What makes a living room look cheap? 10 things to avoid and what to do instead to elevate your space

The experts share their top advice and tips

black and white living room with sofa
(Image credit: Future PLC/Rachael Smith)

If your goal is to make a living room look as luxurious as possible you probably already know how easy it is to send it crashing in the opposite direction. Tiny details can be guilty of making a living room look cheap, but you don't need to bankrupt yourself to fix them.

You might not have realised that a few design choices could be making your living room ideas look shabby and uninviting. However, making your living room feel more luxurious doesn’t need to cost a great deal. Several quick and easy changes can be made to completely transform and upgrade the look of your living room in no time.

What makes a living room look cheap? 

Although as with most things in home decor, this list is subject, it is not a definitive list you might even disagree with some of the points as we all have our own style. However, if you are looking for some guidance from experts who have seen it all these are a few of the things they would recommend avoiding, that could be making your living room look cheap, as well as what to do instead.

1. Too much furniture

Magnolia living room with cream armchairs

(Image credit: Future PLC)

It doesn’t matter whether you are working with small living room ideas, or larger ones, what is important is that the furniture you choose is proportionate for the space. Picking the right size of sofa or sideboard also has the added benefit of saving you from cramming too many items of furniture into the room.

‘While filling your space as best as you can might seem like a good idea, it can actually cause your living room to appear cluttered and unwelcoming,’ says Laura Chiddey, Fabb Furniture's Home Interior Expert. For example, ‘small furnishing sets, such as a nesting side table, can actually make your living room look cheaper and should instead be replaced by a single table which will sit much more comfortably in a room.’

‘It’s also important to note that bigger, more intentional furnishing will compliment your space far better than small, unnecessary pieces,’ Laura maintains.

2. Poor lighting

Neutral living room with task lighting on different surfaces.

(Image credit: Future)

Living room lighting ideas are crucial to getting the ambiance in a room just right, and Mara Rypacek Miller, Managing Director at Industville Ltd says it is crucial to making sure a living room doesn't look cheap.

‘Poorly lit spaces, whether too bright or too dim, can diminish a living room’s ambiance,’ suggests Jeannette Hudson, Furniture Expert at Online Sofa Shop. This means, layering a number of different lighting types – namely task, ambient and accent lighting – is key. As is not relying on the ‘big light.’ 

‘Avoid cheap light fixtures that undermine the room's sophistication and ensure that all lighting installations are properly positioned and installed to maintain a polished look,’ Mara affirms. 

3. Too much clutter

Upholstered window seat with storage drawers

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

Whether it’s general clutter or you’ve gone a little overboard by over-accessorising, ‘clutter is high on the list of things that can quickly cheapen the look of any living space,’ warns Sharps’ National Retail Manager, Rachal Hutcheson. If you can, try to find hidden storage solutions to keep everything from remote controls and magazines, to throw blankets at bay.

Utilising wall space and investing in fitted cabinetry can add a luxurious touch to any room while keeping clutter hidden.

4. Not having a clear colour scheme

Modern living room with grey modular sofa on a concrete floor

(Image credit: Future PLC/Anna Stathaki)

‘Having multiple colours that don’t coordinate with each other can create a busy, unpleasant atmosphere, which will ultimately make your living room look cheaper,’ says Laura. ‘To avoid this, I recommend sticking to neutral, inoffensive colours.’

‘A limited colour palette makes a space look more curated and expensive,’ Interior Designer Nicolene Mausenbaum agrees. Now, that doesn't mean that you can’t add a pop of colour here and there but mixing a number of clashing colours or picking ones which don’t complement one another can make your living room feel disjointed, in terms of its design.

5. Too many synthetic materials

Blue living room with green painted dresser and eclectic accessories

(Image credit: Future PLC/Brent Darby)

When you think of luxury and comfort, several natural materials spring to mind. From marble and stone to wood and glass. On the other hand, an ‘excessive use of faux materials like fake wood, particle board, plastic, or laminate can create a cheap and artificial look,’ Nicolene argues.

‘Relying on synthetic materials, especially those with a shiny finish, can give a plasticky and cheap feel to a room,’ Jeanette Hudson, Sofa Expert at Online Sofa Shop, concurs. 

While imitation wood finishes can look off and make a piece of furniture or even your living room flooring look somewhat low-end. You can often source genuine wood furniture for a reasonable price from the likes of charity shops, markets and online marketplaces like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Not only will it look better but it will also be much more durable, in the long run.

6. Wall-to-wall carpeting

A living room with a contrasting red sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC/Emma Lee)

‘If you’re looking to update your living room with a luxury feel, it may be time to bid farewell to wall-to-wall carpets,’ according to Laura. 

Even though this style was popular for many decades, it ‘has lost its touch nowadays, as solid surfaces have become a favourable choice,’ Laura affirms. There are a number of living room wood floor ideas that will instantly add elegance and sophistication to the space. But if you still like the cosy feel that you would traditionally get from carpet, adding a rug will not only recreate that sensation but also bring the room together. 

Just remember proportion when you choose your rug. ‘A too-small rug can instantly make a room look cheap and a too-big rug can be impractical and overpower the room,’ advises Kate Duckworth, Trends and Interior Expert at Swift Direct Blinds.

7. Worn textiles

As you may expect, old and worn out fabrics can quickly cheapen the look of any living room aesthetic. That means it’s time to replace or reupholster any scuffed or worn pieces that are looking a little past their best. If you can and your budget allows, think about prioritising high-quality textiles, which will last for years or decades, when doing this.

‘To ensure value for money, I recommend investing in timeless fabrics such as corduroy, velvet, and leather,’ Laura reveals. ‘These immediately bring a luxurious and classic feel to a living room and will be a better option in the long run.’

8. Badly hung curtains

pink living room with pink walls and curtains, white and grey sofas with pink cushions, a colourful pink pattern rug and an industrial style coffee table on top

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore)

Living room curtain ideas are worth paying attention too if you don't want to accidentally cheapen a room.  ‘Curtains add depth and character to a room, so it’s crucial to get this feature right,’ Laura explains. ‘Short curtains are ones to avoid as this can make the whole room look unfinished and cheap,’ instead, you always want to ‘opt for long, fuller curtains. Even better, get them to touch the ground - this will add an extra touch of luxury to the room.’

‘Also be aware of outdated window treatments, which can date the entire room and disrupt a cohesive design scheme by drawing attention away from other elements in the room,’ says ILIV’s Design Manager, Debbie Leigh.

9. Slogan or branded decor

black and white living room with sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC / Douglas Gibb)

Much like with the quiet luxury trend, ‘prominent logos on furnishings can make a living room seem impersonal and commercial,’ Jeanette dissuades. Instead, ‘opt for pieces with subtler branding that focus on design rather than overt marketing, ensuring a tasteful ambiance.’

10. Generic artwork

wooden console table underneath gallery of prints

(Image credit: Future PLC/Bee Holmes)

If you love a piece of art please put it on your walls, but do bear in mind that generic prints and artwork like you'd pick up in IKEA or similar won't exude the high-end vibe you're going for.

‘Mass-produced artwork can make a living room feel generic and dull,’ Jeanette adds. As an alternative, ‘consider investing in original pieces or creating a gallery wall with a mix of photographs and curated artwork.’ 

This also has the added benefit of making your living room feel homey and personal.

FAQs

How can you design your living room on a budget, without it looking cheap?

Designing your dream living room doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Consider buying furniture secondhand or ex-display, if you're looking to save some serious money. Not only can you find some hidden gems at great prices but you may even be able to afford a brand or design that would be outside your budget if you were to buy it brand new.

Choosing a small number of statement pieces, ‘that you love and are of high quality,’ allow you to ‘elevate the room without needing to replace every single piece of furniture,’ admits Laura Price, Founder and Director of The Home Organisation. That way you can focus on a few show-stopping pieces which will catch the eye and make your living room look and feel that much more extravagant.

Which design choices can make a living room look more elevated and expensive?

While you may have invested in a few statement or key pieces, such as your sofa or an elegant coffee table, you can use budget-friendly and less expensive items of decor to elevate the space. Think vases, candlestick holders, cushions and photo frames.

Incorporating a variety of different textures can also add depth and interest to your living room. ‘Quality materials like velvet, marble and brass add a touch of luxury to any space,’ Nicolene concludes. While ‘combining metals, glass, wood, wool, woven materials and plush fabrics,’ also helps to make your living room look and feel more luxurious.

Ellis Cochrane
Contributor

Ellis Cochrane has been a Freelance Contributor for Ideal Home since 2023. She graduated with a Joint Honours degree in Politics and English from the University of Strathclyde and between her exams and graduation, started a lifestyle blog where she would share what she was buying, reading and doing. In doing so, she created opportunities to work with some of her dream brands and discovered the possibility of freelance writing, after always dreaming of writing for magazines when she was growing up.


Since then, she has contributed to a variety of online and print publications, covering everything from celebrity news and beauty reviews to her real passion; homes and interiors. She started writing about all things homes, gardens and interiors after joining Decor & Design Scotland as a Freelance Journalist and Social Media Account Manager in 2021. She then started freelancing at House Beautiful, Country Living and in Stylist’s Home team. Ellis is currently saving to buy her first home in Glasgow with far too many Pinterest boards dedicated to her many design ideas and inspirations.