Contrast makes a room feel smaller.

How to Make a Large Living Room Look Smaller

by Linda Erlam

A cavernous living room often doesn’t feel cozy and inviting; making it look smaller will help it feel more homey. Start the transformation by understanding a few design guidelines and some tricks to fool the eyes of onlookers. A detailed and well-thought-out plan can change that large space to an inviting cozy room.

What Color Does

Choose a bright color scheme that includes two complementary colors and one accent color and whose main color is from the warm side of the color wheel. Something from the warm side of the color wheel feels closer to us than something from the cool side. For example, choose red and blue with white accents or purple and yellow with green accents. Use the main color as the background on 60 percent of the surfaces in the room, the secondary color on 30 percent, and the accent color for the remaining 10 percent. In a country-styled home, for example, you could use a red painted effect on three walls and blue and red striped paper on the fourth wall, drapes or window coverings in a red and blue plaid, blue upholstered furniture, white baseboards and trim and a red and blue oval braided rug. Keep the colors bright; don’t dilute them to pastels. Remember that dark colors absorb more light than bright ones, so a dark room will feel smaller than a bright room.

Bring in Lots of Patterns and Prints

Don’t skimp on patterns and prints in the room; high contrast adds visual interest and keeps the room from feeling too spacious. Add a surprise, like painting a focal point -- the fireplace surround, for example -- in a high contrast color. For example, in a blue and red room with white accents, painting the fireplace surround yellow or bright green brings attention to the focal point. Rugs should be statement pieces on their own; choose high-contrast colors and prints that coordinate with the upholstered pieces.

Choose Oversize Furniture

Oversize furniture takes more visual space than small, minimalist styles. Group furniture around a large coffee table centered on a bright area rug. Choose a sofa with a high, large curled arm and a high back and keep the side chairs in scale to the sofa; larger is better. A skirt on an upholstered piece adds to the visual weight, so use skirts on the sofa, any ottomans and the side chairs. Prints in contrasting colors on all the upholstered pieces will keep the grouping feeling small and interesting. Add a reading nook to one corner and perhaps a games table to another.

Use Lots of Accessories

Use accessories such as bright pillows, embellished lampshades and layers of toss rugs. Place pillows on each chair and several on the sofa. Treat the walls as your personal art gallery: Create a focal wall with a rogues gallery of family photos in frames and mats of varying colors or paint one wall a contrasting color. This visual illusion brings that wall into the room, making the room appear smaller. Fill corners with lush, tall plants or corner cabinets that hold curios. Keep lamps as short as possible and ensure that they direct light down, rather than up, focusing the viewer's eye on the conversation area rather than the walls and size of the room.

About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.

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