Expert tips to make a small living room look – and feel – bigger

Affordability makes apartments the ideal first step onto the property ladder for most first-time buyers, however, in many instances the trade-off is very compact living spaces, especially in older blocks where units still have separate lounges, kitchens and dining rooms.

Most new investors won’t immediately be able to afford to open plan the living area and those who are renting don’t have that option, but there are a number of decor tricks that will make a world of difference.

Barbara Andrews, accomplished agent of 30 years and Sectional Title Specialist in Plumstead, Wynberg and Tokai for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says that the key to successful small-space living is easier than one might think.

“The secret to making a small living room look – and feel – more spacious is to fully optimise the space you already have and ensure you get the proportions right.

“Smart styling and layout strategy will not only make your small room look bigger it will also ensure optimal functionality.”

Andrews says that although there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, the following tips will make a significant difference to any compact living space.

Plan your layout

Prior planning is key when space is so limited as there is very little, if any, room for error. The first step is to ensure that the layout you have in mind will be functional for your needs before you make any purchases.

Get creative and put pen to paper with layout options. Measure the exact size of the furniture you intend to use and compare it with the available space.


Traditional doors take up a surprising amount of space, especially in a small room where space is already restricted.

If you own the property and have a little extra for minor alterations, removing the doors and widening doorways and raising them towards the ceiling will go a long way to creating a roomier, more open feeling. If you want to retain separate rooms, then sliding barn doors are a great option.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

You can instantly create the illusion of space by simply using mirrors – and the bigger the better. The mirror will create the illusion of space by reflecting both light and the interior décor.

This works best with a uniform light and warm colour palette but it will work in any space. Pale greys and autumnal shades currently very popular. And remember that a fresh coat of paint is the easiest and least expensive way to perk up your living space.


If you want additional lighting, forego standing and table-top lamps and opt for lighting that can be attached to the walls or hung from above to save room on floor and table space.

Savvy seating

Depending on the number of people who live in your home, there are several clever options.

Singletons who don’t have room for both a sofa and chairs can forgo the sofa and opt for two comfortable armchairs angled towards each other for cosy chats.

If you need more seating, opt for corner seating with an L-shaped couch which will accommodate more people whilst also freeing up space.

Another option for additional seating is a swing chair hung from the ceiling in a corner of the room.

Functional furniture

Use ottomans in place of traditional tables to make better use of your space. You can top them with trays to hold flowers and magazines, use them as extra seating when guests call and when you want to relax in front of the telly, they become footrests.

If you prefer more conventional tables, use two small tables instead of a large coffee table which is better for traffic flow and they are easily moved to wherever else you may need them.

Choose a large rug

Small rugs visually break up the floor whilst a larger rug will instantly make the room seem bigger. They also help to anchor the space and, if boldly patterned or coloured, will also be a great statement piece around which to design the rest of the room.

Display artwork strategically

Create a gallery wall to expand or accentuate the height of the room. Alternatively, opt for one large-scale artwork which, by its sheer size, will create the illusion of space.

Optimise vertical space

The key is to make the most of every available inch and when it comes to storage, the most underused space is the walls. Ditch the TV cabinet and wall-mount your television with a floating shelf beneath it for decoders and remotes and corner mounted floating shelves are perfect for books and ornaments.

“No matter how well-designed the room is, you may still occasionally lament the lack of space,” concludes Andrews, “but remember that although you may not be able to comfortably host a party of 20-plus people, small spaces are easier to decorate, easier to keep clean, and easier to organise.”

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