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large black leather sectional sofa with recliners

Your Top 10 Living Room Decorating Mistakes Revealed

It’s time to lift the lid on your biggest living room decorating mistakes. Last week’s post on your major bedroom styling blunders proved so successful I thought it wise we move into another room in the home to expose your wicked ways.

Now, as I said in the bedroom decorating mistakes article, this is all a bit of fun. And in my defence, people do pay me to come into their homes and improve the look and feel of them. So I’m just sharing with you some of the design elements I identify as having room for improvement in my daily work life.

The other thing is this: you don’t know until you know, right? And when you know better, you can do better. I too have made some of these mistakes in the past. And once you find the solution, or it’s pointed out to you by someone (I’m really doing God’s work here), it can completely change how you feel about your living room.

So let’s take a look at the most-common living room decorating mistakes below. And of course, I’m providing solutions too. I’m not a monster 😉

large black leather sectional sofa from ebay in living room
Sorry eBay, but I just cannot with this entire situation.

1. The Mammoth Sectional Sofa

I’ve taken this one straight from my recent Whole-Home Biggest Design Mistakes article because it’s by far one of the top style blunders I see people make.

Essentially, the issue is that many people don’t measure out the length of the sofa in the space before they purchase. They just eyeball the room and hope for the best. But worse still, they don’t take height and seat depth into consideration.

The sofa you thought was going to be 2.5 x 2.5 metres actually takes up a tonne more space because the seat depth is one metre. And in a sectional sofa that can create an issue, especially in a smaller living room.

If you have a cosy living room, here are my tips for decorating small spaces wisely.

Your living room should be comfy, but you don’t need a bed in this space. That’s what the bedroom is for. I specify sofas for clients all the time and go through selecting the right cushion inserts to ensure it’s super cushy and cosy. But that doesn’t mean the sofa should be a giant mass of fabric sitting in the middle of the room.

soft grey sofas in living room with round glass coffee table

2. The Tiny, Can’t-Reach Coffee Table

This is an issue I see in larger spaces, where sofas are pushed right up against walls on either side of the room (another big no-no) and then there are small coffee tables in the middle of the space – metres away from the sofa.

Now, sure, coffee tables can be decorative. The reality is that sometimes the room size makes it impossible to have a coffee table close to your sofa. And often when you’re kicking back on the couch, a side table is where you’ll pop your drink.

But here’s the thing: the coffee table should still be large enough to sit in the middle of the room and still be the right distance from the edge of the table to the edge of the sofa front. I always allow about a 50cm gap here.

Nest coffee tables are ideal for larger rooms where you need to bridge the gap between sofas. They take up more space and look stunning.

Melbourne apartment make over with grey recliner sofa from Plush and blinds from Luxaflex

3. High-Back Sofas Cutting Across Rooms

I love zoning open-plan rooms. And sometimes there’s no other option other than to have your sofa cutting across the space. This is often the case when there are many windows in the living/dining room and really only one dedicated wall for the TV.

Naturally, you need to cut across the room with a sectional sofa (or similar L-configuration with 2 x two-seaters). That is absolutely fine and I’m all for it. But the issue arises when the sofas have high backs. I’m talking a sofa back higher than 90cm.

Many older, more traditional sofas feature this kind of back. And if you have that kinda vibe going on, that’s fine. But having a sofa that high cutting across your room is one of the big living room decorating mistakes you can make.

The Plush sofa in my CBD apartment makeover is the perfect height to cut across a room.

large white sectional sofa with armchair across from ir
Nice sense of balance in this project. Via Houzz.

4. No Armchair Across (or Next to) Your Sofa

This one is for rooms that are sizeable enough to take an armchair diagonally across from the sofa. In many cases it’s just not feasible to do so.

But, as you can see in the image above, a sectional sofa in an L-shape always looks way more balanced and makes much more sense in the room when it has an armchair across from it.

The armchair you place here can be purely decorative. It doesn’t even need to be comfortable. And I know there are naysayers out there who would say, why spend money on something you don’t even sit on? But a room is about more than what you use. You don’t use photos or art but they’re imperative in making the room feel complete, right?!

Hunting down an armchair? Here’s our top 50, categorised into different design styles.

coco republic barker leather recliner
Some of my faves from Coco Republic.

5. The Big Puffy Recliner Chairs

I know some of you are already up in arms over this one. I’ve copped flack for this before so I’m very aware that some of you love a recliner for the comfort aspect. And look, it’s not one of the biggest living room decorating mistakes in the list, but it comes with some terms and conditions.

Not all recliners are made equal. They used to be. They used to be comfortable and look absolutely hideous. But thankfully times have changed. So I’m not fully against a recliner, I just suggest you find one that looks as good as it feels.

A room really is a coming together of how it looks and how it functions, so to tick just one of those elements off when purchasing your recliner feels like a huge miss to me.

Don’t fear! I have a list of the best eight recliner chairs on the market for you here.

modern luxe living room with grey sofa tan leather cushions and marble coffee table
More is always more when it comes to cushions.

6. Your Sofa is Void of Cushions

I don’t even want to imagine living in a world where a sofa doesn’t have any cushions on it. But here we are. It happens. It really happens. I’ve even had a client once tell me they didn’t want any cushions on their sofa. And it was at that moment I questioned humanity in ways I never had before.

A sofa without cushions is like a bed without bedding. The best cushions not only make the sofa look complete and resolved, but they will actually aid in making you more comfortable when you sit down. If your sofa has a deep seat cushion on it (one metre, for example), a decorative back cushion can help a short person not have their legs dangling in the air when they sit down.

Now, I love a bargain, but I also feel cushions are worth investing in. Cheap cushions from budget chains can often have super thin filling. You need to buy four of them just to equal the plushness of one decent one. So you may as well just buy one decent one. I’m no mathematician but it just makes sense from a numbers perspective.

Here’s some info on the must-use cushion inserts to ensure maximum comfort.

house rules 2020 kimmy and rhi mid century modern living room

7. The TV is Mounted Too High

I touched on this one recently when I took you through everything you needed to know about mounting a TV in your living room. Turns out some of the biggest living room decorating mistakes are technological ones, and the TV height falls into this category.

As much as I love a trip to the movies, it must be said that your living room is not a Hoyts. And thank god, right? By staying home to watch a move you save at least $500 on popcorn costs alone. By realising your TV is not a cinema screen, you can then come to grips with the fact that it doesn’t have to be mounted on the top-half of your living room wall.

Ideally, when mounted, the middle of your TV should be just above eye level when seated. It can become more complex than this depending on the size of the screen and how far away from it you’re sitting. But this is a good general rule.

house rules 2019 eliza and mikaela living room with white clay pendant and brick fireplace

8. The Sofa isn’t Oriented Toward the TV

I’m a real-world kind of designer. As much as I adore some of the silliness that decorating a home can bring (I mean, who doesn’t love karate chopping cushions?), I’m all about practicality.

A living room is predominantly used for watching TV. Let’s not deny it. So I’m not an advocate of people having two sofas facing one another in a formal layout, with a TV high on a wall to the left or right of them. It just doesn’t make sense from a real-world, TV-watching perspective.

By using this layout in your living room, it deems TV watching an experience you can only do when sitting sideways on the couch or turning your neck 180 degrees like the little girl from The Exorcist. I highly recommend a layout change if you currently have this going on at your place.

minimalist living room with no rug interior design ideas

9. There’s No Rug Grounding the Furniture

Rugs are the new artworks, I’m telling you. They not only feel great underfoot, but they can look so stunning that they become the focal point in your room.

I’m a rug fanatic, it must be said. Of the living room decorating mistakes listed here, this one is up there. I go into a lot of homes and see carpeted living rooms without rugs. Yes, even living spaces with soft carpet still need a rug to make sure all of the furniture doesn’t look disconnected.

Even worse though: living rooms with hard floors and no rug in sight! That’s when I start to break out in hives and get short of breath. There’s simply no excuse for not having a rug over any type of hardwood floor (be it tiles or floorboards).

House Rules 2018 Jess and Jared living room with tan leather sofa and round coffee table

10. There’s No Personality on the Coffee Table

In a living room, your coffee table is the place to reflect your personality. Of course you can showcase your style in cushions and throws. But that’s more strictly-decorative, whereas the coffee table allows you to place books and ornaments that really mean something to you.

I’m a big fan of books on coffee tables. It gives friends and family something to flick through when they’re over, plus it allows you to see something every day that taps into the vibe of the space.

Outside of book stacks, your coffee table should have at least one keepsake or memento that is uniquely yours. Something that’s not been purchased from a major retailer. Even better if you picked it up on travels. Then it’s truly yours and nobody else’s.

OK, time to fess up regarding these living room decorating mistakes. What’s your score out of 10? Drop me a comment below and let me know. Also, what are some additional crimes I’ve left out here? It would be great to hear from you.


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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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43 Responses

  1. I have 6 cats who throw up frequently. So a rug that covers most of the floor space in the living room just does not work. I am moving from a small condo into an (inherited) home with a rectangular living room with vintage hardwood. We have an excellent quality wool circular rug I will probably put in front of the couch, halfway between the couch and the TV wall I do not have a coffee table because it is just clutter to me. I do have end tables on either side of the couch, which is a recliner. The rug will take up half of the space between the couch and the wall and from side to side.

    I guess my main point is that a rug is great but if you have pets, especially cats, which MANY people do, a rug covering most of the living room just is not practical. And I do not want to cover up much of the beautiful hardwood.

  2. Hi Chris
    I would love help in finding a rug to suit our space. Do you travel to Mansfield, Victoria? Or if I send you photos are you able to help – for a fee of course.

  3. I pretty much agree with everything you have said. I agree that a rug is like a piece of art and it is usually what I design the room around (and my art) but at the moment everything is either cheap and nasty or very neutral. I like wool rugs with a lot of subdued colours (demin blue, blush, rust, etc) but I can’t find anything at the moment. I like to pull colours out of the rug for cushions, but I can’t do this if the rug is neutral.

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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