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How To Make Your Living Room Look Better (The 7 Dos and Don’ts)

I wish I could remember who threw out this blog post title in our last brainstorm. Originally it was simply “How To Make Your Living Room Look Good” and we all laughed it off… at first (even the person that jokingly said it). But then, as if the same lightbulb unanimously lit up above all of our heads, we looked at each other and said, “wait is this kinda an awesome post title/idea??” Sure we have covered all of these tips on the blog more than a few times, but it’s kinda nice to have them all in one place, right? Like a living room design checklist that’s easy and not at all intimidating. Like a “Living Room Design For Dummies” expect no one’s calling anyone a dummy!

I think we’ve all been there, staring at our living room, scratching our head as to why it’s just not “right”. Well, that is allllll about to change because baby, you now have a crystal clear list of only seven things to do to fix all (ok, most) of your living room design woes. First up is our NUMBER ONE…

1. DON’T: Have A “Too Small Rug”

photo by zeke ruelas | from: silver lake hills living room reveal

Look, large rugs don’t usually come cheap which is a very understandable reason for not being able to “go big or (don’t) go home because your rug is still too small”. But I promise there are affordable options if you dig, wait for sales (remember Black Friday is only 2 months away but also HOW?! WHAT IS TIME?!), or take a little extra time to save up for the right one. This post goes into all of the things you need to know for choosing your perfect rug and has some shopping options (or at least some great places to look if you don’t see something that grabs you). It’s our #2 Design Mistake so we are passionate about it.


  1. Typical living room rug sizes are 8’x10′ and 9’x12′.
  2. Make sure your rug is at least 6″ wider (8″ is ideal) than your sofa on both sides.
  3. Typically run the rug the length of the sofa.
  4. Give 30″ to 36″ of a walkway between large furniture pieces (if your living room allows for it) if not then at least 18″-24″. That will help to inform your rug size.

Painless right? Well, this next one might not be so easy for some of you.

2. DON’T: Clutter Your Space With Too Much Stuff

photo by zeke ruelas | from: introducing my living room

I am a HUGE offender when it comes to buying wonderful little things I don’t necessarily need. If I turn my desk chair around right now, I am staring at three, yes THREE candelabras. I’m getting better but it’s a constant struggle.

And this tip may have maximalist UP IN ARMS but let me make my case/you don’t have to follow every rule if you are happy with what you’ve got going on. But sometimes it’s easy for things to get “bitsy” and too “visually busy”. If you want to keep your maximalist style going just make sure there’s a good variety of scales in your decor. That is going to really help your eye bounce around instead of getting a wall of “the same”, where nothing really stands out.

But for those not wanting to go maximalist and prefer mediumism (that’s me!) or minimalism, this is for you. You want to let the things you really love have some breathing room because that will let you breathe a little easier. For me, clutter or having too much stuff in a space gives me low-grade anxiety. Sadly, I’m not kidding. I promise how your home looks affects you both good and bad depending on how happy you are with it.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: how to add style to a neutral living room (+ get the look)

Look at this photo of Emily’s old living room. The color palette is SOLID, helping it to look less chaotic but still interesting with the varying tones, materials, and shapes, yet nothing is packed together (like in her old old old living room in the first photo). They’re still plenty of beautiful pieces but it’s less crammed so you can take it all in.

FYI this also VERY much goes for furniture too! Julie wrote a great design mistake post about that particular topic so if you feel like that might be one of your issues here’s some help🙂

Ok, now for an easy break!

3. DO: Add A Hit(s) Of Black

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a modern and organic living room makeover

If you don’t have some solid hits of black in your living room may I suggest you rectify this STAT. Sprinkling black pieces of decor around your living room will really help to add some awesome visual weight and probably some needed contrast. If you reeeeally love a light, neutral space just go delicate like with a small vase, an accent in a pillow, or a piece of art. We promise that your room will just look more elevated and balanced. Shall we take a look at Em’s LA living room?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: my living room update

Not one black decor piece in this living room feels heavy. Instead, they all help to ground the design perfectly. See how it’s used in the art, lamps, vases, shelf decor, and furniture accents? They are all spread out evenly so your eye can rest. A balanced design is a happy design in my opinion.

But also don’t feel like you can’t go bolder! Just make sure that you have other pieces that can stand up to it and yes, balance it visually. Ok done saying “balance”… or am I???

4. DO: Style A Throw Blanket (Or Two)

photo by tessa neustadt | from: brady’s living room refresh with the citizenry

SO simple but so easily forgotten. A styled throw really makes it look like your living room’s got its SH*$ together. But there are A TON of ways to do it and I’ve laid out our favorites.

On the left, we have the more “organic” look. This is the equivalent of the perfect messy top bun. It may take you 15 tries, but once it’s just right, it looks perfectly effortless. EHD (and now AD) stylist, Emily Bowser’s fun hack for this is to grab the throw slightly off-center, pick it up, and then gently toss it onto the sofa. Well, that’s at least how Emily Henderson remembers it and honestly, it works!

Hot Tip

If you are wanting to style your throw in the organic look consider the thickness of your fabric. If it's too thick it's going to be very hard for it to not just look bulky.

On the right, we have a slightly less organic look but it still has a casual vibe. Just fold longways then in half, slightly separate those halves, then lay it nicely onto your seat cushion under your throw pillows. BOOM! Style throw perfection.

Ok, let’s get structured:)

On the left, we have the “folded nicely over the chaise” look that Arlyn did for her MOTO shoot. It’s a great way to easily have your throw looking intentional and well designed. Plus, it’s nice to give your chaise some attention.

On the right, is the ” folded nicely over the arm” look which is how my sofa throw is currently styled. It’s SO EASY. Plus if you are entering your living room and are “greeted” by the side of your sofa, it’s a nice way to add some pattern and texture. But if you have a decent-sized side table next to your sofa it might look a little strange.

If you are a person that’s more of a video visual learner, Emily made a great IGTV on how to “throw a throw”. Enjoy!

5. DO: Put A Tray On Your Coffee Table

photo by zeke ruelas | from: ginny’s living room reveal

If you’ve been following EHD for a while you know we are tray LOVERS. They add more texture, look super pretty, and corral your things. A practical decor item does exist! Just kidding, there are a bunch but this one is our favorite. Plus it can be super affordable. Trays come at almost every price point.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: my living room update

We like to contrast our tray shapes to our coffee table shapes. It keeps things visually interesting. Look at how great this rectangular wood one is on Emily’s beloved coffee table. It also perfectly holds some books, coasters, and a snack bowl (mandatory in my opinion). But you could also replace the bowl with a candle, small plant (if there wasn’t already foliage on the table), and/or of course, add your TV remotes.

Oh, and you can also use trays on your credenzas for a little mini-bar setup. It looks very cute, intentional, and obviously fun. See Em’s version in the photo above?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: new moto reveal: emily bowser’s “refreshed for function” small living room makeover

Also note how Emily Bowser also contrasted the shape of her tray to her coffee table? If she hadn’t corraled those pretty decor pieces, they may have looked a little all over the place. It’s a really great trick I promise. Just try it if you haven’t already.

6. DO: Add A Standing AND Table Lamp/s

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house reveal: our light-filled neutral & textural living room

Oof lighting is so important. So since you need light to you know, use your living room, you might as well use it to your advantage. Emily thinks that it’s important to have both a floor AND at least one table lamp (depending on your room size). Varying heights will make your room look interesting and having more than one lamp will balance the light throughout your room. Plus at night, if you have enough lamps, you can turn off your overhead lighting which helps to calm you down for the night. If you need proof that this is important, have a listen to this incredibly interesting Armchair Expert interview with neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman. It kinda blew my mind.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: jess’ long awaited (small space) living room reveal

Hey, that’s my old living room:) See how having a tall and short lamp makes your eye move around? They also speak to each other in terms of color but are totally different styles. That’s a very important thing to note too. Don’t go too matchy-matchy (aka don’t have two tripod lamps in the same room).

We’ve almost made it to the end y’all! Last one…

7. DO: Create Conversation Area With Furniture

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: sara’s living room & dining room reveal

I’d say the main purpose of a living room is to have a place to hang out with people you like and want to talk to. Ok ya, if there’s a movie on then everyone pipe down. But regardless of movie night, you want to set up your living room to encourage conversation. Size obviously matters. You can’t pack in a sofa, two chairs, and a bench seat if your living room is tiny. BUT if you can have more than just a single sofa, make sure all of your seating isn’t all in a line on one side of the room.

In Sara’s living room above, she was able to have her sofa and two chairs across from each other. A great conversation layout. But Mel didn’t quite have the same amount of square footage in her old place

So instead, she put a chair on each side of her sofa facing in. They aren’t across but they also aren’t technically on the same side of her sofa. (When she lived there, she and her guests could happily converse without having to turn their entire bodies to the side. Win-win-win.

Alright, class dismissed! Did you learn anything? Reminded of some hot tips maybe? I actually ended up storing some of my many pieces of art that were just leaning against the wall out of my living room to make it look less cluttered. I can’t tell you how much that small change made me feel so much better. How about this. Unless you are 100% in love with your living room, I challenge you to try one before next week. Deal? Let me know which one you are going to try in the comments!

Love you, mean it.

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: A Quick Update: The Changes I’ve Made to My LA Living Room

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2 years ago

Thanks for a fun post, Jess, with a solid set of suggestions and an eye-pleasing round-up of pretty living rooms. I’d offer one more tip that you don’t specifically mention, although your photos bear it out in spades: Do add a splash of green, whether it be a houseplant, flower bouquet, or branch off a tree, to infuse life into your room.

2 years ago
Reply to  Diane

I agree … something living or dried natural was-living.
Just not plastic-pretend-not-really-living-ever.

Paula Carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Rusty

I will make an exception for very pretty paper flowers. Some are totally gorgeous.

2 years ago

Not mentioned here but shown 100% in the photos, a simple pair of rules for a calm but fun/elegant living room allowing for longevity/accommodation to shifting taste/trends and new ideas over time (applicable to other visible rooms if open floor plan):
1. All main furniture items (sofa, armchairs plus rug) in solid/no pattern neutrals (some combination of off white, camel, olive green for instance): the bones of the room
2. All major decor items (pillows, throw blankets, key artwork) in or with two compatible colors (mossy green and tobacco or blues and rusty browns, perhaps); and some of these can have pattern, texture, interesting shapes (stripes, knits, velvets, checks, etc.): the ornaments of the room, changeable over time

2 years ago

So many beautiful rooms! I currently need to up my black game at the moment, maybe a coffee table book or small vase to get the balanced look… Love this post!

2 years ago

I’m already on-board with these, except, I had never considered the dappling of black.
My living room (and dining room) has very dark stained woodwork plate rails – think old English cottage-looking…so I don’t have anything black in there! I’d never noticed til now, but maybe that’s why? Not even a black picture frame. Nada.
However, if I didn’t have this original, never going to paint it, dark woodwork…I’d totally do the black items balancing act!!! It’s a nifty trick to move the eye around.

I agree about the table lamp and floor lamp. It makes such a difference to have light sources at different heights.

2 years ago

This is sooo helpful. I have really been struggling with my living room just feeling blah despite so many different changes with furniture, decor, artwork – going to try some of these tips and see if it helps! I think adding black, some trays in contrasting shapes and more cozy throws will be a great start! And for those that can’t afford a giant rug – layering a large inexpensive jute rug from Overstock under a smaller patterned or vintage rug is a budget friendly option.

Paula Carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Tamanna

Yeah. I found some beautiful antique Chinese Art Deco rugs that are too small for the spaces I wanted to place them in. I used this technique, and they now look great! You can even find color-coordinated binding tape on the jute/sisal rugs to tie it in with the smaller rug.

2 years ago

Some good tips here… however I have to say I really don’t love a super controlled color palette, it can feel overthought to me. And my favorite room here is Emily’s old old living room…. it didn’t feel chaotic or crazy to me it felt personal… The white walls were a good backdrop to the personal vintage… I loved when Emily said the secret ingredient to decorating is time .. I think about that a lot as it applies to life and many art forms- painting writing whatever. Her old old living room had the warmth and patina of unique items collected over time with each one holding a little emotional charge of happy. It was instinctive and felt warm. (The same warm feeing people seek in the grandmillenial style). The mood held it together, not the colors so it felt richer, more layered and organic to me. Thats not to say I love clutter I find clutter stressful too, some work by Beata Heuman and Luke Edward Hall just looks like the hodge podge lodge jumble sale to me, I just think more wabi sabi random feels more alive.

2 years ago
Reply to  kk

I think you described that really well!

Natasha Nice
2 years ago


Roberta Davis
2 years ago

Thanks. These are good guidelines that anyone can make use of. I am always taken aback when I step into a living room with a sofa and a chair or two, but no coffee table. I see this way more often than I would expect. Maybe rule 8 is “have a coffee table”!

2 years ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

Haha! Yes!
I’m also amazed when people have a coffee table rug = a rug that’s juuuust big e ough for the coffee tabke to sit on. Wot’s with that?!?🤣

2 years ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

I disagree! I do not have a coffee table in either living room or sitting room, and will not ever have, and I LOVE it that way! I get they’re the standard, but to me they always felt very un-useful. Not helpful for placing a drink if I’m lounging or reading, as the drink is then too far away. With company I place them where needed to rest drinks and app plates. The big problem is it just becomes a surface to collect a jumble of stuff, and I inevitably will be the one constantly clearing it or nagging the other peeps to move their stuff, or they push everything to one side to put use it for their project, or feet, or whatever, so it never really looks good unless its just been styled. Also, a coffee table gets in the way of Wii Dance!! 🙂 And I just like the open look. I much prefer my several small wooden block tables that can be moved where needed for drinks, out of the way for open floor space, or pushed together for a larger table space. And they are not big enough to be a tempting place to dump… Read more »

2 years ago

Good information, Jess, and all lovely rooms. However, I have a different point of view about rug size. I find in some small living rooms, especially when you’re walking practically right into the living room from the front door, a large area rug feels like it “takes over” and doesn’t leave breathing room. I just replaced an 8 x 10 rug (which decorator recommended) for a small 5 x 8 kilim, and the room feels better, airier — less like the entire living space is “rug.” Can’t really explain it, but I’ve also seen smaller rugs, just barely passing the size of the sofa, look better in photos in small living rooms on the Internet. Anyone else notice this — or maybe I’m wrong?

2 years ago
Reply to  Ann

Same here. I love to see more tha a stripe of hardwood or stone. Why invest in quality floor and cover it up? Plus it feels cleaner after a good mop. My cents

2 years ago

Etiquette question: If you’re a guest and want to sit on a sofa that has a draped throw across the seat, do you sit ON the throw as if it was part of the upholstery, or do you move it somewhere before sitting?

2 years ago

I love this post! And it of course leads me to a shopping Q : Are there trays you all are loving right now? Especially rectangular ones? (I have a small-ish round coffee table.)

2 years ago

What I find harder than adding a throw or decluttering is trying to figure out how to mix furniture pieces and their different finishes. I find this true of every room. Do I have to match all the wood tones? If I have two super modern looking chairs should I avoid the surfboard coffee table so it doesn’t look too matchy mid-century? If I have two Walnut nightstands, a black sideboard and brass shelving have I made a wrong turn? What are the rules for mixing?

2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl

Wood goes with wood, goes with wood.
Just make sure the different tones of wood are balanced around and not grouped by tone.

2 years ago

Thankyou for your brilliant ideas

2 years ago

Thankyou for your brilliant ideas my problem tv in one corner cannot move double doors sone wall opposite that doors into garden so you have to walk through the room which is very small. Live your advise? Ireland ☘☘🌈💜

2 years ago

Same here. Verrrry tricky situation!

Karen Puder
2 years ago

Hi! Where is the tray from in Em’s living room? Love it!

2 years ago

I was just remembering how many style changes Emily’s living room went through. Five? Ten? Jillion? Even the pros don’t get it right the first (or first five) time.

2 years ago

Thanks for this list! One question – your first point about rug size says “Make sure your rug is at least 6″ wider (8″ is ideal) than your sofa on both sides.” Do you mean 6-8 feet extra rug on EACH side of the sofa? If you have a 6’ sofa you’d have a 12-16 ft rug?

2 years ago
Reply to  Diane

I meant to write fir a 6’ sofa you’d have an 18 ft- 22 ft rug??

2 years ago
Reply to  Diane

6″ is inches not feet

2 years ago

I love your posts, Jess! This one is a tutorial keeper. Keep it up!–heart and soul of why I started reading the blog–you guys nerd out on how to specifically get the elements that create the “je ne sais quoi” of a good room. It reminds me, in the best way, of Cooks Illustrated or” Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” for cooking–great style, and great cooking, can be learned! We just need to be instructed in the principles (by the EHD team!) and then we can try to take flight on our own. Yay!

2 years ago

Oooh, the only thing I thought to add after my last comment was, how about tip #8, inspired by the writing in Malcolm’s bedroom reveal: Add a bit of yin and yang (or what is seen as traditionally ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ energy) to every room. In other words, a room that is primarily soft, light, curved shapes needs a few geometric, solid elements (aka ‘pops of black, etc’) to ground it. Or, say, a classic “bachelor pad” design with lots of dark colors, solid heavy geometric furniture, needs some velvet, soft fabrics, art or sculpture with curves, light color and texture–or it will just end up looking like a sterile business office or hotel room, no soul or gentleness.
In reality, none of us is really completely ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’, just human, and we are all more comfortable in rooms that pull from both elements. In fact, that would be a great whole separate post! You and Malcolm could do it together!

2 years ago

Hello, Its very nice to have a furniture to look good. Also throw unnecessary things to have bright outcome and less chaotic. Thanks for sharing your tips!

2 years ago

love this post! Could you add something about rules to art in a living room? I can’t decide exactly what to put on a bare wall behind a couch? What are rules for that? Thatnks

2 years ago
Reply to  Krista

Whew, cosign this. I’m currently on the art struggle bus, particularly behind our new sectional that I just…I have never had a piece of furniture of this scale.

2 years ago

Love this kind of posts!

Ariel Doronila
2 years ago
Reply to  Mariana

So much Love And Appreciation for this post!.