The 10 family living room mistakes to avoid at all costs

Ensure chill-out time with your nearest and dearest is super relaxing by dodging these decorating disasters

colourful sofas against a purple flowery wallpaper in living room with fireplace and wood floors
(Image credit: Cole & Son)

With an informal lounge, as important as it is to know what works in design, part of the key to a successful scheme is knowing the family living room mistakes you'll want to avoid. After all, the best family rooms will bring everyone together and support domestic harmony – at least until it’s time to choose the next movie.

If you’re looking for living room ideas that both adults and children will love, you can boost your chances of success by taking note of these top design no-noes. With such high demands on one room, it’s little wonder there are so many ways to get it wrong. Still, ‘every day’s a school day’, and there’s a lot to be learnt from our shortlist of the most common pitfalls.  

‘It’s important to design a family living room that’s not only beautiful, but one that also serves its purpose,’ says Emma Deterding, creative director of Kelling Designs. ‘By creating a layout that promotes conversation, easy traffic flow, and meets the needs of everyone using the space, and how they intend to use it, you can ensure a fully functional family living room.’

Family living room mistakes to avoid

Whether you are seeking small living room ideas to suit a growing family, or clever ways to accommodate teens (and their BFFs), we’ve got some hot tips on how to get it right, by not getting it wrong!

1. Scrimping on storage

family room with built in media cabinet and toy storage

(Image credit: Davonport)

Family living rooms are meant to be laidback spaces where the whole family can kick-back and relax but there’s nothing relaxing about lounging in total chaos. Allocating ample storage is an obvious solution, but it needs to be a little more considered when children are involved.

‘Incorporate accessible and varied storage solutions such as open shelves, storage ottomans, and labelled bins at varying heights to enable kids to store away toys and books easily,’ advises interior designer Keely Smith, from Home Stratosphere.  

‘Consider furniture with built-in storage or a stylish, kid-friendly storage wall. A blend of enclosed storage for less aesthetically pleasing items and open storage for toys and books can be visually appealing and functional. Making storage part of the decor with attractive bins or baskets can also assist in maintaining a tidy yet stylish family living room.'

2. A dodgy layout

grey sofas, wooden floor, fireplace, woodburner and lots of cushions

(Image credit: Lifestyle Floors)

Creating an easy, effective flow of traffic in and around your living room is key for your family's comfort. ‘As much as you might like your favourite ottoman in a certain spot, placing it or other items in a natural pathway might lead to unplanned trips and trip hazards!’ says interior designer Nicolene Mausenbaum from Dezyna.  

‘Avoid any issues by observing the regular traffic between the various zones in your family's living area, such as between the TV, reading area, lounging area and exits to other internal or exterior areas.'

'If your family living room exits into the garden, consider creating a walkway around focused areas to easily access the exit. Strategically arranging furniture, rugs or plants to demarcate zones and pathways will also help to guide the traffic flow.’

When arranging living room furniture, make sure there are clear, unobstructed pathways, but always consider the overall size of your room and furniture to avoid awkward groupings. Don’t get too stressed by layout planning though, you can always adjust and tweak furniture placement as your family grows.

3. A lack of seating

two sofas in a pink living room with plants and rug

(Image credit: ILIV)

Only a mad parent would fail to secure sufficient bums-on-seat space for their entire brood in a family room – just imagine the cushion fights! But it’s always worth allowing space for a couple of extras for when friends and/or extended family come over for movie night.

Choosing inadequate soft seating is one of the common family living room mistakes that can lead to a cramped and uncomfortable space, so it’s important to choose pieces that are comfortable, durable and that fit the scale of the room.

‘For your living room seating consider a mix of seating options such as a sofa, armchairs and ottomans with built-in storage to keep blankets and other items stored away. And be sure to leave enough room between pieces for easy movement,’ advises interior designer Emma. 

‘Also include functional pieces such as coffee tables and side tables and storage furniture to help keep everything organised and stored away neatly.’

4. Scruffy paintwork

grey sofa in living room with blue walls

(Image credit: Future)

Designer paint brands with chic chalky finishes may make your heart sing but they have no place in a family living room. ‘Even cleaning surfaces painted with standard emulsion can lead to the paint being vulnerable to fading, wearing down, or developing a rough, uneven texture over time, increasing the effort required for upkeep,’ says Jamie Hancox, managing director of paint brand Tikkurila

It's worth taking the time to track down a truly scrubbable paint for your family living room. ‘Look for a paint with a high scrub rating – Class 1 is the highest attainable wet scrub resistance rating. This rating indicates superior durability and identifies a paint that has been suitably designed and tested to withstand rigorous cleaning and scrubbing without having any negative impact on the appearance of your walls.'

5. Dull decor

L-shape grey sofa packed with cushions

(Image credit: Kelling Designs)

The colours and patterns you choose can really affect the mood and feel of a space, so avoid family living room mistakes by bringing life, colour and most importantly, your family’s personality, into the room. 

‘Some people are afraid of using colour and pattern, as they may not know how to use them properly, and this is definitely a mistake when it comes to family living rooms,’ says Emma from Kelling Designs. 

For a cohesive look, choose two to three colours that complement each other, and use these across the space for a balanced feel. ‘A family room should be about the family living within it, and should be a reflection of your entire family, so it’s important to incorporate meaningful decor items such as family photos, artwork created by family members and even souvenirs from holidays.'

6. A lonely pendant light

grey sofa, big round mirror, blue walls, lots of lighting

(Image credit: Arteriors)

As one of the busiest rooms in the house, the family living room is often multifunctional and in use by different family members throughout the day and night. Not planning a flexible lighting scheme to suit various needs is a common mistake that can disrupt the room’s ambience and ease of use. 

‘The main ceiling light should provide enough brightness for any general activities however you should also look to supplement this with subtler solutions, such as floor lamps and table lamps, to create a gentler ambience for transitioning the room into the evening,’ says Marlena Kaminska, Designer at ValueLights.  

‘Warm-toned lighting works best in family living rooms, creating a cosy and inviting space in which you can easily relax. Depending on your hobbies, it may also be a good idea to install task-specific lighting, such as a touch table lamp for reading or a floor lamp for watching TV.’

7. All hard flooring

grey sofa, white coffee table and fluffy rug

(Image credit: The Rug Seller)

Installing hard flooring like laminate or tiles may be tempting from an easy maintenance stance but it’s one of the family living room mistakes that's often seen. This is especially true if your children are likely to be playing on the floor or lounging on bean bags. 

‘While hard flooring is a practical and hardwearing solution for a busy family home but in a family living room it can be cold, uncomfortable and uninviting,’ says Daniel Prendergast, design director from The Rug Seller. To enjoy the best of both worlds for living room flooring, Daniel recommends combining hard surfaces with a strategically placed rug.  

‘There are lots of fantastic washable rugs on the market today, which are a great option for families with young children. Look for rugs with a shorter pile and darker colours or patterns are brilliant for disguising any stains or spills,’ he explains. 

8. Buying sofas on looks alone

green and pink sofas in pink living room

(Image credit: The Lounge Co)

A new sofa is a huge investment, it’s the biggest piece of furniture in your family living room and should last at least 10 years, if not more. There are some truly beautiful sofas out there but if you value your Netflix time, don’t go for any too white or stain prone. 

‘There’s nothing more exciting than removing the wrap off a pristine sofa, but a busy family life means it probably won’t stay that way for long,’ agrees Jemma Jaques, furniture expert at The Lounge Co. ‘The dye from clothing, food stains and muddy pets can all take their toll, so the best solution is to opt for a stain-resistant fabric for your new upholstery. These clever textiles have a built-in resistance to stains, odour and bacteria and if the worst should happen, you can keep your sofa looking as good as new with just soap and water.’

In terms of cleaning sofas, you could make things easier by opting for those with removeable, washable covers are another good choice, provided you do have time to actually launder them. Leather sofas are practical as spills are easier to wipe away, but they can feel cold without plenty of cushions and throws. 

‘If your sofa does succumb to a particularly bad stain, the best option is to seek out a professional upholstery cleaner. Leave the bleach or the laundry detergent in the cupboard – they're just likely to make your sofa look even worse.'

9. Over-crowding the room

L-shape cream sofa in neutral living room

(Image credit: John Lewis)

An excess of furniture and frippery is one of the family living room mistakes that makes that space look cluttered, distract attention from any nice features and feel darker and smaller than it really is. If this is your reality, Gareth Coxall, creative director at Terrys Fabrics, recommends a decluttering session before you decorate.

‘If it’s typically strewn with kids’ toys, have a big clear out and invest in a beautiful basket to chuck the rest in once they’ve gone to bed and enjoy a much calmer space to unwind in,’ he says. ‘Should you realise you’ve one seat too many in there, go ahead and upcycle your family living room pieces for other spaces. An old armchair that doesn’t get much love in the lounge can be reupholstered in a contemporary fabric to make a gorgeous feature in the master bedroom, for example.’

As the living room tends to be where families gather to spend quality time together, there needs to be plenty of space for everyone to fit in comfortably so be brutal with your clear out and give everyone a bit more room to relax.

10. Not making it cosy

colourful rug, blue sofa and fire lit in woodburner

(Image credit: Morso)

The family living room is the heart of the home, but over-styled aesthetics can often leave the space feeling cold and uninviting. ‘Our ultimate trick to add cosiness is to lean into your soft furnishings and accessories,’ says Suzi Samaddar, room styling expert at

‘Think tactile; layer textures through throws and cushions, using fabrics such as velvets and boucle to create a space you just want to sink into. Don’t forget colour choice is important; choose colours rooted in brown tones over cooler greys for ultimate warmth.’ 

How do you style an awkward family room?

Styling an awkward family room can be a creative challenge but with the right approach, you can make the most of the space. ‘An awkward family room might have unusual dimensions, architectural quirks or limitations that make traditional furniture arrangements difficult,' notes Elaine Penhaul, founder of Lemon and Lime Interiors

'You need to start by understanding the room's layout, including any architectural features, such as angled walls, alcoves or unusual nooks. Determine where doors and windows are located, as these will impact furniture placement.'

‘Next choose furniture that suits the room's layout and purpose. Modular or sectional sofas can work well in awkward spaces as they can be adapted to fit various configurations and make use of vertical space for storage and decor. Wall-mounted shelves or bookcases can provide storage and display opportunities without taking up floor space, and hanging artwork or mirrors higher on the wall can draw the eye upward thus making the room appear larger.'

‘If you are struggling with an especially challenging layout, consider consulting an interior designer, home stager or decorator. They can offer expert advice on how to make the most of the space.'

What to avoid when decorating living room?

A successful living room design involves thoughtful furniture placement, well-proportioned pieces, and a balanced approach to colour choices. ‘Firstly, avoid overcrowding your living room with too much furniture. It can make the space feel cramped and cluttered. Instead, opt for a well-thought-out selection of furniture pieces that fit comfortably in the room while leaving adequate walking space,’ advises Kate Palmer, creative director at The Painted Furniture Company.

Be mindful of the flow of traffic through the room too. Avoid placing furniture in a way that obstructs natural pathways. It should be easy for people to move around without constantly manoeuvring through obstacles.

‘When selecting furniture colours, it is best to avoid going too extreme or too monotone. Bright, clashing colours can overwhelm the senses, while an all-neutral palette can lack visual interest. Instead, opt for a balanced combination of colours that harmonise with the room's overall theme and create a cohesive look. Soft blues, gentle greens and warm greys often work well in living spaces and are easy to live with.'

'Finally, resist the temptation to overdecorate with too many accessories and decorative items. Less can often be more, allowing key pieces and the overall design to shine.’

Linda Clayton

 Linda Clayton is a professionally trained journalist, and has specialised in product design, interiors and fitness for more than two decades. Linda has written for a wide range of publications, from the Daily Telegraph and Guardian to Homes & Gardens and Livingetc. She has been freelancing for Ideal Home Magazine since 2008, covering design trends, home makeovers, product reviews and much more.