Modern small living room ideas to make the most of your space

Smaller spaces don't have to be short on style - use these modern small living room ideas to get the most out of the room you have

neutral living room with small off-white sofa and pops of bright colour
(Image credit: Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

As the name suggests, living rooms are where we spend a lot of our time at home. However, these spaces don't need to be large in order to make an impact. Modern small living room ideas bring contemporary style to even the most petite spaces.

Living rooms come in all styles, but modern styling, with its typically less 'fussy' looks, works especially well for small rooms. Cleaner lines, bold colour choices and contemporary solutions make the most of smaller living rooms.

Modern small living room ideas

From decorating and styling tips to doors and windows, read on to discover our favourite ways to design a small living room space.

1. 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 (opens in new tab).

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.'

2. 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. 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.

3. 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 an extra storage area which doesn't use up any precious floor space. Easy and breezy.

4. 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, Little Greene (opens in new tab). '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 a small living room. 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.

5. 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 (opens in new tab). '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't time to switch off.

6. 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.

Paint the rest of the wall in a bright neutral tone, which will help attract light, but won't direct the gaze to the ceiling, making it appear higher than it actually is.

7. 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 a small living room 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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 a living room, 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.

11. Create cohesion with colour

living room with shelves on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

When designing a stylish small living room, 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.

12. 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.

How do you make a small living room modern?

It’s about being clever and investing in quality,’ says 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. Touches of metallics add another modern touch, which the reflections help create the illusion of extra space.

How do you make a small living room look bigger?

‘Make it cosy and not cluttered,’ says Céline Erlam, Co-Founder of Indie & Co (opens in new tab). ‘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 small living room to look 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.

Thea Babington-Stitt is a Content Editor on Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for nearly 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.