Case Study

Case Study: the recipe for a small but perfectly-formed living room

the Case Study series at The Unexpected ChicMany, many times I’ve heard friends, colleagues and clients alike bemoan their lack of space. Whether it be for storage, seating or the dining table they really want, doesn’t it feel like we could always use an extra room or two stuck on to the house?

Well, though I can’t help you find the money to get an extension built, I CAN help you compose your spaces better to take the best advantage of the square footage you DO have.

I’ve just recently put together a design scheme for a client in London, and I’ll use this as a basis for explaining some tips for putting together a small but smart space. This client, I’ll call her B, has a living room which is only about 3m x 3m, but I’ve done my best to build in the style and function of a much larger space.

IDEA 1: Create interest with personality pieces

Just because your space is small doesn’t mean it needs to be super conservatively decorated. You don’t need a palace to be able to get that funky armchair or trendy wallpaper! And that’s just what I’ve done with B’s living room – the black floral armchair (a great buy from Ikea) and twig-themed wallpaper from Graham & Brown will make the room so stylish, noone will even give a second thought to the size.

IDEA 2: Choose the right size of furniture

I’ve seen lots of living rooms where a teeny tiny sofa has been put in because it’s “proportional to the space”. I think this is one of the most common and also most unfortunate mistakes people make with living rooms. If there’s only space for two tiny little bums to perch on the sofa, of course anyone who enters will think “wow it’s so small and cramped in here!” Better to make a gesture with the sofa – it’s the most important piece of furniture in the room, so make it worthwhile and generous! Aim to practically fill one end of the room with it – but keep the width about 2 feet less than the room if you can – as touching the walls is something to avoid. You want the sofa to sit confidently centred in the space with a little bit of room to breathe away from the walls.

In B’s space, I’ve gone for a good-sized 3 seater sofa, which will sit nicely at one end of the room (offset from the wall of course), and complimented it with the armchair. The shape of the armchair is key here, as it is (in fact) an arm-LESS chair. This makes it less visually clunky and suits the space better. Also the fact that there are two comfy seating pieces (sofa AND chair) mentally increases the size of the room – look how much it fits!

IDEA 3: Have flexible seating options for multi-purpose use

This leads me to the next point: how to have enough seating? This is especially troublesome when you want to have people over. If you’re strategic with your choices, you can stop having to always suggest other people’s flats for events!

So, there are 2 main options. The first is if you have storage space outside of the living room, like a coat closet with an empty floor or some extra space in the bedroom (even under the bed!) you can go for folding chairs or stools. These can be hidden away most of the time and brought out when you’re entertaining.

Alternatively – as in this design for B – you may not have the option of tucking things away. They may need to be out in your space all the time, in which case stacking stools or ottomans are a great choice. The metal stools I’ve suggested for B have a small footprint and so take up very little space. They can even be used as a funky side table if necessary, with a lamp or a plant on top. Whichever you go for, make sure they’re super stylish – your extra seating doesn’t need to be an eyesore!

As an add-on tip – flexible tables are also super handy in un-spatially-endowed rooms. Go for a nest of side tables so you can lift them around and have enough surfaces for drinks, casual dining etc, that tuck into one space when you don’t need them!

IDEA 4: Take advantage of natural light

A bright space feels cheery and modern no matter what the size. That’s why, if you’re a bit short of square metres, make sure you maximize the natural light coming in as much as possible, by making the right decor choices. This means choosing LIGHT, AIRY curtains in a thin fabric that doesn’t make a big visual weight dragging down your lovely windows. Roman blinds or roller blinds are also a lovely space-efficient option. Thick or voluminous curtains and venetian or slat blinds are heavier options that should be reserved for larger spaces.

Another smart way to maximize light is to add a mirror to your living room. This is definitely one of the most common tips I have recommended for people seeking advice for their living room. Often over the sofa is the best choice, but for B’s case I recommended that it be placed on a side wall, as the layout of the room dictates where the mirror can go. Pretty much anywhere is good – it’s hard to go wrong with adding a mirror!

Another tip I would push is to always HANG MIRRORS ON THE WALL. Leaning it on the floor or mantlepiece is (at least in my humble opinion!) a no-no in smaller spaces – leave it for the loft-style apartments!

IDEA 5: Frame the seating area

This tip is carrying on from before, when I mentioned the size of the sofa. The size of the RUG is also key! A common mistake is to buy a teeny little cocktail napkin of a rug because a) you figure it fits in your small space or b) you can’t be bothered investing in a rug because you can’t afford it or think it’s not important. Trust me, it’s a very worthwhile piece of the proper furnishing of a living room (generally speaking, for most design styles). Save up just a bit longer until you can afford a proper-sized rug!

How can you tell what the right size is? Again, leave a bit of distance between the walls and the edge, otherwise it will look like wall-to-wall gone wrong. I would say a minimum of 6 inches. The other thing you must ensure is that the front feet of all furniture that makes up your seating suite is ON THE RUG. That means the sofa and any side chairs that you have must have their front feet comfortably on the rug when they are arranged in the layout you plan to keep. A rug should not just be a little island floating around the coffee table – it must be anchored (physically and visually) by the other pieces of furniture. This will make the space look finished, well-though-out, and trick you into thinking it’s larger, since it is so nicely furnished it looks like a ‘proper’ living room!

Well, I hope that these ideas will prove useful and that your spaces will come together beautifully. Have a great weekend all! :) As for me, I’m hoping for snow up at the cottage!

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