooms opposite each other for easier conversation.  

A symmetrical layout also works well in living rooms where the entrance is across from a fireplace. Having seating positioned centrally guides visitors to walk around (rather than through) the space and helps keep the sense of flow. Other items of furniture can be pushed back against walls and the TV set either side of the fireplace.

‘The balance of two sofas facing each other, or even a sofa and two armchairs, will always be visually appealing,’ says Charlie Marshall, founder of Loaf. ‘If it’s a corner sofa or chaise, create balance with a coffee table or storage footstool and armchair to one side, which will add weight. The trick is not to group too much furniture in one area.’

2. Ditch the three-piece suite

small living room with mint green walls, yellow chair and natural sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

While the classic three-piece-suite will always have its place, if living room space is tight, re-thinking the traditional set-up of sofa and a pair of matching armchairs could be the solution. 

Perhaps an extra-long sofa with a single chair might be a better fit, or maybe a couple of cuddler-style two seaters might be more practical for your living room sofa idea. Or consider getting rid of the sofa completely and opting for a mix-and-match combination of easy chairs and ottomans - footstools and pouffes are easy to move around and can double up as side tables too.

3. Anchor the room around a rug

Small living room with green walls and pink curtains

(Image credit: John Lewis)

A large rug can be a useful device when it comes to how to arrange furniture in a small living room, especially if you have a collection of furniture that feels a little mismatched because you're working with budget living room ideas

Opt for a generously-sized rug, positioned centrally in the room, so that it pretty much fills the floor space. Arrange the sofa and chairs with the rug as the anchor point, with legs half-on and half-off. It will help connect the furniture visually and make the whole room feel less disjointed. 

4. Keep furniture in proportion 

Small living room with pink sofa and curtains and yellow walls

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

While clearing a tiny space of any excess items is a great way of making it feel more spacious, there’s only a certain amount of ‘stuff’ that you can do without. If you’ve pared everything back to just the essentials, then look at ways of making what you have feel more streamlined and more in line with modern small living room ideas.

Chunky sofas and armchairs with overstuffed upholstery, high backs and scrolled or thick-set arms can feel quite hefty and bulky and tend to dominate a small space. Instead, opt for tailored designs and leaner-looking pieces that are better proportioned to the size of the room, such as low-backed sofas with neat, slimline arms or even compact arm-free designs.

When it comes to occasional furniture, choose coffee tables, pouffes and footstools with curves and rounded edges that won’t obstruct walkways and are easier to manoeuvre around than sharp corners.

5. Let furniture float 

Small living room in green panelled room with sofa and two chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Follow a trick that designers often use for how to arrange furniture in a small living room and instead of pushing living room furniture up against the walls, let it ‘float’ in the centre of the room. Even if it’s just a few inches, pulling sofa and chairs away from walls helps to create breathing space around them, that will actually help with how to make a small living room look bigger

Having sofa and chairs grouped more-closely together, helps creates a cosy, sociable set-up that will feel more welcoming and inviting than leaving the centre of the room empty. And using an anchor point rug can help tie the decor together in a complementary colour.

6. Work your wall space

small living room with grey painted storage unit

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Living room storage ideas are key when it comes to small living rooms, from TV and media kit, to books, games, toys and other essentials. A compact layout can make arranging freestanding furniture a challenge, so why not consider consolidating all the room’s storage and building it into a single piece? 

A wall-hugging storage unit that spans the width of a living room will give stacks of storage and free up more floor space than having several individual pieces dotted around the room. And painting storage to match the wall colour will ensure that it blends seamlessly in with the rest of the decor for a 'built-in' look.

Opt for modular storage like these units from The Dormy House, which are built to order ready for assembling at home, and are a less-costly alternative to bespoke built-in furniture.

7. Max out your space with sleek built-ins

Small blue living room with built in window seat

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Make full use of every inch to maximise your living room’s layout. Don’t let alcoves, recesses or any awkward nooks and crannies go to waste when planning how to arrange furniture in a small living room. Instead work out ways that you can utilise the space and create built-in storage and hidden extras that will give you more without encroaching on the room’s footprint.

A bay window can be utilised to build-in an extra living room seating idea with hidden storage underneath for stashing cushions, blankets and other living room essentials. If there’s space, extend the build either side by adding floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that will turn the area into a cosy reading nook. 

8. Keep the layout simple

Small living room with natural sofa and blue curtains

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

One of the easiest ways of how to arrange furniture in a small living room to make it feel more spacious is to avoid over-filling it and crowding the space. Having one or two pieces of furniture that are the same colour as the walls can also help furniture to blend in better, which will make the room feel bigger too. Glass, clear acrylic and mirror-topped coffee tables will bounce light around instead of blocking it and can help increase the sense of space.

Avoid heavy upholstery and curtain fabrics such as plush velvets, damasks and wool and keep to lighter-weight linens, cottons and sheers instead. And forget fussy details, such as frills, ruffles and flounces, keeping to simple shapes, smooth lines and tailored styling for a streamlined look.

9. Accent your assets

Living room with fireplace, sofa and coffee table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

When it comes to how to arrange furniture in a small living room, arrange pieces so that they showcase the space's best features, assets or architectural details. This could be a stunning small living room fireplace idea, picture window with fabulous view or any original decorative details that are worth showing off.

If you have a boxy living room without any redeeming features or original architectural details of its own, then create a focal point yourself. Painting, panelling or wallpapering just one wall can give a small living room new focus, or try adding a picture gallery with a collection of artwork or display of greenery. 

10. Get the perfect fit

Living room with neutral corner sofa, jute rug and pouffe

(Image credit: Dunelm)

Using sectional furniture or modular pieces can be a good way of squeezing more seating into a small living room. Bulky sofas and chairs can eat up a lot of floor space and crowd out a small living room, whereas individual units can be configured to work with the room’s layout for a more natural fit. 

Corner or L-shaped configurations can work well in a small living room, or try two banks of sectionals positioned across from each other as an alternative layout in a small living space.

How do I arrange two couches in a small living room?

Planning sofas in smaller spaces can be a challenge, however, there are some smart tricks to squeeze in two. If the room is a standard shape, such as a rectangular or square-sized living room, then positioning two same-sized sofas facing each other with a coffee table in between (and set central to the room’s focal point) can make a good fit. With how to arrange furniture in a small living room, always make sure that there is enough breathing space around furniture, so that people go around and not through the conversation area.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says you can’t pair different sized pieces of furniture, such as a three-seater and a two-seater, or a long sofa with a cuddler seat. Varying sizes can create a different dynamic and solve the problem of furniture arrangement if the room has a challenging or awkwardly-shaped layout. 

Where do you put the TV in a narrow living room?

When deciding how to arrange furniture in a small living room, one issue that often crops up is where to place the TV. For an optimum viewing position, small living room TV ideas should ideally be placed central to the sofa. If this ruins the aesthetic or just isn’t possible in a small living room, then positioned to one side can work well too, such as in an alcove to one side of a fireplace.

The TV should be at the correct height in relation to the sofa so that it is feels comfortable to view and you don’t have to look upwards or crane your neck to watch it. 

Lisa Fazzani
Deputy Editor

Lisa is Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine and regularly contributes to sister title Ideal Home. She has written about interiors for more than 25 years and about pretty much every area of the home, from shopping and decorating, crafts and DIY to real home transformations and kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes, whether on TV, online, in print or in person.