Modern small living room ideas – 26 ways to create a contemporary space that makes the most of every inch

Ideas that will utilise every nook and expand your living space while looking up-to-date

A beige-painted living room with a terracotta sofa and a black coffee table on a grey rug
(Image credit: Future PLC/Moon Ray Studio)

Just because your living room is lacking in space, doesn’t mean you can’t make it look stylish, cool and contemporary. On the contrary, there are plenty of modern small living room ideas you can incorporate into your living space to maximise on space, while making the living area look up-to-date.

And we are just about to prove it to you with our round-up of some of the best small living room ideas for contemporary-looking spaces – which include everything from the best small living room colour schemes that visually expand the room without looking dated to styling tricks and choosing the right furniture pieces for a tiny space.

Modern small living room ideas

Nailing the look of a modern small living room is not necessarily about following all the latest living room trends - even though indulging in some home decor trends you particularly gravitate towards here and there won’t hurt - but rather about timeless, clever tricks, most of which come from up the sleeves of our interior experts no less.

1. Keep things clean and simple

A white living room with wooden shelves and a floating cabinet built into an alcove

(Image credit: Future PLC/Anna Stathaki)

‘This entirely depends on your style but often clean lines and a simple vision keep any scheme looking modern,’ say Polly Aspinall and Emily Harrop-Griffith, interior designers and co-founders of Oscar Wren Studios. ‘So, the less fussy your furniture and decoration is, the more modern it will look.’

Keeping decor to a minimum and opting for a minimalist style is an easy modern living room idea. But if you’re worried about the space looking too plain and boring or simply enjoy a pop of colour or pattern as a true midimalist does, you can incorporate those, too. Just remember not to overdo it.

‘If you like lashings of colour and pattern - as we, at Oscar Wren Studios, do - adding these in through your accessories and soft furnishings keeps the space modern but also injects the personality you're after,’ Polly and Emily add.

2. Swap a carpet for a rug

A beige-painted living room with a terracotta sofa and a black coffee table on a grey rug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Keeping your living room flooring covered in a traditional carpet can not only look dated but it can also make the room appear even smaller than it is, which is not ideal, of course.

‘Whilst throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, carpet was the preferred flooring choice for every room, it is now a sign of a dated interior, especially in smaller living rooms,’ says Melissa Denham, interior stylist at Hammonds Fitted Furniture. ‘Having wall to wall carpeting will draw the eye towards the floor, emphasising the lack of free space in a small living room.’

Instead of a wall-to-wall carpet you can cover the majority of the floor with a large rug keeping in mind the 18-inch rug rule. ‘Removing carpet doesn’t mean you have to go without the warm, cosy feeling on your feet. Instead, opt for a rug on a hardwood floor. When sized correctly, a rug can give the illusion of a bigger room. The trick is to pick a large rug that fits the centre of the room, with around 18 inches from each wall,’ Melissa explains.

3. Create a subtle contrast

A bright living room with a Berber rug, a day bed and a fireplace, with cream walls contrasted by light taupe skirting boards

(Image credit: Future PLC)

‘Opt for off-whites and light neutrals on the walls. This will open up the space and create surfaces that natural light can easily reflect off,’ Melissa recommends a light living room colour scheme.

But for a particularly modern look, Emily and Polly go a step further by advising to create a subtle contrast between the walls and the skirting boards. ‘There are so many colour combinations that create a modern look, but one of our favourites is painting the walls a really fresh, neutral colour like JoJo’s White or Nada from COAT and then complimenting it by painting the woodwork (skirtings, architrave, doors etc) in a darker taupe colour such as Good Intentions also from COAT. Alternatively, you could embrace something darker like Farrow & Ball’s Green Smoke.’

4. Colour-drench the room

A colour-drenched green living room with a built-in sofa and storage

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Colour-drenching might be one of the biggest paint trends of the past year or so but it’s also a clever tool to visually enlarge a space.

‘One of our favourite trends at the moment is to take your decoration on to the ceiling. Colour-drenching the ceiling to match your walls will often make any room feel bigger as your eye doesn’t stop at the break between the ceiling and walls. It also gives a very modern and considered finish to your decoration,’ Emily and Polly explain.

You can go bold with your paint ideas here or opt for a subtle shade, either way will create a beautifully seamless look.

5. Add mirrors

A living room with a large mirror leaning against the wall and cream sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC/Mark Luscombe-Whyte)

If you want to create the illusion of a larger space then reflective surfaces like mirrors are your best bet. But there are several ways to make a small living room look bigger with mirrors and glossy or glass furniture.

‘Mirrors or other reflective surfaces are perfect for making a room look larger. They bounce natural light around the space and can make even the darkest rooms appear brighter. Try hanging more than one in the room and experiment with different styles and shapes too. An oversized mirror can be a brilliant focal point, while a couple of well-placed mid-sized designs can instantly add light and style to a room,’ Melissa suggests.

6. Let the furniture float

Light blue-painted living room with a brown leather sofa and artworks hanging on the walls

(Image credit: Future PLC/Anna Stathaki)

How you arrange furniture in a small living room and what pieces you include is crucial to creating a successful layout that doesn’t look too cramped or claustrophobic. And one of the most common tips from interior designers to do this right is to let furniture float, whether that’s by pulling it away from the walls ever so slightly, adding legs onto furniture or mounting pieces onto the wall.

‘Floating furniture is something you will see in all major celebrity homes, which also works perfectly for those with a smaller living room space. Try moving your furniture up. Hanging cupboards and shelves can free up vital floor space while ensuring you have enough storage for everyday essentials,’ Melissa recommends.

She continues, ‘Look out for furniture that's easy to hang but also suits the decor in your living room. By taking the time to carefully plan this out, you can have beautiful yet functional furniture that suits your needs. Floating furniture can be anything from wall installed TV stands, to simply moving your sofa away from the wall. It may feel as though its counter intuitive to move furniture inwards, however, having a small amount of space between the walls and furniture helps give the illusion of a bigger, yet more modern room.’

7. Combine colour with white for a fresh feel

small blue and white living room

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Even if you love colour and have chosen a shade for your living room, combine it with plenty of white surfaces to make the space feel larger.

With darker furniture, the room above would have felt imposing, but with the pale upholstery on the sofa and armchair, the white coffee table and sideboard, alongside the pretty patterned fabrics it feels light and bright. Painting the ceiling and above the dado in white also opens up the room.

8. Clash bold prints against a pale canvas

white living room with patterned accessories

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Clashing prints look bold and beautiful, when you get it right. If you want to do this to create a modern small living room, set your prints against a pale background to prevent overwhelming the space.

According to interior designers, the best way to get it to look good is to select around three colours to work with and vary the size of the prints. For example, use a small print on a couple of cushions and a large pattern on a blind or rug, with plenty of plain surfaces in between.

9. Mix vintage and modern

monochrome living room with leather sofa

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Mixing vintage and modern looks stylish in any size of room, but it's an effective way to easily add character in a modern small space, particularly if you've just moved in.

'Don’t rush into new purchases if you can avoid it,' says Lucy Henderson, head of interior design at My Bespoke Room. 'Not only could it be an expensive mistake if you haven’t thought through how it will fit into a wider design scheme, but ‘fast furnishing’ is bad for the environment as it often ends up in landfill.

'Using hand-me-downs or bargains from Facebook marketplace or charity shops is a great way to create a functional living space quickly, and you might even inherit some vintage gems.

'If you can take the time to settle into your space before designing or redesigning your home, then you’ll be able to see how the space actually works for you and work out what is actually needed. This can save you rushing into buying lots of items that are too big, too small, or just aren’t needed.'

10. Cheer it up with sunny yellow

yellow living room

(Image credit: Future / Simon Whitmore)

Small spaces can sometimes feel dark or poky. Some designers like to capitalise on this and suggest going for a cosy cocooning effect with moody tones. However, that doesn't suit everyone. So if you'd find that imposing or claustrophobic, choose a lighter, cheerful shade, such as yellow.

Mix things up by painting up to a dado rail, if you have one, and wallpapering above it, for a surprise element.

11. Include multi-purpose pieces

Yellow sofa in white living room

(Image credit: Dominic Blackmore)

Furniture needs to work hard in a small living room. So choose pieces that can have a dual or multi-purpose. Instead of a coffee table, opt for a blanket box or ottoman. As well as providing a surface to place things, this will offer extra storage or seating space when needed too.

12. Choose furniture that's the right size and scale

living room with brick chimney breast

(Image credit: Future / TBC)

'Positioning can really make a difference when it comes to decorating a room, you don’t want items that are too big and take over the space,' says Lucy Henderson, head of interior design at My Bespoke Room.

'Think about the size of the furniture you buy. Is it going to fit comfortably, and will it allow for enough space for a side table on either side or will it be easy to pull dining chairs out?

'Using masking tape or boxes to explore layouts before purchasing key pieces can be really helpful. It’s important to have a decent walkway space, so you aren’t having to shuffle around furniture when moving around; we recommend a minimum walkway space of 60cm.'

13. Bring in a botanical theme

green and white living room

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Blur the lines between indoors and outdoors with a lush botanical theme. Studies show that the colours of nature, such as shades of green, make us feel good. Leafy prints and colours also help to connect inside and outside, making a room seem larger and less separate to the garden beyond.

'The natural world has been very much in the forefront of people’s minds and consumer choices, which has had a huge impact on design,' says Caroline Thornborough, design director at Thorndown.

'For the autumn and winter months, warm, comforting but darker and more striking colours are set to be used with dark lush greens.'

14. Include toy storage to keep things tidy

Blue small living room with storage unit

(Image credit: Future PLC / Dominic Blackmore / Stylist: Sarita Sharma)

Make life easy by including space for toy storage in a small living room. Instead of tripping over teddies or pieces of Lego, choose a storage unit or shelving with enough space for smart storage boxes where you can easily hide toys away, when kids have finished playing with them.

Storing the boxes on the lowest level will ensure little ones have access when they want them too. However, it is essential to ensure the storage unit is secured to the wall properly from top to bottom, so that it can't topple.

15. Create impact with patterned wallpaper

living room with blue floral printed wallpaper on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Mark Scott)

Wallpaper is always a useful way of injecting personality into a room. 'Wallpaper has a huge impact on the mood of a room so it’s key to get the design right,' says Martin Waller, Founder of global design brand Andrew Martin.

One of the best living room wallpaper ideas for small rooms is to choose a medium to large scale repeat for your pattern. 'When choosing wallpaper, consider the size of a room,' says Martin.

'Smaller scale patterns work well in big rooms, but can overwhelm smaller spaces. Larger scale patterns work well in most rooms but think about lighting, as this can affect the look of wallpaper and make a colour appear lighter or darker.'

16. Trick the eye

living room with white walls and sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

There's not always much you can do to literally in order to increase the size of your living room. Unless you have the time, money and space to start knocking down walls. Instead, use visual tricks to create the illusion of space.

One of the most clever top modern small living room ideas is to use a trompe l'oeil mural for your living room wall decor. Depending on which image you choose, this might make the room seem to open up onto a garden, another room, or even go on further.

For outdoor murals, a nifty trick is to set the wallpaper in panels to make it appear to be viewed through windows.

17. Utilise alcoves

living room with white shelves on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Douglas Gibb)

Contemporary interiors style can work well regardless of the architecture of your home. If you have a period property, make the most of architectural details to gain more space.

Alcoves are an ideal opportunity to make the most of the available space in a smaller room. If not already in place, add a few basic shelves into the alcove, and paint these the same colour as the rest of the room, to help blend in. Then you have extra living room shelving ideas which don't use up any precious floor space. Easy and breezy.

18. Use tiles to create a focal point

living room with blue armchair with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Chimney breasts may be a lovely detail, but they can also seem to eat up space in smaller rooms. Tiling the whole chimney breast turns a small living room fireplace idea into a stand-out feature, rather than an obstruction.

‘Wallpapering the chimney breast in a muted scheme highlights it and creates an element of surprise,' says Ruth Mottershead, creative director at Little Greene. 'Try painting the fireplace in a contrasting colour to the walls or using decorative tiles to become the room’s feature highlight.’

This may seem counterintuitive in modern small living room ideas. However, by placing so much focus on one area, you actually take notice away from the rest of the space. If you keep the rest of the walls in a neutral colourway, these will effectively disappear, creating the illusion of a larger room.

19. Separate work and play

living room with rug on floor

(Image credit: Future PLC/Chris Snook)

‘If your family room needs to double as an office or guest room, then that’s great news as you are making the most of your space,' says architect and designer Lynsey Ford. 'Nowadays, the best sofa bed doesn’t mean compromising, while closed storage allows you to shut the door on clutter. I’m loving desks that can be hidden away in a cupboard – work just disappears!’

Keeping work and play separate isn't just great for mental health and a sense of peace. By having a sleek sliding door, you can tuck way any mess, giving you more space to use when it's time to switch off.

20. Use paint to lift the ceiling

living room with sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Rachael Smith)

Clever use of painting techniques can add height to your your space. An easy option for modern small living room ideas is to choose a bold paint colour for your walls, but not taking it all the way to the top. If you have a mid-height dado rail, use this as the point to stop. If not, pick a space in the top third of the wall height.

Use a bright neutral tone on the rest of the living room paint ideas, which will help attract light, but won't direct the gaze to the ceiling, making it appear higher than it actually is.

21. Add narrow shelves

living room with white wall and sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Anna Stathaki)

A chic way to add space in modern small living room ideas is to consider sofa ideas for small living rooms. A slim, floating shelf above a sofa will add more storage without interfering with square footage. Additionally, as you would be looking to add some style to this area anyway, you're killing two birds with one stone.

Think practically when styling. A table lamp can be added to take the place of a floor reading lamp, for example. Mix and match heights in order to create interest. This is also a fun way to display artwork as you can easily switch around your prints without fuss.

22. Increase natural light

living room with rug on floor and sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Nick Smith)

We all know that light makes a space feel larger, so of course it works as one of the modern small living room ideas. If you have large windows already, you're in luck! If you're building or renovating, make sure to work out how much light the room will get add larger windows if it's lacking.

Mirrors help reflect light, so always insure to include one or two in s smaller living room. While we love a dark, cosy small living room, a light and bright painted wall will keep these space looking larger.

23. Zone with paint

living room with sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Jo Henderson)

Small sitting rooms aren't always individual spaces. Open-plan living room ideas come in petite forms, too. Create interest by zoning your spaces with a fun technique, like painting the edge of the divide between spaces.

This helps both to make the space as a whole look larger, and to add some personality. Delineating spaces can also help you switch off, by letting you know you've stepped into the living room, even if you haven't a door to close.

24. Make the most of your corners

living room with pot on wall and flower in vase

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Corners can be wasted in many rooms, but when you don't have the liberty of space to spare, make them involved in your scheme. L-shaped sofas are one of the most popular ways to utilise a corner of modern small living room ideas, but sometimes you have an extra-awkward corner when working out how to make a small living room look bigger.

Built-in seating in these spots helps use otherwise dead floor space, while creating extra seating, and a new zone. This way, even the most petite rooms can have their own little reading nook. Add a wall or pendant light to make sure the spot gets enough light to stay useful no matter the time of day.

25. Create cohesion with colour

living room with shelves on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

When designing stylish modern small living room ideas, curation can go a long way. Without tonnes of space to spare, make sure you really consider every item you have on display. There's no point in having stuff for stuff's sake if it just adds meaningless clutter.

If you're torn as to which items to keep out, try narrowing down the selection through colour co-ordination. Choose two or three colours and only display items in those colour areas. Create full cohesion by linking in your soft accessories, like cushions and throws, too.

26. Find the right storage

living room with wooden cupboard and tv on wall

(Image credit: Shelved)

Choosing the right option in living room storage ideas is key for small rooms. Use a combination of open and closed storage. This way, you can display your favourite objects, but hide away clutter and technology.

Media units which surround the wall around a TV are a great way to save on space, and to provide the storage the room needs.

FAQs

How do you make a small living room modern?

'It’s about being clever and investing in quality,’ says designer Lynsey Ford. ‘Start with a super-comfy sofa that you can all fit on, a rug, thick curtains that you can draw on winter evenings, yet open wide to let in maximum light in the summer, as well as plenty of texture and great lighting.’

Clean lines are one of the easiest ways to add a contemporary feel. Make sure you stick away from clutter, too - curation is key with modern small living room ideas. Touches of metallics add another modern touch, which the reflections help create the illusion of extra space.

A green-painted living room with built-in bookshelves and a grey sofa and chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/Mary Wadsworth)

How do you make a small living room look bigger?

‘Make it cosy and not cluttered,’ says Céline Erlam, Co-Founder of Indie & Co. ‘Focus on textiles, plants and lighting. When it comes to lighting, vary the source. For reading, use either a table lamp or a floor lamp next to a side table. For watching TV, have wall lights on a dimmer. For play, a central pendant, again on a dimmer, works best.'

Not everyone wants their modern small living room ideas to seem bigger, sometimes it can be all about create a cosy and inviting space to snuggle up in. ‘I go for strong colours to create cosy spaces – and living rooms are made for pattern,' says Little Greene's Ruth Mottershead.

Now you have all the necessary ingredients to turn your small living room into a contemporary space that doesn’t feel cluttered or dated in the slightest.

Thea Babington-Stitt
Managing Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Managing Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for around 10 years.

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.

With contributions from