In Mood Board Inspiration

How to design a small living room to maximise light and space

Mood Board inspiration - A small living room to maximise light and space - contemporary style with a mid-century modern twist - main

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.

Mood Board inspiration - A small living room to maximise light and space - contemporary style with a mid-century modern twist

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!

midcentury modern shopping guide free download boreal abode vintage furniture
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41 Comments

  1. Vicki
    4 months ago

    I love the shelving unit, modern and sleek and as you can see through it, gives the appearance of spec and light.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Vicki! You’re absolutely right. It’s going to be placed in a dark alcove so I hope it works.

      Reply
  2. Becky at PinksCharming
    4 months ago

    I can’t wait to see the finished room, I love all your choices and as an Ercol fan I would have to choose the coffee table as my favourite. But I love everything else too.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Becky! Can’t wait to show you the room reveal. Including, the side table you also have. Hope you like my Ercol table!

      Reply
  3. Pati
    4 months ago

    I love playing with scare and put massive items in a small room – obv mine hot smaller ceilings which never seem to give the room sense of space or head space for that matter but throwing an unsual works for me x

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Pati! You’re style works perfectly. If you pick tiny furniture in a small room it looks weird. I hope I got the balance right. We’ll see!

      Reply
  4. Donna Ford
    4 months ago

    I agree with Pati. Sometimes the most unexpected things can work! It looks great Juan. Really can’t wait to see the completed room. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Donna! There’s going to be something unexpected in the big reveal. I really hope you like it 🙂

      Reply
  5. Meera
    4 months ago

    I love the idea of a summer living room! You’ve got the design spot on, Juan. I love the beautiful classic shapes and colours you’ve chosen in your furniture, lighting and accessories, a great mix which will create a fresh and timeless design. I have my eye on the Aero shelving unit myself for when I’ve renovated my home and have a snug/music room, but I’ll probably go for the gold version 😉

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Meera! Rumour has it that the Swoon Editions Aero shelving unit is the same piece as the West Elm Linnea bookshelf! Always worth comparing.

      Reply
  6. Tom Bellord
    4 months ago

    Really like the Panthella Mini by Poulsen. Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thanks, Tom! It’s such a timeless design. It works pretty much with any scheme.

      Reply
  7. Fawn Interiors Studio
    4 months ago

    Love the colour palette – perfect for a summer living room. And the Compact Armchair is totally gorgeous. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Tamsin! I hope to introduce some blue as well with accessories.

      Reply
  8. Mary| hellopeagreen
    4 months ago

    I’ve “borrowed” the Aero shelving unit before for a styling project, it’s really lovely in the flesh. You’ve pulled together a lovely looking palette and I love the crisp clean lines of your furniture and accessory choices.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Mary! Ah, glad that you like the Aero shelving unit. When you buy online it’s always a bit difficult to visualise the final product.

      Reply
  9. Fiona
    4 months ago

    Some great picks here I can’t wait to see the finished room. The arm chair and the nest of tables are such a good match.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Fiona! Hope you like the finished result 🙂

      Reply
  10. Abi | These Four Walls blog
    4 months ago

    Such beautiful pieces! And useful advice. I live in a small Victorian terrace too so I have similar issues to deal with!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Abi! Your living room looks so bright and airy. You definitely have the magic touch.

      Reply
  11. Stacey Sheppard
    4 months ago

    Oils fantastic Juan. Can’t wait to see the final room reveal. That shelving unit and pendant lamp are my favourite pieces.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Stacey! The pendant was probably the best decision in this room design. Can’t wait for the shelving unit to be delivered.

      Reply
  12. JENNY KAKOUDAKIS
    4 months ago

    I can see a certain love for all things Swoon Editions? I love them too. Cannot wait to see how this room turns out. But my question is: where did the TV go? I am not obsessed with it but we do have a massive tv that is taking over, well the room. I have pondered what to do with it but the reality is, it’s there to stay long term!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Jenny! And good question. The TV is in the winter room, haha. It’s like a printer, I only use it now and again.

      Reply
  13. Lins @ Boo & Maddie
    4 months ago

    Such great tips! In the previous house we lived in which was a rental in SE London, it was a terraced Victorian house and had a very small living room. You can do such brilliant things with the right planning as you say X

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Lins! You know the struggle then 😁 Glad you like the tips.

      Reply
  14. Anna Stoltman
    4 months ago

    Your mood board looks very impressive, I Love all the pieces but especially the chair ( nope, it has nothing to do with the fact that it is a polish design 😂😂) I have to say I love the idea of a summer living room, I wish we had one 😁😁

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Anne Marie! That chair is a masterpiece. Polish design is as avant-garde as it was in the 20th Century!

      Reply
  15. Sue
    4 months ago

    Some fab ideas here Juan. I love that nest of tables, but as we have the Ercol Cosenza sofas I thought it might make the room ‘too’ mid-century & lose the contemporary feel. Do you have any tips on choosing art to complement the mid-century/contemporary look (a big subject I realise)?

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Sue! That’s a good question (I may write a blog post about it). But the main tip would be to look beyond Midcentuy-themed art or posters. And don’t be afraid to mix with classic art or cutting edge modern art. As with the nest of tables it can look too midcentury otherwise.

      Reply
  16. Jumi Awomosu
    4 months ago

    What a fresh concept Juan, I’m in the middle of decorating my own quite small living room so this post is really useful to me, I love those frameless mirrors for bouncing light around the space!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Jumi! I’m glad you found it useful. The frameless mirror is already up and can’t wait to share the pics!

      Reply
      1. Jumi Awomosu
        4 months ago

        Indeed I look forward to it!

        Reply
  17. melanie lissack
    4 months ago

    I love that light! And yellow!!! I love yellow – it is definitely going to be the next big colour I think! Looking forward to the reveal!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for popping by, Melanie! Yellow makes all the difference, such a happy and vibrant colour. It would be a bland scheme otherwise. Hope to share the big reveal soon!

      Reply
  18. Maria
    4 months ago

    A really great post Juan and completely in love with the chair, lamp, shelving, oh heck, all of it!! Can’t wait to see the reveal 😀

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Maria! Just waiting for a few more pieces and then time to paint the room.

      Reply
  19. Clare
    3 months ago

    I never would have considered swapping my television for a light but can see what a difference this would make. Alongside the gorgeous mid-century furniture I imagine you’ve created a calm and stylish space. A really informative post that’s given some some ideas for my own home.

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Clare! It’s a nice space to relax and look at the birds through the window. The TV is in another room, which is only used for that purpose really.

      Reply
  20. Via B Design
    3 months ago

    Black accent pieces are a great trend right now. I especially like the light from #2 and the bookshelves. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Juan Sandiego
      3 months ago

      Thank you for your comment! I just received both and they look even better in real life 🙂

      Reply

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