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Design Agony

How To Lay out A Narrow Living Room

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign Design Plan White and Wood Opening Photo

We all wish we had perfectly shaped living rooms. Heck we all wish we had perfectly shaped everything. But often they are unique in size and shape but they might need some finessing. Meet the narrow living room – America’s most pervasive living room problem. Our Design Agony client, Hilary wrote to us asking for help with her narrow living room and here’s how we solved it:

I’m struggling with the layout of my living room, which is very narrow (like, 8.5′ wide from the wall to the fireplace surround). It serves as a main traffic thoroughfare through our house, and it’s tricky to make a cozy, welcoming layout that you can also walk through.

We’re really fortunate to have inherited a pretty amazing vintage modern furniture collection and some of those pieces are currently in that room – but I don’t know if they really work in there. We’d love to use as much existing furniture as we can, but would be open to purchasing a new couch. I’d also love to tweak the color scheme to include more blue and/or bright pink, so I’m open to purchasing all new accessories, including drapery and rugs.

In addition to that, her husband was also interested in adding a sectional to the room, so they wanted to see a couple of layout options of where that could go in the space.

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign BEFORE Photo grid

You can see from the photos above, that the room is VERY long and narrow with quite a few doorways and openings, which meant we had to carefully consider the furniture placement in the room. Although the fireplace is centered in the room, it is not quite centered on the back wall. With the fireplace slightly off center it created a little nook for a credenza, but this meant that if you want to have other furniture in there, you can’t really position the sofa directly opposite the fireplace. This is definitely not a layout catastrophe or the end of the design world as we know it, but some people like symmetry in their space. With all of that in mind,  Ali came up with several different layouts and we whittled them down to 6 different options – 2 of them including a sectional which we sent off to Hilary with our input below.

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign Design Plan White and Wood 3

LAYOUT OPTION 1
We don’t feel the womb chair is working where you currently have it. In this layout, we suggest moving it into the corner and then placing either a smaller chair or one of the Wassily chairs in its place. Because of the tubular frame of the Wassily chair, the chair feels low and light and would be better suited on this side of the room. We also like the oval shape of the coffee table and feel this design is a good fit for narrow spaces. However, we did suggest one that is a bit larger in a tulip Saarinen style (see furniture options). Because of the size of your living room, you will most likely have to go with an 8′ x 10’ rug, unless you did something custom, which would be the best option for the space.

LAYOUT OPTION 2
Another idea if you want to keep your existing sofa and chairs, is to flank the sofa with the two Wassily chairs. Again, because these chairs feel lighter, they would help stop the space from feeling overcrowded. We don’t feel the pendant light in the corner is working and feel it would be better suited as a light fixture in a dining area. To fill the corner, we would replace the pendant light with either a plant or an arc style lamp as shown on the furniture options.

LAYOUT OPTION 3
If you did want to invest in some new pieces of furniture, we would suggest purchasing two smaller arm chairs and placing them against the window wall with a small accent table in between (possibly in a nice brass color). You could then place another chair opposite these chairs and leave the sofa as is.

LAYOUT OPTION 4
Another piece of furniture to invest in would be a loveseat. The dimensions against the window wall are perfect for a smaller sized loveseat. We even like the idea of doing something in a lighter leather to help bring some warmth into the space. This option would also help to provide more seating in the space. To fill in the corner, we would again suggest an arc style lamp.

LAYOUT OPTION 5
We know you have considered a sectional in the space so for the last two options we are suggesting two different style sectionals. The first option would keep things a little more open from the living to the dining area. With this layout, we would suggest putting either the Womb chair or maybe even the chaise lounger in the corner by the windows.

LAYOUT OPTION 6
The last option would have a sectional in the corner. You would have to make sure the dimensions were the right fit. We would suggest one that has the shorter side up against the window wall, and the longer part of the sectional against the long wall opposite the fireplace. You could then do one larger chair, or two smaller chairs opposite the sectional.
Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign Furniture Options White and Wood

Sectional Options
1. Dunham Down-Filled 3 Piece Sectional | 2. Hamilton 2 Piece Upholstered Chaise Sectional

Love Seat Options

1. Hamilton Leather Loveseat | 2. Retro Wing Settee | 3. Everett Upholstered Loveseat

Other Sources: Lippa Oval Coffee Table | Paul McCobb Brass Side Table | Lippa Wood Side Table | Mid-Century Upholstered Chair in Salt + Pepper | Granby Drum Accent Table

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign Furniture Options White and Wood 2

Existing Items: Wassily Chair | Bantam Sofa |

Corner Options: Overarching Acrylic Shade Floor Lamp | Womb Chair and Ottoman | Beachcomber Large Basket

Along with the layout, we gave Hilary some options of additional furniture pieces that could work with her existing furniture. That way she could pick and choose and add pieces as and when she wanted.

In no time at all Hilary got to work on moving around the furniture pieces and sent us a very sweet note back.
Wow – this is so much more than I was expecting! Thank you! I’ve already tried one of the layout options (#1) and it feels much better than how I had it.  I may explore buying a few new pieces to try one of the other layouts. Now I just need someone to style and professionally photograph it so you could use it as blog content, LOL!
Thank you again – I’m really happy with the final product.

She also sent us a few progress shots.

Here are a few “semi-after” photos, in case you end up blogging about the project and want to use them.  I still want a new, lighter colored rug and a new coffee table. But this is the progress – and it’s already made a huge difference! My four year old and I now compete on a daily basis for the womb chair spot…
Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign White and Wood Mid Century 2

Just by moving the womb chair and ottoman to the corner, the area feels like a cute and intentional reading nook. The womb chair was starting to create a heavy divide between the living room and dining area.  Unless you have a larger space where the chair and ottoman can float happily by themselves, or with a side table by their side, they really are best suited to a corner area like this.

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign White and Wood Mid Century

Keeping the credenza/console just to the left of the fireplace like you see in these photos is the best solution because you can’t really add a chair here, you could do a small bench there instead but then this area would be overcrowded with just seating alone.

Hilary Sontag Living Room Redesign White and Wood Mid Century 3

Hilary is still looking to swap out the coffee table and rug, and we do feel that an oval shaped coffee table would be great for in here.  It’s organic, long and allows for easy flow.  The Saarinen would be an ideal choice because its pedestal would give it some grounding without feeling overly heavy. Whilst writing this and looking at the pics again, we would suggest swapping out either the mirror or the piece of art over the fireplace to a circular mirror (like this one or this one). There is some extra advice for you Hilary 🙂 An option would be to simply swap out the mirrors or move the art over the console and then put the mirror above the fireplace. It will just break up some of that boxiness on the back wall.

We’re excited to see where Hilary takes the room next and what pieces she’ll bring into the space, but so far it is looking great in these progress shots – a big thanks to her for sending the pics. It is always so much fun for us to see what you guys do after we send through proposed plans.

Client Testimonial: Overall, the service was so much more than I was expecting.  I was expecting one layout option, and the designers provided me with SIX!  I also loved that the designers happily worked within my tough parameters – weird room layout using mostly existing furniture. I would definitely recommend the service to anyone!

Craving more “Design Agony” check out: Kitchen Nook Refresh | Cures for a Maple Orange Kitchen, or if you are interested in seeing more progress from some of our E-Design clients check out: Rustic Mid-Century Family Room | Neutral California Nursery | Moonrise Kingdom Kid’s Room.

Interested in having us help you out with a room layout or full redesign? Visit our services page for more details.

***Design boards by Ali Henrie for EHD with design direction by Ginny Macdonald, overseen by Emily Henderson. Post written by Ginny (with a few additions by EH). 

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  1. I love this room! The furniture is so cute together, and I love how you rearranged it. It’s great that you gave her options! This is definitely going on the inspiration board for my new house.

  2. This post is awesome! We live in a city row home that is long and narrow with stairs, fireplace, dining table, kids stuff, ect… Posts on smaller living spaces are always great!

  3. This is such a great design agony in that you helped the client re-use her existing furniture. Obviously, buying new things all the time (I want all the things!!!) is a little more fun, but I love the creative thinking here. I nominate this for most successful design agony to date.

  4. I just wanted to let you know I LOVE posts like this. so helpful to see real rooms, real layout challenges, and several potential solutions. Thank you! I love your design content as well as your motherhood content 🙂

  5. What a cute space. The fireplace with the white painted brick, those windows, the archway. Great bones (even if the layout is tricky). Thanks for sending progress shots, Hilary! It’s so much fun to see.

  6. Help! I am selfishly posting here in hopes one of your smart readers can help me with paint. I am painting over existing semi gloss cream walls with eggshell paint in a light light blue like Old Faithful (Elliot’s former nursury.)

    I think lead could be an issue, so I don’t want to sand and I am pretty sure the semi-gloss is latex ( plus lazy)…Does anyone have a fail proof primer/paint combo that won’t take me 5 coats. I painted a singular wall white last year, primed over the semi gloss with Kilz primer, than white Behr Ultra – and it didn’t even look good four coats in. I am trying to avoid that fiasco.

    1. Hi Anna,
      I think you’re right to use Kilz as a primer, but I’d recommend switching to Benjamin Moore paint. I’ve had amazing coverage on terrible old walls with it. I usually get their Aura line for regular (non bath/kitchen) rooms. It’s low VOC. But certainly just ask their advice on which line of B. Moore they recommend for your space. It’s pricy, but coverage is awesome, and the paint quality is superb. (And I have two boys who leave messes everywhere!). Good luck!

  7. I’d love to buy that rug off of Hillary if she’s replacing it! it’s so beautiful and I’m on the hunt for a nice vintage rug for my awkwardly shaped living room 🙂

    beautiful space!

  8. What a difference with just moving a couple of pieces! I love that she can get a better feel in the room now, and then if they do go for a sectional later they have some ideas of how to place it. It’s fun having the real afters on the posts, so thanks to Hilary for sending them!

  9. Ahhh!!! This is my house! Love the circle mirror idea – thanks for the bonus advice! Now I just need to convince my husband that it is CRITICAL to buy a new rug and coffee table ASAP (and now a circle mirror), instead of putting that money in our children’s college funds ;).

    On a side note, the Emily Henderson crew is as super nice to work with in real life as they are on the blog. So refreshing!!

    1. Hilary,

      Thank you for sending the progress pix! I love these kinds of advice posts, always find them interesting (and inspiring) but also always feel kind of left hanging because it’s rare to see if and what the client does on her own.

      And, hey, your kids can deliver pizza to earn college money when they get bigger — mama needs a new rug (and coffee table and mirror) NOW! It’s never too early to teach them about priorities. 🙂

    2. Thanks for sending the progress pics! Btw, you had great furniture (those two chairs!) to begin with, so I’m sure that made it easier on the EHD team. Glad to hear the design agony process went so perfectly for you.

    3. Your room is looking great! I have that round mirror from Target linked in the post and I love it! I think it’s prettier in real life than online. Go for it! 😉

    4. Thanks for sending in post-advice photos. You did a great job executing EHD’s suggestions! Looks great!

  10. what about a narrow living room with no focal point? Lengthwise One wall is the stairwell and the other a long blank wall with two windows one at either end. Also opens thru an archway to dining room so need traffic space. Help?
    Huge fan, lives in Portland!

  11. Awesome post. So helpful. I’m commenting because that sexy second settee (“retro wing settee@) doesn’t link properly.

  12. Love your ideas for living room layout. I am dealing with the idea of renovating a very narrow kitchen (11X18) and am having a horrible time making decisions between making it a galley or trying to work in a narrow island with stools for my three kiddos. I am so stalled I feel I will never get started because I can’t make it past that basic decision in order to figure out a layout. Help!!!