A dark small living room is difficult to decorate. Get it wrong and it will look like that dodgy corner in the pub nobody wants to sit by.
The secret is planning. Every piece of furniture and accessory has to be carefully chosen. But there’s no need to compromise on style.
Let’s have a look at my compact living room mood board and discover helpful tips and tricks to conquer small awkward spaces.
The space: an old Victorian kitchen turned small living room
In small Victorian terraced houses, the essential kitchen tasks were carried out in two separate rooms: the kitchen and the scullery. In the latter, food was prepared and dishes cleaned; whereas the former had a kitchen range. It was in the 20th Century when both rooms merged into one, usually where the scullery was located. And the old kitchen became a room with no obvious purpose.
The challenge of designing in compact Victorian houses
Some people turned the old kitchen into a tiny dining room, cluttered storage room or small living room. All I know is the previous owner of my house used it as a TV room. With a sofa, a TV and nothing else. I’ve seen the estate agents’ photos — distressing. To be honest, it’s a difficult room to design. A partition wall was removed years ago creating a glorified hallway appendix of a room.
To make things worse, the only window is east-facing. This means I get direct sunlight for ten minutes around the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. Usually early in the morning before I even wake up. And if you add the fact I live in perma-cloudy Wales, you end up with a cold gloomy room in the shadows. Not very inviting.
STYLE TIP: A strong design combination is the mix of contemporary and modern styles. Contemporary brings the tried-and-tested trends and modern adds unique 20th Century charm.
Do this before you decorate a room
Before choosing fancy cushions and ornaments you have to establish exactly what the purpose and function of a room will be. So I focused on the positive aspects of the space. It feels fresh in the summer months and has gorgeous views of the garden. That’s when the lightbulb moment struck. This is the summer living room! A place to relax and nap randomly.
Getting rid of the TV was the best decision. I swapped it for a low pendant light. It may sound like a bizarre exchange. But I’ve previously written about how lighting improved the layout of my living room instantly. Such a small change enhanced conversation and made it a social space. Now that we understand the function of the room it’s time to furnish it — Boreal Abode style.
The inspiration: contemporary style with a mid-century modern twist
I wanted to translate the sense of freshness to the decorating style. Using crisp lines, simple finishes and colours. Balance was paramount to create a calm and collected look. For example, straight grid-like lines contrast against round furniture and accessories. Natural wood stain finishes are combined with plain white elements. And warm yellows work flawlessly with cool blues from ornaments and art.
And there has to be a little mid-century modern design added on to the mix. Instead of going full-on 1950s home decor magazine, I opted to introduce a few subtle pieces. This helped maintain a clean and contemporary look. There are a couple of vintage pieces and new modern-inspired furniture — that lovely grey sofa.
The mood board: A small living room to maximise light and space
This is a selection of the pieces that accurately represent the style of the room. Soon I will post the whole room reveal with plenty of photos and details. You must think, “Hallelujah! Whole room shots!” But for now, let’s calm down and discover the design heroes of my summer living room.
1. Jefferson sofa – Swoon Editions (browse similar)
This three-seater sofa has a streamlined minimal look. With neutral soft grey colour and tapered oak legs. The highlight is definitely the fabric, made of an extremely durable wool and polyester blend. The downside is the lack of support of the foam.
2. Artist pendant light – Nordlux
You may remember this beauty from one of My Key Pieces posts. The space-transforming low pendant light I mentioned earlier. In my mind, I knew what the light I wanted looked like. And luckily Nordlux manufactures exactly that. You can go crazy and arrange them in clusters of various sizes and heights.
3. Rosette cushion – Sian Elin
There’s no better way to include colour than with this vibrant yellow cushion by Welsh textile designer Sian Elin. Inspired by Eastern rosette motifs and Scandinavian simplicity, Sian applies her graphic design skills to create a timeless pattern. The ideal complement to the plain grey sofa.
4. Panthella Mini – Louis Poulsen
Well, I had to add more mid-century modern magic! You may wonder if I’m obsessed with lighting and you’re right. But look at it. The Panthella Mini is a scaled-down version of the original design by Verner Panton. Fully made of steel for the first time as Panton intended.
5. Aero shelving unit – Swoon Editions
Shallow alcoves can be a nightmare to design unless you go for fitted furniture. Maybe one day. Until then, this contemporary open shelving unit ticks all the boxes. It’s made of iron lacquered in black with an asymmetric arrangement to add interest. Every shelf is a vignette ready to be styled.
6. Frameless oversized round mirror – West Elm
A mirror in the right place can maximise the amount of available natural light. It’s also an easy way to give the illusion of a bigger space. There’s a simple tip to take advantage of this without drawing attention to the mirror itself. Choose a frameless one instead of those with dark borders or straps.
7. Wooden coffee table – Ercol (vintage)
There have to be a few vintage pieces and I had a coffee table on my radar for months. My round table is not manufactured anymore. But there are plenty of similar designs around (like the “pebble” nest above). You can download my handy mid-century shopping guide for a list of shops.
8. Gladom tray table – IKEA
This is the story of form meets function meets ridiculous price tag. A powder-coated steel side table that not only looks great but fits in the smallest of spaces. Its thin legs make it visually light. Oh, and you can detach the top and use it as a tray. If light yellow is not your thing it also comes in dark green and white.
9. Compact armchair – 366 Concept
Here’s another star from My Key Pieces. 366 Concept manufactures the compact — yet stylish — 366 chair. An icon of Polish 20th Century design. It is the most complimented piece of furniture in my house right now. You can’t go wrong with it.
What do you think?
Do you have any other tips for designing a small living room? And what’s your favourite piece of the scheme? The pendant light is the winner for me. But there will be more secret pieces and accessories revealed. I can’t wait to share the whole room tour with you soon!Want more? Don't miss the subscriber-only articles in the newsletter Join the mailing list