written by GABRIELLE SAVOIE
Interior designers spend their lives studying the little details that make a room perfect. Just like a beautifully directed movie, a well-decorated living room is at once engaging and impressive, familiar and safe. And sometimes, what is off in our own living rooms can be difficult to pinpoint. To shed some light on the most common living room design mistakes that may be plaguing our spaces, we talked with interior designers and a residential architect.
The space of your dreams may not be so out of reach if you consider the most common living room decorating mistakes.
1. Selecting the Wrong Sofa
Designers agree: A great living room starts with a great sofa. “So often I come into a house and the owners have good taste, but they already have a sofa that they want to work with,” explains stylist and TV host Emily Henderson. “They don’t want to replace it because it’s not that old and they don’t mind it. I’ve had to break the news over and over that with a sofa like that, they would never get the room they want,” says Henderson.
David John Dick of DISC Interiors agrees, “We hear time and time again from our clients how the sofa they purchased in the past was not comfortable or was too big (or too small) for the room. In living rooms, a good sofa is key to comfort, but it’s also central to how a room feels and looks.” Make sure you pay attention to sofa seat height (a low seat is hard to get in and out of) and draw up a furniture floor plan before purchasing. “Buying on impulse is great for accessories and side tables, but never for a sofa, as it can be a very costly mistake,” Dick says.
2. Falling Into the Showroom Look
Another mistake that plagues living rooms everywhere, according to New York–based architect Elizabeth Roberts, is the “showroom feel.” In other words, a room that looks like it’s all been purchased from the same store. “It’s important to us to mix new and vintage elements in order to create an interesting, eclectic, and individualized room,” she says. “We love the patina of vintage furniture, especially paired with modern upholstery,” says Dick.
3. Buying a Rug That’s Too Small
For Henderson, one of the main offenders in living room decorating is the poorly sized rug. “America has been suffering for too long from ‘small rug’ syndrome,” she says. “I see it virtually every day, and it pains me—especially when it can be so easily avoided.” Huge rugs can be expensive and can feel like such a scary commitment, but according to the stylist, it’s one of the most important aspects of a room.
“Living rooms almost always need at least an 8-by-10-foot (if not a 9-by-12-foot) rug. Unless you have a tiny living room, stay away from anything under 6-by-9-feet. A 4-by-6-foot rug might be fine next to a bed, in a kitchen, or in an entrance, but it will assuredly not work in your living room,” advises Henderson.
4. Poorly Planning Your Layout
While it may be tempting to push a sofa against a wall facing the TV stand and call it a day, Roberts reminds us that there is more involved in planning a great living room layout. “It’s important to consider and create conversation groupings, especially if the room is long and narrow like many townhouses and lofts,” she says.
5. Hanging Art Incorrectly
“Art hung the wrong way on a wall is like a character in a movie wearing a really bad wig,” Henderson says, “it’s just kinda hard not to see it, and you wish so bad you could just rip it off, knowing that everything would be so much better without it. It doesn’t ruin your experience, but it’s just terribly distracting.”
While some agree that art should be hung at eye level, the stylist stresses that this doesn’t apply in every case. “Yes, the art should be at eye level, but not if your ceilings are really low and not if you are really tall,” she says. “If the wall were cut up vertically into four sections (going from bottom to top), think of the art being in the third quadrant (counting from the floor),” says Henderson.
6. Making It Too Precious to Live In
While the days of unused “sitting rooms” and plastic-wrapped furniture are long gone, Roberts still insists on paying special attention to making your living room fit the conveniences of everyday living. “Select textiles and rugs that can take the wear and tear of everyday living,” she recommends.
7. Not Mixing Periods and Styles
According to Dick, “oftentimes people feel boxed in and limited by the architecture of their home and select furniture based on the home’s architecture and time period. Our solution is to mix furniture styles with the style of architecture.” In one Georgia home, the design firm merged contemporary furniture with traditional crown molding, Moroccan antique rugs, African beaded benches, and contemporary art. “We love to recover and rework vintage pieces and mix them with custom sofas so the living room feels timeless and approachable,” he adds.
8. Forgetting to Measure
Roberts has one indispensable trick for combining periods and styles: “When mixing new and vintage elements, pay attention to furniture heights, as traditional furniture is typically higher than modern pieces.
9. Sticking With Obvious Fabrics
According to Roberts, “there are some great outdoor fabrics that we’re using indoors that dogs and kids cannot destroy. It’s important to select rugs that will wear well. Beware of the seductive silk rug.” Instead, consider a wool rug.
Pay particular attention to the quality of the fabric and the timelessness of the design when selecting a rug.
10. Not Testing Your Living Room Arrangement
It’s very important to consider views from major seating elements. “In a large open room, it’s nice to be able to sit on a favorite piece while addressing the rest of the room. In a small room, it’s important to consider the necessary window views,” Robert says. “In a room with a fireplace, it’s often difficult to know where to put the TV—large TV cabinets are cumbersome and don’t fool many. My favorite solution is a projector that projects onto the white wall above the mantel.”
11. Overlooking Smaller Items
To avoid feeling like you’re in a store, Roberts also recommends leaving adequate room in the budget for lighting, textiles, and accessories after large items are selected. “The small pieces are what add personality,” says Roberts. “We also prefer to light the living room with low lighting instead of overhead light. Floor lamps and table lamps are best for living rooms.”
12. Overthinking the Sofa
“No one loves a simple sofa more than me because they are so easy to style,” says Henderson. Henderson recommends staying away from overly ornate details like curved legs, winged arms, tufts, and nailheads.
13. Choosing a Disproportionate Coffee Table
There’s more to choosing a coffee table than swinging over to your favorite home goods store and selecting one on a whim. Let your lifestyle and functionality (kid-friendly, storage for remotes?) guide the materials, height, length and clearance space needed to ensure your coffee table sings in harmony with your living room.
14. Selecting Cheap Art
Designers like Bobby Berk say cheap art can really drag down a room’s aesthetic. Instead of going generic, opt for a custom-art service, where you can commission affordable, original art, “There are lots of cool custom art services available now” Berk says.
15. Not Hanging Curtains Properly
Hanging curtain rods just above the window can close in a space, Lorna Aragon told MyDomaine. Instead, hang the rod half a foot above the window frame. This will give the room a feeling of openness.
16. Choosing Harsh Lighting
“Updating lighting fixtures can be an inexpensive way to really help improve the overall aesthetic of any space, as well as give a sense of sophisticated elegance and comfort,” Suzanne Donegan, a designer and creative director, says. It’s also one of the most often overlooked design features, yet most versatile—light fixtures can move with you.
17. Having Clutter
Too many accessories, no matter how expensive, are considered décor overkill. For a less is more vibe, “accessories should be grouped together to create a pleasing vignette, whether it’s on the cocktail table, buffet, or bookcase,” says interior designer Marlaina Teich.
18. Forgetting About Prime Wall Space
When designing your living room, the floor isn’t the only option to place furniture and décor—think vertically. Mandy Cheng, a Los Angeles-based interior designer, told MyDomaine to consider using floating shelves and hanging plants. “We’re so used to furniture that sits on the floor, that once things stop fitting on the floor, we give up,” Cheng said.
19. Lining Your Walls with Furniture
“A common layout mistake I see people making with their living room is having all the furniture pushed up against the walls,” Elite Decorist Designer Mikayla Keating tells MyDomaine. Try floating your sofa or accent chairs closer to the center of the room to balance out the layout.
20. Neglecting Investment Pieces
Though counterintuitive at first, investing in one statement accent is a financially better move than spending on multiple inexpensive pieces. Homepolish designer Ashlie Mastony says, “in the end, the little things cost just as much and the space feels cluttered rather than cohesive.”