Designing any kind of small space can be challenging, but living rooms come with extra challenges. For one, it’s often the first area of your home that you and guests see. It needs to accommodate down time if it serves as your family room, but it’s also got to accommodate your book club, sewing circle or poker night. It may even need, from time to time, to accommodate overnight guests. There are few areas of our homes pressed into service on so many fronts, but, as the reception area of your home, needing to look really good at the same time.
If this is your design dilemma, we have a few basic tips for you:
1) Choose smaller scale furniture. You may have heard this one before and it’s still one of the top truisms for those with limited space. Instead of choosing bulky, over-sized items, opt for pieces with lighter, clean lines that fit the dimensions of the room you’re working with. Nowadays, many furniture stores, from Ikea to Room and Board to Bo Concept and Crate and Barrel, offer “apartment-sized” lines sporting stylish options that are a little bit more petite than some other lines.
In the small living room above, homeowners opted for a low-slung, armless sofa that takes up much less visual space than a high-backed, armed sofa would have. An added plus is that the sofa converts into a bed for overnight guests. You’ll notice that you can actually see the legs of the sofa. The result? The sofa feels less bulky than a sofa without visible legs.
Here’s another living room, this time traditional in style, featuring small-scale, open furniture:
And here’s another example of how smart small-scaled furniture can look:
If you’re looking at smaller-scaled lines, keep in mind that small sectionals can be particularly adapted to a very small room, although it’s counter-intuitive. Sectionals allow you to choose just one piece of furniture (the couch) which can fill in for multiple pieces of furniture, such as extra chairs and a couch and ottoman. Although loveseats would seem a perfect choice for a small room, if your small room is your only living space, you will likely find a loveseat too small. When choosing coffee tables and end tables, consider see-through furniture, like lucite, which virtually disappear.
2) Lose something.
Rethink the traditional sofa, coffee table, two end tables, two table lamps and two chairs look of yesteryear. Contemporary living rooms are generally much more casual, and rarely use every stick of furniture considered de rigueur decades ago.
For example, in the casual living room below, homeowners have dispensed with end tables:
In this living room, the coffee table was axed:
Same for this room:
And in the living room below, the couch was exchanged for two simple arm chairs:
Part of the trend toward scaling back on furniture comes from the fact that today’s home is so much less formal than decades ago. And in small spaces, since living rooms perform double duty as family rooms, it’s necessary that furniture be multi-functional, small and light enough to be moved around as necessary. You need furniture you can easily move to the side to do yoga.
3) Keep furniture multi-functional. In small spaces, it’s better when a couch can also serve as a bed and when a coffee table can also serve as storage space. Ottomans can serve as both coffee tables or as a place to put your feet up. Make use of built-ins as well, if you’ve got the space. A small living room is a great place to feature a built-in bookcase or window seat that allows for extra storage without infringing too much on the footprint of the room.
4) Dispense with chairs altogether. Think about how you use your small living room. If it’s your only space, chances are that it’s a family room where you watch movies, or your kids play video games. You may do some reading, and you may do some active things like abdominals. If that’s the case, standing chairs become almost unnecessary, as most family members will head straight to the couch when it’s movie time and otherwise chairs consume valuable floor space. Consider simple stools that can be folded up and moved, as below:
5) Design your room for your family first. While guests may come to visit occasionally, or even several times a week, in the end, your family needs to enjoy your living room 365 days a year. That means that the driving design inspiration behind your space should not be only how your home functions for guests, but primarily how it functions for you. Keep things comfortable and uncluttered, allow yourself some storage and room to put your feet up, and you can’t go wrong!
K M Architektur with offices in Austria, Germany and Switzerland designed this charming woodclad home with a very Scandinavian touch in Weinfelden, Thurgau, Switzerland.
The house is clad in locally harvested natural white pine, arranged in a crisscross pattern reminiscent of a quilt.
The master bedroom is a study of simplicity wrapped in white pine the cantilevered bed platform and headboard wall niche.
The wood cladding continues inside and out, creating a seamless transition between the interior and exterior of the house.
Although the house itself is quite narrow – the deck outside gives the sense that the space is larger.
A wood stove in the living area is part of the sustainability of this nordic home.
This central stove creates a partition in the living room.
Other ecological items include a solar hot water system and geo thermal heating.
The hallway goes along one long side of the house.
The long deck on the other side overlooks the mountains of Switzerland and Austria.
The house appears to float above the ground, its chunky volumes, like a child’s blocks, balanced just so with care.
With its clean cut blonde pine and white, the Wohnhaus is almost the epitome of Scandinavian design.
When viewing California’s Joshua Tree National Park through the black entry courtyard of this house the colors are enhanced.
Inside, in the living room, brilliant reds, fuchsias and oranges complete the golds of the desert and the blue of the sky.
A pair of Louis VIII chairs add an wry touch of pompousness that is amusingly out of place with the raw power of nature at its most elemental.
The jagged modernity of the stark black house itself is more of a match to its surroundings.
As the plan shows, the courtyard center takes up almost a third of the space.
The unique setting of the desert seen to the horizon is fully matched by this dramatic home.
The house literally reflects the stark beauty of its desert surroundings in mirrored windows.
The sense of oasis and respite from the dry desert is enhanced by the power of the unrelenting black.
The bold house really capitalizes on the experience of desert living.
A truly incredible experience.
A very arty chandelier in bright white – Zettel’z 5 light fixture made of love notes – boldly contrasts with its all black interior.
This piece just perfectly balances a rocky outcropping outside the house.
Yet for all the melodrama of the design, the house itself is really quite modest.
The Black House is really quite a small dwelling in the desert, that barely infringes upon its wild and rugged landscape.
Here is one of two identical houses built for a client’s teenage sons and their future families in Singapore.
The new house is on a very narrow lot next to the existing home from Aamer Architects.
A glamorous rooftop pool tops the narrow house that very nearly fills the lot.
A zigzag floor plan allows windows on three sides – making the house seem much more open than the narrow plot really is.
Ceiling height french doors completely open the wall to the lush garden outside.
The many very tall thin french doors create the feeling of a tropical conservatory.
The zigzag floor plan solves the challenge of the very narrow plot, along with the stacked vertical garden.
It means every room in the narrow garden villa gets much more than its natural share of light and views.
Every room is both physically and psychologically cooled by the luscious tropical greenery outside.
This cooling greenery starts right outside at the ground floor next to a watery moat, and continues up the wall close to the open house.
A playful touch in the entry is a window up to the rooftop pool.
This is achieved by a glass bottom to part of the pool, quite an engineering feat!
In each of thsee identical houses, the boys’ bedrooms upstairs are accessed from outdoors via a spiral stair that continues up to the pool on the roof.
This exterior spiral staircase is a lovely artistic feature that seems to echo the natural world surrounding it.
It is perfectly centered so as to provide a wonderful view from the kitchen as well.
Creepers twining up vertical timber trellises extend above the rooftop swimming pool, cooling the house from above.
This rooftop pool is overlooked from a half height penthouse room with an expansive sky view over the neighborhood.
Altogether it’s a gorgeously liveable space that brilliantly overcomes the challenge of Singapore’s typically cramped lots.
In July, we visited the apartment of interior designer Robert Holgate, who impressed us with his eclectic, layered style artfully laid out in 600 square feet. This week, we decided to visit an apartment of a similar square footage, also eclectic, but more “Euro/Scandy” style. That is, it’s eclectic and visually rich, but also pared down, and of course, white.
This week’s small space belongs to Kees de Zwart, 53-year-old financial service employee who lives in a 549-square-foot Amsterdam apartment. de Zwart enlisted interior designer Anja Hesp and contractor René Koomen to create a masculine, but not a heavy, dark space.
As with Holgate’s space, de Zwart’s apartment liberally mixes an array of styles and periods to create a space that feels intensely personal, even while retaining a spare, minimal look. Above, a 50s style Smeg refrigerator and classic subway tiles in the kitchen work add a little bit of retro punch to contemporary kitchen cabinets. Also in view in the photo above is a sideboard from Bo Concept.
Here are more kitchen views:
Above, de Zwart painted a vintage cabinet he already owned the same color as the fridge, to continue the vintage vibe. Below, a distressed green desk is paired with a sleek copper stool.
And to introduce a bit of an industrial vibe, in keeping with the desire for a masculine feel, the designer left copper heating pipes uncovered. The copper color has been repeated again in wall color and some furniture selections.
And talk about eclectic! Here vintage plates work with a modern sofa and contemporary lamp. A contemporary bookcase rests below a vintage crystal chandelier.
Here’s another view of the living/dining room:
And here, two more views of the dining room:
Why does this space work so well?
- Although the space is small, it has a collected feel because furniture styles are liberally mixed.
- All objects are treated as sculpture, not just furniture. Interesting lines instantly make the apartment visually stimulating, even while objects are kept to a minimum.
- Keeping the floor and walls white keeps the space light and bright, despite a masculine feel.
- The space feels casual yet curated, adding to its appeal.
The look is sparer and more minimal than the small apartment we featured earlier in the summer, but these two apartments actually have a lot in common, thanks to eclectic choices that throw all the standard design rules out.