With an open concept house like mine, the living room is where I spend most of my relax time. So it’s important to me that that I have a room that both looks good and is comfortable to be in. Over the years of re-arranging my living room furniture (I do that a lot!), I’ve learned some living room decorating tips that help me meet both of those goals.
The living room is one of the main areas of any home.
If you’re like me, your living room plays multiple roles.
It’s where I watch TV, entertain my friends, curl up with a book, and sometimes it’s even a ball-throwing zone for my dog.
Designing a living room that can handle all of these tasks and still look nice can be a daunting task. Especially if your room is fairly small.
Which is why I created my list of living room decorating tips that I’ve learned after many years of living room re-arranging.
1 | Create A Conversation Area
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If you want to be able to sit and have a conversation with family and friends in your living room, make sure to set it up so that talking is comfortable.
Here are a few easy guidelines for making your seating area work:
2 | Space Chairs and Sofas Appropriately
People who are talking to each other should not be closer than 18 inches or more than 9 feet apart.
This provides enough room for everyone to have their “personal space” and still be able to communicate without shouting or straining to hear.
3 | Arrange Seating Properly
When people are talking to each other, they usually like to sit across from each other or on a corner to each other, rather than side by side.
Placing furniture in an L or U-shape works well to create this arrangement.
4 | Avoid Tall Centerpieces
While tall centerpieces and vases may look dramatic, they can interrupt the flow of your conversation area.
Most people are more comfortable if they can see the people they are talking to easily.
Anything that blocks the view between the seats in your conversation area makes it awkward for people to talk to each other.
For that reason, tall vases and floral arrangements work best in the corners.
5 | Define Walkways
Walkways that lead in and out of the room should be at least 27 inches (and preferably 36 inches) wide.
This is enough space for people to walk comfortably without worrying about knocking something over or accidentally bumping into someone who is sitting down.
Try not to have a walkway through the conversation area. It interrupts the flow of the space, and people will sense that…even if no-one is walking through at the time.
To prevent this, position the furniture so that people walk around the seating area to get out of the room.
6 | Keep the Coffee Table Close To the Sofa
Position the coffee table 15″ to 18″ from the edge of the sofa.
This leaves enough room for people to be able to get around it in order to sit down…but is still close enough to feel like it is part of the furniture grouping.
7 | Provide Comfortable Seating
This one many be obvious, but no-one is going to be comfortable if the chair they are sitting in is uncomfortable.
Try to have some variety in the types of seating you provide. Some people like hard chairs while others want to sink into the seats.
If you have elderly or handicapped guests, make sure there are chairs with arms that they can get into and out of easily.
Also, most people don’t like sitting in chairs that are too small, so I only use dining room chairs in the living room if I don’t have any other choice.
8 | Don’t Use Too Many Cushions
Which brings me to the next one of my living room decorating tips. Don’t use too many cushions on your sofas and chairs.
While cushions are great for adding some interest to your room and can make a deep sofa more comfortable, be careful not to have so many that there isn’t any room to sit down.
If your guests have to move cushions out of the way before they can have a seat, you have too many.
9 | Provide Space For A Drink
Every seat should have a table close by with enough space left on it that someone could put down a drink.
If you have a table that is completely covered with accessories, that does not count 🙂
Finding empty drinks on the floor after your guests have left is a sure sign that you don’t have enough convenient “drink space”.
To prevent your tables from getting water marks, put out coasters where people are likely to put drinks down. If they see them, most will use them.
10 | Use A Multi-Functional Ottoman
Ottomans are great multi-function furniture for living rooms.
Position them in front of a comfortable chair and they’re a foot rest.
Put a tray on them and they’re a coffee table.
Pull them out around another coffee table and they are another seating option.
So if you don’t have a lot of space for extra furniture, or just like to have lots of furniture arranging flexibility, an ottoman may be just what you’re looking for.
11 | Layer the Lighting
With all the different functions that a living room gets used for, one type of lighting just doesn’t cut it.
Use different types of light fixtures in the room to provide the most flexibility in creating the right lighting for each occasion.
Overhead lighting is great for general room light (and fishing the dog’s ball out from under the sofa), but isn’t the best light for entertaining.
It creates downward shadows on people’s faces that isn’t the most flattering look.
To prevent this, add some living room lighting that is close to eye level, such as lamps, wall sconces and pendants.
If you like to read, a good floor lamp positioned behind your favorite chair is a good idea.
For the best TV viewing, you’ll want to position your lights so they don’t create reflections in the television screen. Or at least be able to turn off the ones that do.
12 | Apply Design Principles
A lot of people don’t think much about the design principles (like contrast, rhythm, and scale) that go into laying out a room. Or they think design principles are only for designers.
However, a lot of these guidelines came about because they actually make rooms look better and feel more comfortable. And they really aren’t that hard to apply.
So if your room doesn’t feel quite right and you’re not sure why, chances are it’s because your living room is missing one of these design basics.
Other Living Room Decorating Ideas You Might Like
- Living Room Layouts and Furniture Arrangement Tips
- Beautiful Blue and White Living Area Makeover
- How To Makeover A Small Living Room On A Budget
Have comments or questions on our living room decorating tips? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on August 15, 2016 but was updated with new content on September 11, 2020.