The No. 1 Design Mistake Everyone Makes in Their Living Room

Ever look around your living room and wonder why it looks a little bit … off?

Blame it on the popularity of HGTV or the proliferation of design blogs and Instagram stars, but now more than ever, it seems like certain people are able to create perfectly curated living rooms while others are stuck with painfully ordinary looking spaces. So, what gives?

The most common mistake is thinking you don’t have the skills to achieve the same results as a professional designer. By following a few simple rules and avoiding common pitfalls, you, too, can create a gorgeous, relaxing space — without spending thousands of dollars on a decorator.

1. Not having a plan

Don’t make any changes to your living room without coming up with a plan. | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Yes, we all love shopping at HomeGoods, but before you purchase that gilded rhinoceros head, you should stop and think if it will really fit into your design aesthetic.

If you’re ready for a better looking living room, start by making a physical or virtual design inspiration board and sticking to that theme when you’re shopping for furniture and accessories. That doesn’t mean everything needs to be matchy-matchy. But you should have some idea of what you’re shopping for before you go absolutely wild at Ikea.

2. Choosing a rug that’s too small

Modern living room

A rug that isn’t big enough can throw the whole living room off. | Vicnt/iStock/Getty Images

One of the biggest culprits that’s making your living room look underwhelming is your too-tiny area rug.

Most people purchase smaller rugs because they’re significantly less expensive than larger versions. However, you can make your room look a lot more upscale just by making this simple change. The rule is that the rug should never be “floating” in the center of the room, but should rather be anchored by your furniture.

According to designer Emily Henderson, “Living rooms almost always need at least an 8-by-10-feet if not a 9-by-12-feet rug. Unless you have a tiny living room, stay away from anything under 6-by-9-feet. A 4-by-6-feet might be fine for next to a bed, in a kitchen, or in an entrance; it will assuredly not work in your living room.”

3. Picking the wrong couch

couple relaxing on a sofa at home

A couch needs to feel comfortable, but it also has to look right in the space. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Professional designers place a lot of emphasis on the sofa. Often the largest and most expensive piece of furniture in the room, it sets the tone for the whole look and feel of the space. Plus, it’s usually the first thing to catch your eye when you walk in.

You’ll want to look for something practical yet beautiful, which is, of course, easier said than done. Dark, durable fabrics such as leather or stain-resistant microfiber work well for high-traffic rooms or families with young children.

The shape of the couch also matters. Make sure you measure the space you intend to fit and then shop for couches based on that, not the other way around. A fantastic couch that doesn’t fit your room size or your lifestyle isn’t really so great after all.

4. Opting for form over function

Don’t choose impractical fabrics or finishes that you’ll just have to cover up when kids or pets walk into the room. | iStock.com/A75

Beautiful furniture has its merits, but bringing a white silk upholstered armchair into a house full of muddy dogs and macaroni-covered toddlers just isn’t wise.

You need to consider your lifestyle before committing to any type of furniture. The perfect piece of furniture for your space should be both well designed and practical, so you’ll never have to resort to your grandmother’s tactic of draping everything in plastic.

Outdoor rugs in the living room, stain resistant microfiber furniture, and washable drapes are all examples of design elements that will stand up to all the living that happens in the living room.

5. Buying everything in one place

Young woman shopping for furniture in a furniture store

Don’t buy your entire living room all at one store. | iStock.com/ViktorCap

Some designers refer to this as the “showroom look.” Good design doesn’t mean just walking into a furniture store and purchasing every item they have staged together in the faux living room section.

Instead, infuse your room with a range of design elements from different places to give it a more natural, lived in look. You can stick with a cohesive color palette so it doesn’t look too crazy. But don’t be afraid to mix patterns or even styles of furniture and accessories to get a look that’s 100% unique.

6. Pushing all your furniture against the walls

Beautiful living room interior

Think outside the box with your living room layout. | Hikesterson/Getty Images

Layout is vitally important to making your living room look good. Resist the temptation to push your furniture up against the walls, which can make the room look smaller.

Instead, group your furniture to create conversation areas where it’s easy for your guests to sit and interact with one another. Ideally, these areas should be situated around the focal point of the room, like the fireplace.

7. Including too much furniture

wood chair in living room

Resist the urge to cram in too much furniture. | iStock.com/Kwanchai_Khammuean

Less really is more, especially if you’re working with a small room. Try putting in as few pieces as possible and only add more items as needed. Too much furniture jammed into an area makes the whole room look cluttered.

8. Not hanging your art correctly

Gallery art wall

Always hang art at the correct height. | Tomap49/iStock/Getty Images

Art that’s hung too high or too low can be a real eyesore. The general rule is that you should hang art at eye level, but this rule can vary depending on the room itself. Henderson warns, “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).”

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