10 Common Living Room Layout Mistakes (And How To Fix Them)
The living room is often one of the most-used rooms in the house, and usually wears many hats. Sometimes it’s a room for entertaining, sometimes it’s a relaxing spot to read a book and sometimes it’s a comfy place to watch TV or do homework.
So it’s no wonder that a lot of people have problems getting their living room furniture arrangement to look and feel right. And these common living room design mistakes may be the cause of those problems! The good news is…they all have easy-to-do solutions.
As you may (or may not) know, I’m a bit of a serial furniture arranger, especially in my living room.
I get bored of the decor in my house pretty quickly, and want to change it up.
The easiest way to do that without spending any money is to re-arrange the furniture.
So I’ve tried a lot of different living room furniture arrangements…and I’ve made my share of mistakes.
Which is why I’m sharing these living room layout do’s and don’ts that might help you figure out why your living room isn’t working as well as you would like.
A Note About Pinning: Some of these images are from houzz.com and cannot be pinned due to their copyright restrictions.
1 | Don’t: Have Too Few Tables
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One of the most common living room layout mistakes is not providing enough table space for people to put down a drink or a book.
Whether it’s because your room is so small you couldn’t fit a table in, or you have a table but it’s so full of accessories that there’s no room for a glass, this is an issue that should be corrected if you want your living space to feel comfortable.
Do: Provide easy access to a table for every seat
For small rooms that feel cluttered, try using a glass table which takes up less visual space.
I love to use an Eileen Gray table* in this situation.
It is height adjustable, usually not very expensive, and slides over the arm of the sofa so that it doesn’t take up much room.
Or if you really don’t have room for end tables, try placing a garden stool in front of the sofa.
They look pretty, are small enough to walk around but big enough to hold a cup of coffee.
2 | Don’t: Create An Uncomfortable Conversation Area
The next living room layout don’t is creating an uncomfortable conversation area.
The living room is the main public gathering place in most homes, so providing a place for people to sit and talk comfortably is important.
Most people prefer to be seated facing the person they are talking to, rather than right beside them.
So while a large sofa with a chaise at one end is perfect for watching TV, it isn’t ideal for promoting conversation.
Do: Arrange furniture to make it easy to talk
To provide a comfortable conversation area, arrange your sofa and chairs in a grouping so people are naturally facing each other.
This can be done in one of two ways:
1. Position sofa and chairs directly across from each other.
2. Create an angle with the seating by positioning them at a 90 degree angle to one another.
Either of these seating arrangements can be done using chairs as well as sofas, so don’t think you need to go out and buy another couch.
3 | Don’t: Use The Wrong-Sized Area Rug
The next one of my common living room layout mistakes is using the wrong sized area rug.
An area rug is a great way to pull a furniture arrangement together.
But if it’s the wrong size or not placed correctly, it can make the room look unbalanced, and the furniture feel uncomfortable.
It’s REALLY annoying to have a table or chair that has three legs on the rug and one off.
Every time you sit down, it rocks and reminds you that it’s uneven!
And so you’ll probably end up wadding up a piece of paper towel to make it level (like you do when that happens at a restaurant).
Do: Follow these guidelines to choose the correct rug size
Choose an area rug that is large enough for your furniture to fit on it using the following guidelines:
- The chair or sofa legs should either be all on the rug, all off the rug or have the front legs on the rug. Note: If you choose the “legs all off the rug option”, the rug should come right up to the edge of the chair legs. It will look unbalanced to have a small rug in the middle of the floor with the seating a couple of feet away.
- All table legs should always be on the rug (table surfaces are less forgiving of being on a slant than chairs and sofas)
- Your furniture grouping should be centered on your rug to make the room feel balanced.
- To prevent people from tripping, the edges of the rug should not stick out into a pathway that people use to walk through the room.
4 | Don’t: Use Too Many (Or Too Few) Pieces Of Furniture
If you’re like me and tend towards the maximalist approach to decorating, you might be guilty of this living room layout don’t: Cramming too much furniture into a small space.
If people have to contort their bodies to get in and out of the chairs around your coffee table, it may be time to re-think your living room furniture arrangement.
However, it’s also not very comfortable to sit in a living room where the furniture is too far apart.
If you can’t reach the table easily to put down your drink, the table may as well not be there.
And having to yell across the room to talk to someone sitting across from you makes having a conversation difficult.
Do: Space your furniture properly
Follow these rule-of-thumb measurements to create a comfortable furniture arrangement for your living room seating area:
- Leave 14″ to 18″ between the sofa (or chairs) and the coffee table.
- Chairs that are positioned beside each other should be about 18″ apart. That leaves enough room for a small table to fit between them.
- Sofas (or chairs) that are positioned across from each other should be no more than 9 feet apart.
Also make sure you don’t have too many tall breakable things on the tables, or your guests will be doing that contortion thing again to try to avoid breaking them (probably unsuccessfully in some cases).
5 | Don’t: Line All The Furniture Up Along The Wall
The next living room layout issue that many people have is lining all of their furniture up against the wall.
While this is an easy way to get your furniture in the room, it ends up feeling somewhat like a high school gymnasium…with the stands (seating) all around the edges and a big open space in the middle.
Not exactly the warm, inviting look you want for your living room.
It’s also harder to create a focal point this way, since your eye has a harder time figuring out where it is supposed to stop.
Do: Float some furniture in the room
Pull at least some of the furniture away from the walls so that it “floats” in the room.
Even having one sofa (or a couple of chairs) that aren’t anchored to the walls will help.
6 | Don’t: Put All The Big Things On One Side Of The Room
Similar to having the furniture lined up against the wall, arranging all of your big pieces of furniture on one side of the room will make the room look off-balance.
It’s like you’re on a boat with everyone standing on one side. It feels like it’s tilted to one side.
Many of today’s open concept living rooms don’t have a lot of wall space, so this mistake is easy to make since the big things tend to end up against the wall.
Do: Balance out the room
Pay attention to the placement of the big furniture pieces in your room. Try to spread them out across the room so they aren’t all congregating in one area.
Balance out a large armoire with large chairs or a sofa
Large built-in features like floor to ceiling fireplaces, bookshelves and large windows also count as “big things” in your room.
So you can use them in your balancing equation, too.
If your windows aren’t that big and your fireplace doesn’t have much of a presence, build them up by adding floor to ceiling window treatments, or building a bigger fireplace mantel.
Find out more about interior design principles (like balance) HERE.
7 | Don’t: Not Defining Activity Zones
A lot of houses these days have open concept living areas. Which is great for making a house feel open and airy.
But they can also feel like a huge cavernous space that is difficult to decorate.
And that’s where defining activity zones becomes important.
The idea with activity zones is to decide what functions you need to be able to perform in the room – like entertain guests, watch TV and read a book.
Then define areas of the room where each of these activities will take place.
Do: Create “rooms” within a room
Create separate “rooms” within your living room for each of the functions you want to perform there.
You can define the rooms by using groupings of furniture and an area rug which helps to create a boundary for your eyes.
Day beds are a great way to split up a room since you can see over them, so they don’t take away from the open, airy feel.
And they don’t have a back which means they look good from both sides of the room they are dividing.
8 | Don’t: Position The Sofa With Its Back To The Entrance
The next common living room layout mistake is positioning the sofa so that its back is to the room entrance.
This means that people who are sitting on the sofa cannot see people when they walk in.
And whether you realize it consciously or not, it’s an uncomfortable situation to be in.
It makes you feel like someone could sneak up on you at any time, and most people don’t like those kind of surprises.
Do: Add a console table behind the sofa
If moving the sofa is not an option (or you just like the way it looks in that location), try putting a sofa table behind it.
Then add a couple of lamps or some taller accessories to it.
This creates a barrier behind the sofa that eliminates the feeling of being unprotected.
9 | Don’t: Block The Traffic Flow
All rooms should have a defined traffic pattern.
That’s the path people will take to walk through the room and to get to different areas within the room.
If you have to navigate around multiple pieces or furniture and easy-to-knock-over accessories to get where you’re going, then you have probably committed this living room layout mistake – blocking the traffic flow.
Do: Create a clear path
Make sure you know what the traffic pattern is for your room.
Then leave at least 30″ of space for the walkways through the room.
They should also be easy to navigate without having to worry about tripping over obstacles, such as lamp cords or tables.
And try to direct traffic around your conversation area, rather than through the middle of it.
10 | Don’t: Rely Solely On Overhead Lighting
The last living room layout faux pas is relying solely on overhead lighting.
Ceiling lights are quick and easy ways to get light into a room.
But they usually aren’t the most flattering. That downward light creates shadows on people’s faces that doesn’t look great.
And they often don’t provide the right kind of light for all of the functions you need to use your living room for.
Do: Add lamps and sconces
Add sconces, table lamps and floor lamps to your living room area.
Eye level lighting fixtures make most people look their best so position a couple of table lamps in your conversation area.
For reading, a floor lamp that directs light downward towards your chair will work best.
For watching TV, make sure that whatever lights you add won’t block the view or be reflected in the TV screen.
Layering different types of lighting together can create a really dramatic effect.
Now that I’ve given myself a refresher course on what not to do, I think my living room is calling for another room arrangement!
Other Living Room Decor Ideas You Might Like
- L-shaped living room layout ideas
- Living room decorating tips: How to create the perfect living room
- Living room furniture arrangement tips
- Small living room library makeover
- Living room color mistakes
Have comments or questions on our living room layout do’s and don’ts? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on October 31, 2019 but was updated with new content on May 19, 2023.
We appreciate you pointing out that since it leaves too much free space in the center, we shouldn’t arrange all of our furniture in a straight line against the walls. Later this year, my husband and I will be relocating to a larger house, and we want to purchase a wooden TV cabinet to serve as the room’s center point. I’m delighted I read your essay so we can put our other furniture in a fashionable yet functional arrangement around the cabinet!
For rugs, I’d prefer all of the furniture to be on it, not just partially. It looks odd to have back legs of a piece of furniture on the floor while the front legs are on the rug. Unless there’s a backing on the bottom of the legs, it would be easy to end up with floor scratches.
Hi Janice…Having all legs on the area rug does look nice (and you’re right that it prevents floor scratches). But it also requires a larger, more expensive rug. Whether you choose to do that or just have the front legs on is a personal preference, so of course you should do what looks best to you 🙂
This was so helpful! I have such an awkward L-shaped living room and haven’t been able to find advice until now. Thank you!
These are excellent tips of things to watch out for. I have a lot of shifting and decorating to accomplish in my home’s living room for the upcoming holidays, so I’m definitely going to reference back to this post often. Thanks, Wanda!
I got a lot of information what to avoid
& how to place different sizes around .. Thanks
I see lamps placed on end tables but no cords . How do you plug the lamps into an outlet in an open concept home with no receptacle by the end table? Thanks, Denise
Hi Denise…It is tricky, but some people have electrical outlets installed in the floor where they need them. Others run extension cords under the furniture or area rugs where they can’t be seen. I have even seen people cut slits in their rug where the lamp is so they can run the cord through it.
Most of us don’t live in houses like these. Open, airy, 25×25 living rooms are for wealthy elite groups. Challenge:: give advice like this for most of the population who live in ranch or not so expensive homes.
Hi Connie…regardless of what size of home you live in, the advice is still the same. I am certainly not in the wealthy elite group (my living room isn’t that big), and I have made all of these mistakes and fixed them using these tips. The pictures are just for illustration purposes.
Well, that may be true……..but not always. I certainly am not wealthy but built on a den 20x 20 just to accommodate kids and grandkids. I now have trouble deciding how to position furniture in a room this large.
I don’t usually leave comments, but this was an amazing article! Really informative.
I am going to check out your other tips as well
First I don’t usually leave a comment, your article was interesting to read,I have a small livingroom, what I was wondering is you got the furniture in the center of the room looks great where do you plug in the lamps,?
Hi Sheila…I run extension cords either under the furniture (sofas are really good for that) or under the area rug so I can plug in the lamps without having a bunch of wires showing.
Question- My Sofa covers almost 50 – 60% of the space in the living room and I have a dining table in the opposite corner. Since I have wooden flooring , I wanted to add rugs in both places. Should I use the same rug in different sizes for both Sofa and Dining section? Or Can these be different in colour/pattern? Any advice? Thanks
Hi Swati…the rugs can be different but I would try to keep something about them the same. Either similar colors or patterns so that they are coordinated but not necessarily matching.
I have a ‘front to back’ livingroom approximately 14 by 20 feet long with the entrance from the foyer. There are two windows at the front of the room and two windows on the side. There is no fireplace, so a large flat screen television would be the focal point. I plan to replace all the furniture, but not sure where to begin. I’ve enjoyed reading all of your ideas, but need help!
Hi Rosalie…Sorry for the late response, I’m a bit behind in answering comments. I would start by thinking about what you want to use the room for (eg. watching TV, entertaining, having friends/family over, reading nook, etc.). Do some Google or Pinterest searches on living rooms with those functions to get some ideas. (Looking at decorating magazines might also help). Keep a copy of the pictures you like (I save them to a Pinterest board, but you could also take pictures with your phone). Then once you have quite a few ideas saved, look at all of your pictures and identify things that come up often or are common between them. Notice the layouts you like best and how big the furniture is relative to the room. Next, draw out your room on graph paper and use the layouts you found to draw in some furniture (it may take a few tries to come up with something you like). Then you should at least have an idea of the big furniture pieces you’ll need. Fill in the smaller pieces as you go. And since your room is a decent size, you’ll probably want to use area rugs to define different spaces within the room. If you’re really stuck, many furniture stores have designers on staff that can help you. They usually don’t charge for their design services but will expect you to buy some furniture from them. I hope that helps!
I have been scouring the internet trying to find helpful tips to decorate my IMPOSSIBLE living room and I found a lot of your articles helpful- but I still just think this is an absolute nightmare of a living room! Haha. I have loved binge reading your material over the past few hours, but I don’t think there is any helping this small living room haha, thank you!
Hi Sara…small rooms are definitely a challenge! I would begin by taking everything out and putting things back in one at a time. Start with the big and important stuff like the sofa and coffee table. Stop before it gets too crowded…which in some rooms might be right after you put in the sofa and coffee table 🙂 You may have to compromise on ideal placements, like putting the sofa right in front of the bookshelves. (Just don’t block things that get used all the time with hard-to-move pieces of furniture). You also may have to consider alternate arrangements (like using 2 chairs instead of a sofa) that take up less space and are easier to position. Good luck!
Hi, I’ve been following you for a while now and really love your content! As a student in interior design, I’m learning quite a lot from you and I wanted to say thank you, it’s been an amazing help and I’m so glad I found you! I was wondering, where do you get all the dimensions information, like the spacing between the armchairs, or the rug size, is there some kind or rule book or reference book to look from? I’ve asked my teachers time and time again, but they say it comes with practice. Thanks in advance and thank you again for giving out so much helpful information for fellow students in interior design and for all design lovers out there.
Thanks, Kami! Sorry, there isn’t a rule book that I know of…although that would be helpful 🙂 I got some of them from one of my interior design instructors and some just from trying it out.
Hey Wanda, thanks so much anyways, your content is helpful enough as it is, I was just wondering about the book. Thank you again, I’m learning so much from you and it’s been great! 🙂
Do you always have to have arrange your furniture around the fireplace or can it be be to aside of the living room
Hi Jacqueline…The fireplace can be on the side if you don’t want it to be the focal point. I would try not to make it stand out (ie. not too many decorations or anything on it that will call attention to it) so that it doesn’t compete with whatever you want to have as your main point of interest.
rugs have been a trend for quite some time now and they are never going to get out of fashion. So we have decided to put one in our house’s living room. This article really helped in finalizing a rug for the living room. Thanks a bunch!
Great article thanks for sharing. We built a new home 2 years ago and it’s just me and my husband and the 2 labs so it’s an average size with a open plan kitchen and living room. We originally bought a couch, oversized recliner, coffee table table, one side table and entertainment stand. We’ve tried several different ways to position it all and haven’t been completely happy. Our labs are older now and very spoiled so most nights they end up on the couch and hubby in recliner so no room for me. We just bought a new smaller recliner and thought we knew how we wanted it but after moving everything there’s literally no easy way to get to it. We want it all to face the TV since we don’t get company much at all. We set the couch with it’s back to the kitchen which looks great but putting the recliners and table on each end of the couch but moved up so there’s some room between it’s just seems way too much together so everything is facing the TV. Then add coffee table and rug that I now see is way too small it’s just wrong but we aren’t sure what the answer is except to move couch back up against a wall. Any suggestions?
Hi Mary Sue…what if you put the two recliners together with the end table between them directly facing the TV. Then put the sofa at a 90 degree angle beside them. So the sofa wouldn’t be directly facing the TV, but you could still watch TV from there if you wanted, too. It’s quite comfortable if you lean up against the arm rest, especially if you put your feet up on the sofa 🙂 The coffee table goes in the middle. Not knowing exactly what your room looks like, this layout may feel a bit lopsided. If that’s the case, I would put a bench or a couple of small chairs (or even poufs depending on how casual your room is) on the opposite side of the coffee table from the sofa. A larger rug would help to pull it all together. I hope that helps!
Its amazing article, which has useful tips and practical insights. Specially, I like the section of “BLOCKING THE TRAFFIC FLOW”
Your article is helpful and inspiring, as home décor is an art and everyone want their home to look fabulous. Looking forward to learn more about new trending home décor ideas.
I have a home that was built in the early 70s. The focal point is the fireplace.
I have a cream leather sofa & chair. I have a dark wicker chair from Pier one imports. How can I pull this together. My living room is 12 x 10 I have a large window facing the south. It’s sort of open concept. My sofa is up against the wall on north side. I’ve purchased pewter oval coffee table & end tables from wayfair & area rug.
Hi Diane…I would try adding a few accessories in a color or two that you like (ideally with colors from your rug). The repeating colors will lead your eye through the room and make it look cohesive. Try adding throw pillows in co-ordinating colors on your Pier 1 chair and sofa to tie them together. Then add a group of accessories (vase, books, candles, etc) in the same colors on your coffee table. Putting them on a tray will make them look like they belong together. Use those same colors to add vases or candles on your fireplace mantel. You can also put larger ones in front of the fireplace if you have room. Finish it off with lamps on the end tables (pewter with ivory shades) and some curtains (maybe cream like the sofa with some trim in one of your colors). Hope that helps!
Wow! Didn’t realize the mistakes until I read your post. Will definitely try to correct. Thanks a lot 😊
I’m happy it was helpful, Tara 🙂
As you mentioned, an overhead light has its limitations for an entire room. While lamps and sconces solve lighting issues, they also have their own problems. Their cords require an electrical connection to a nearby wall socket. Part, if not all, of the light cord lays on top of the flooring presenting both a tripping hazard and an unsightly mess. Please share ideas you may have to solve these issues. (Heavy duty tape doesn’t work.)
Thank you for your time and consideration.
That’s a great question, Marilyn! I am planning to do a post on that exact topic so I will let you know when it’s published.
Thank you for responding. I look forward to your suggestions as I’m updating and re-doing the family room amongst others.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic as well – I look forward to reading your post. Thank you!
Why don’t you have an electric socket put in the floor and then it’s easy to have table lamps on tables between chairs and then no cables to trip over. Pauline
Hi Pauline…unfortunately, my house is built on a concrete slab, so I can’t run electrical wiring under the floor. But that’s a great idea for houses with basements or crawl spaces.
My question is about area rugs. All of the images shared in the article are hard floor with an area rug. For areas with carpet, is an area rug still advised?
Hi Laura…Yes, I put area rugs on top of carpet as well. There are rug pads made for this situation that you can put under the area rug to help it lay flat.
I would love to see some of your ideas for creating spaces around the holiday’s. I find that the tree etc takes up so much floor space, and blocks some of the foot traffic.
Thanks for the suggestion, Diana! I’ll see what I can put together 🙂
These are not pictures or ideas that reflect a common family home. They are all palaces!
Hi April…Regardless of the size of the home, the layout mistakes and fixes are still the same. So while some of the pictures may not represent your home, the ideas are still applicable. (Not to mention that a couple of the pictures are from my mother’s 750 square foot house…definitely not a mansion).
Thanks for explaining that we should avoid lining up all our furniture on the walls since it leaves too much open space in the middle. My husband and I are moving to a home with more space later this year and want to get a wooden TV cabinet to use as the focal point in the home’s living room. I’m glad I read your article so we can arrange our other furniture around the cabinet in a way that’s practical but also stylish!
Hey thanks for sharing
I m glad that I read your article because next month I m gonna shift my home to another city and I will never these mistakes
I was wondering how to bring the sofa into the home because the door is too small according to my sofa and now I got my answers
I never know how to put my furniture, when you walk in from outside there is a big window to the right I have sectional sofas in front of that window facing my tv, I’m not happy with the way it looks.
Hi Yolanda…that does sound like a challenge. Here’s a couple of possible options, which may or may not work depending on the size and layout of your room 🙂
1. Pull the sectional away from the windows so that there’s a fairly wide walkway between it and the window. Then add a console table behind the sofa (on the window side) which helps to make it feel like your TV watching area is its own room within your room.
2. Turn the sectional sofas so that they are facing the door (but over to the left side of the room, away from the windows) with the TV on the door side of the room. This should open up the space in front of the windows so that the room feels more airy.
Hope that helps!
Question: If you are building a new home, have a huge great room, open floor plan open to the kitchen with large island, dining space, etc…And the builder will NOT install any floor outlets to plug in lights on tables. What is an option in an open floor plan to have table lighting, battery operated power sources possibly. Thanks for any tips for when the home has no floor outlets. I understand running cords under rugs is possibly a fire hazard if not done correctly.
Hi Dianne…there are battery operated lamps that you can use for this kind of a set up (take a look at modernlantern.com). Having said that, I do usually resort to running cords under the rug. I make sure the cord is in good condition, try to run it where it won’t get a lot of foot traffic on it, and put a thick rug pad over it…I’ve never had any problems.