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.
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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.
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 November 27, 2023.