Living Room Decorating 101


While I share lots of DIY projects here on the blog, I think the most common questions I receive from readers revolve around decorating. How do I choose the right piece for my spaceWhat size rug do I buy? Where do I shop for accessories?

Living Room Decorating 101

Lydia's historic and whimsical home tour
Lydia’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

That’s why I created this Decorating 101 series. I’m certainly not an expert, but I have learned a lot in my nine years of blogging about how, and how not, to bring a space together. I’ve created individual blog posts for each room in your house to act as resources as you work to decorate and style each space. Here are all of the posts in the series.

Today’s topic…living room decorating! Let’s dive into my “rules” and tips for this very important room.

How to Decorate a Living Room

living room decorating
Andrea’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

Let me first say, when it comes to decorating, there aren’t any exact rules! Every space, home, and family is different, so my words are not the be-all, end-all for decorating a space. Instead, I hope these insights can guide you as you consider your layout, large furniture purchases, and how to bring the entire look together. No judgment from me, I just want to help as much as I can!

Living Room Dos

Ryan's living room space
My Brother’s Living Room

Okay, onto the things that you should do when it comes to living room decorating.

Buy a Large Rug

My search for a new side table
Our Living Room Rug

You’ve heard it from me a million times, rugs that are too small are a big no-no. In fact, this topic even made for a great design mistake post. In your living room, you’ll probably need a big rug. You want at least the front legs of the sofa and chairs to rest on top of it. In our living room, we have a 9×12 rug and I actually think we could have gone even bigger with a 10×14. When in doubt, go big! If you’re clueless when it comes to rug buying, I have an entire rug buying guide you can check out right here.

Have Enough Seating

Open living room space in the city
Jan’s Living Room

Most living rooms have couches or sectionals, but don’t forget about additional seating. Adding a chair or two can make the space much more conversation-friendly. Of course, you don’t want to overcrowd a room with furniture, but often there’s room for a comfy chair to sit across from the couch or main seating area. 

Use Secret Storage

built ins around fireplace
Andrea’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

I’ve been in many living rooms that have way too much stuff everywhere. Accessories on every surface, toys, books, etc. Instead, only highlight items that you really love and keep everything else hidden away.

How to add secret storage for a budget bedroom

In our old condo, we had the most beautiful built-ins. These were fantastic because we could display our favorite items up top, while hiding lots of other not-so-cute stuff down below in the cabinets.

How we organize our television console for extra baby storage

In our current home, we don’t have a lot of decor out anymore – kids, I tell ya! Instead, we have this large television console that holds all of our kids’ toys. It’s nice to have a spot to store all of their stuff and keep it out of sight. Whether it’s bookshelves, built-ins, or a bench with storage, make sure you invest in some sort of hidden storage.

Buy the Right Coffee Table

Beach house living room
Tracey’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

I actually don’t have a coffee table in our living room right now. And that’s because we use the space with our kids all day long and we’re constantly playing on the floor. So just know that with these “rules”, you’ve still got to make them work for your life. Someday, we will have a coffee table again!

However, if you are buying a coffee table for your space, make sure it is the correct size and scale. Often, I see tables that are either too small or ginormous. Here are my sizing guidelines for coffee tables…

  • Should be about 1/2 the length of your sofa
  • Should be within 4″ higher or lower than the height of the sofa

Also, be sure to check out the shapes in your room. If you have a lot of straight angles, you may want to opt for a round coffee table to break up all of those straight lines.

Incorporate Side Tables

How to mix wood tones in your home

A lot of people forget to add side tables to their living rooms, but I think it can add so much to a space. First of all, it’s a great spot for you to rest your drink (bring on those cocktails!), but it’s also the perfect area for a table lamp – more on that in a minute. Consider adding a table to at least one side of your sofa; just make sure it’s not deeper than the depth of your couch.

If you’re struggling to choose the right side table for your space, I break down my exact thought process when I recently bought a new side table for our living room. You can read it here.

Use a Console Table

Bright family room in this feminine home tour
Console Table (similar)

Another table you may want to add to your space is a console table, especially if your couch is “floating” in the middle of a room. We added one in my mom’s living room and it hides the back of the couch while providing another great spot to display pretty items. For sizing, make sure it’s the same height or a few inches shorter than the back of your couch. And if you can, leave about 6″ of space on each side.

Living Room Don’ts

Living room decorating tips

Moving onto the “no-nos” when it comes to decorating a living room.

Keep the Matching Couch Pillows

Living room decorating ideas
Brittany’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

Do you know those “free” pillows that came with your couch? Now is the time to donate those…forever. Or, use them in a different room. Or keep them and put a new pillow cover over them. Please don’t use the same couch pillow on your sofa. (Here’s an entire design mistake blog post explaining why.) Instead, change up those pillows in terms of color, texture, and pattern.

Buy a Living Room Set

Living room decorating 101
Lydia’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

I know it’s easy to just head to a furniture store and buy an entire matching living room set. Again, please don’t do that! You’re missing out on the opportunity to create an interesting and layered space. Incorporating different shapes, fabrics, and wood tones is the best way to build a beautiful living room. Just check out the gorgeous living room above with a mix of leather and velvet! You’ll find more details on why matching furniture is a big no-no in this design mistake post.

Forget Lighting

Spending time together on the couch during the evening hours
Our Home Tour At Night

Lamps are a must for any living room! Definitely don’t forget to add table lamps or floor lamps to your space. Just be sure that the bottom of the lampshade is about eye level when you’re sitting on the couch or else you’ll have a bright lightbulb in your eye! This post outlines lots of tips for layering lighting and this one dives into how to choose the correct light bulb.

Neglect Walkways

living room decorating 101
Lauren & Kam’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

This is an easy “rule” to mess up. You definitely want to leave enough room to walk between all of the furniture in your living room. A good estimate is about 16″ to 18″ between the sofa and coffee table. Save those shins from bumps and create walkways in your living room!

Do the Hot Dog Fold

Family room space
Kerri’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

One of my most popular design mistakes of all time was when I discussed the “hot dog fold” when it comes to throw blankets on a couch. The number of people who reached out to say they’ve been doing the hot dog fold forever and were eager to change their ways made me laugh. Instead of doing that fold, we suggest keeping your blankets in a basket, folding a blanket neatly on the side of the couch (as in the above photo), or draping it. This post showcases the fix for the dreaded hot dog fold.

Neglect Scale for Art + Shelves

Choose the correct scale for your living room art
My Brother’s Living Room

Another thing I see frequently is art or shelves that are too small hanging over a sofa. I get it, finding the right piece for over a couch is tough and large pieces can be expensive! But please don’t add a small frame up there and call it a day. Or worse yet, a tiny shelf that has a few small objects on it. Instead, make sure your art is large enough and is hung at the proper height. Here’s a link to the gorgeous blue piece above.

Living Room Decorating – Save vs. Splurge

Now, where should you spend the most money in your living room? And where can you save a few bucks?

Where to Splurge

Finn napping on Jan's couch

The biggest investment in a living room will likely be your sofa and that’s a-okay! If you’re going to be sitting on it every single day then it better be comfy. Here’s a deep dive into how we chose our current sofa. Another place I suggest splurging is on secret storage. Custom built-ins are expensive, but they can make a living room! Plus, they’re chock full of storage. And if you want to go the DIY route, as we did with our office built-ins, you’ll definitely save some money!

Where to Save

Chicago townhome with DIY built-ins
Erica’s Reader OMG! Home Tour

Most of the other items in your living room don’t need to break the bank. Accessories, throws, pillows…I almost always buy those items at HomeGoods and Target. Or you can even DIY a few items like this marble side table. In terms of spending lots of money on a rug, it really depends on your lifestyle. Natural fiber rugs are incredibly inexpensive and you can buy large ones for a great price. Since you’ll likely need a large rug for a living room, you may not want to fork over tons of cash for a super expensive and higher-quality rug. Here’s the budget-friendly one we have in our space.

  • Pillows
  • Side tables
  • Throws
  • Rug
  • Accessories
  • Lamps

My Favorite Living Room Staples

Living room decorating 101

If you want to shop my current living room, you can find all of the products right here. Below are some of the living room decor pieces I own and love.

  • My living room rug: A budget-friendly rug that hides everything! We have it in the olive/charcoal color.
  • Our favorite blanket: The softest thing we own.
  • Blanket basket: I used this basket to store blankets in my brother’s living room, but if you’re lucky you can sometimes find similar ones at HomeGoods.
  • Wood bookshelf: If you don’t have built-ins, this wood bookshelf offers storage on the bottom and areas to display accessories up top.
  • Sheepskin: I display sheepskins on my couch to add texture and coziness.
  • Planter: Greenery is a must in every room in your house. I have this tucked into a corner of my living room.
  • Faux olive tree: This olive tree, that I keep in this basket, adds some height next to our television.
  • Frame TV: While we don’t have this in our current living room, it’s on my wishlist!
  • Tray: Use this to corral items on your coffee table. These from West Elm are fantastic.
  • Gold box: This gorgeous box holds our remote controls.
  • Pillows: I love the texture on these pillows.
how to decorate a living room

I hope this post will act as a helpful resource as you tackle your own living room decorating. With a few small tweaks, you can create the space of your dreams.

Casey


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.