In this post: Looking for small living room ideas? This update moved our French inspired living room toward more relaxed elegance and rustic chic.⇒
It’s not that I don’t love French decor anymore.
Quite the contrary. It is still part of my aesthetic and will likely be part of my decor for a long time to come. It’s what adds character to my spaces and sets them apart from all the me-too’s out there.
It definitely needs updating. Like most design styles, French Country decor can look out of step with the times if you’re not careful. I’ve been modernizing my look for some time, but some of my rooms were being held in the past by one element or other, and in some cases they were among my favorite aspects.
My living room, a rather small and hard to decorate space to begin with, was one such space that didn’t feel as current as I’d hoped, despite several attempts at refreshing. So I thought long and hard about what was holding it back and took an honest look at the room.
Then I made 6 pretty important changes that I think made all the difference. Without losing its identity and its French influence, it now feels a lot more relaxed and as close to on-trend as I’m willing to go… 😉
Before I get into the changes, let’s talk about decorating a small space.
Not only is this room on the small side, but it also is somewhat open-concept, with most of two walls opening to the entry foyer. This leaves very little wall space to work with.
The key challenge in any small room is that there’s not enough room to pull the furniture away from the walls, leaving you to decorate the perimeter, so in a room with very little perimeter, it’s all the more difficult. You always want to avoid that ‘perimeter-only’ look, where the pieces don’t relate to each other in a connected, cohesive way.
If your living room is too small to anchor your decor in the center of the space, here are my tips for creating an intimate space using the perimeter.
- Pick one wall as the focal point and create an intimate conversation area around it, as if it were in the center of a larger room.
- Consider the coffee table one of your most important pieces, as it will fill that empty interior space.
- As counter-intuitive as it sounds, use larger pieces of furniture so they feel more united within the layout.
- An area rug will help define your conversation area.
- Use light, neutral, tonal colors to pull the disparate pieces together and make the room appear larger and cozier at the same time.
- Take a less is more approach when it comes to decorative objects (and it goes without saying to keep the room clutter free).
A New Sofa
So what are those 6 changes that I made to my small living space? While they were not all new furniture pieces, I did get a few furnishings and my very first purchase was a sofa.
For my small living room design, I wanted a light and airy feel, with relaxed, breezy linen as the dominant fabric in the room, and this was the driving force behind this first change. While the previous matelassé couch was very pretty, it was feeling too tailored for my new direction. I was going for a casual, rustic feel and the drape of linen did the trick.
With plush cushions and bench seating, I was willing to embrace the wrinkles and imperfections of linen. In fact, it was kind of the point.
This wall is my chosen focal point, set beneath a lovely piece of artwork and vintage French sconces, to keep that European influence present. Subtle, but not gone… 😉
Repurposed Coffee Table
Next I moved the Swedish coffee table in from the family room to replace the tufted ottoman that was here before. I did this for a few reasons, most notably because this charming cane table has a lighter feel than the bulky ottoman and works better with the ethereal sofa. (The ottoman now sits in the entryway.)
I stayed very intentional and understated with the accessories on the coffee table to allow breathing space around it, topping a tray with a layer of interior design books, and a distressed vase functions as the cherry on top.
The table is also not as long as the ottoman was, freeing up precious floor space, allowing easier access to the sofa, and opening up the small living room feel.
Cozy Accent Chairs
On an adjacent wall, there’s a bay window that lets in plenty of natural light. It is framed by softly draped linen curtains and it was previously home to two gilded French chairs.
In an effort to draw this space closer to the sofa, I decided to go bigger on the seating and began looking for the perfect armchair. Again I went with linen slipcovered pieces and got a pair to fit neatly in this space. It’s now a delightful spot to sit and read or to have a quiet conversation. (I’ve purposely avoided window shades, preferring warmth and light in this sun-drenched spot.)
The French Louis chairs were moved to the stairway landing, so they are still on hand for a lovely dose of French style.
Subtle Area Rug
Quite possibly, the most significant change was the addition of a new area rug. I’d been avoiding changing out the aubusson rug that was the previous underpinning of this space. It was beautiful and authentic and ever-so-french.
But I think I knew for a while, it was time for it to go.
If you want to draw attention to a small living room look, put a large colorful rug in it. Replace the rug with a neutral one with lovely textures and you’ll open up your space.
The new rug cemented my tonal color palette, softened the room, and enlarged it all at once. It pulled all the elements together and gave it a calming and peaceful vibe.
Exactly what I was going for.
(I did not get rid of my beloved aubusson rug. I’m just giving it a rest… ;-))
Side Table Upgrade
With all soft, light colors in my neutral palette, I was planning to paint my dark wood side tables and I think the room would have been just as nice if I did. But then I saw these elegant, simple, Swedish inspired tables and I loved that they included shelves, so I opted to replace the old tables.
In keeping with my less-is-more styling, each table gets only a table lamp and a couple of family photos, plus some hidden storage via a rattan basket on the shelving. It’s a neat, clean look with hints of French style, but updated for the modern home.
*TIP for small living room lighting ideas: If your living room is really small, you can forego the end tables and use only floor lamps for reading.
A New Location for the Bookcase
Next to our bay window, is one of the partial walls and this has always been a tricky spot to decorate. This is where I kept a writing desk with hutch and the cutest of stools, but it had too many tchotchkes on it. The look was both too small and over-decorated, not to mention the styling was outdated.
I painted the desk and moved it upstairs and replaced it with this antique bookcase. The bookshelves had been in the entry foyer, a placement that never made any sense. So when I moved the unit out, to re-do our entryway floor, I placed it in this corner and it stayed.
A single vintage bucket of flowers is all that was needed on top.
On the wall opposite the bay window is a large burled wood chest with a French trumeau mirror above it. There’s probably still a little too much gilding in this area, but I’ve tried to balance it with an assortment of distressed vases.
At some point you can expect another update here, possibly more casual sconces or something along those lines.
In a small room, each decision makes a big difference and I feel my little living room is getting closer to my vision. It still reads as French-inspired, yet it’s not uptight and bears the relaxed elegance that I so desire in my home. The pale tonal palette, carefree fabrics and soft textures all contribute to deliver the serene, informal vibe of rustic chic.
Small Living Room Ideas Resource Guide
To get the look, click on the items below for direct links to the products. Where actual items were no longer available, I’ve provided similar options. If an item is out of stock but may be restocked, I left it on the list.
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