Help me make my big house seem ... smaller?
November 9, 2014 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Our old farmhouse was remodeled in the 50s and as a result, the living room is seriously something like 35 x 20 in some spots, while others are 'only' 15 feet wide. We moved here from a house that could fit IN our current living room. It's freaking me out. I'd really like to make the house, our living room especially, seem more cozy. What are some ideas or hacks to make this happen? I see lots of tips on how to make rooms seem bigger, but not so many to make the walls feel like they're closing in on you.
posted by checkitnice to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We have a very big living room too. I find that separating it into a number of distinct areas makes it cozier... Like, an area with a large sectional sofa and coffee table in front of the TV, and a sitting area off to the side with two chairs and a table between them and/or a table and chairs to make a "breakfast nook." In our case part of the room is a play area but that only makes sense if you have little kids.
posted by amro at 7:02 PM on November 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Your house sounds really cool! I hear you on the transition as in, it's a great challenge to have but a challenge nonetheless! Perhaps you could start by simply focusing on "living" in a few rooms at first, starting with the smaller ones and expanding out?

Have you painted any walls yet? Might that be a fun project and one that'd help the home feel more personalized?

I am sure that you will feel more "at home" in a few weeks, months, years, etc. BUT I'd suggest taking it slowly versus buying lots of furniture to fill it rapidly. If you see stuff you like, that's cool but, if not, it's OK to have empty rooms! How about creating a public blog or private paper-based "home journal" to record your efforts?
posted by smorgasbord at 7:07 PM on November 9, 2014

Response by poster: I promise not to threadsit and to go away - but I really am looking for ways to make rooms seem smaller, not just personalized. I'm home by myself quite a bit at night and the large open spaces creep me out.
posted by checkitnice at 7:11 PM on November 9, 2014

Room dividers can help, especially when behind a couch. Makeing areas like a reading nook or large furniture such as a big bookshelf can make the room seem smaller.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:27 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had a very large living room for a while, though not as large as yours. I did like Amro suggests and visually chunked it up by having distinct areas within the room. I also bought a couple room dividers--I had wooden ones that I got at World Market, but you can find nice three-fold ones lots of places. Get something heavy and solid, especially if you have children or pets. A halfway decent carpenter could probably build them, as well, with a wider base for added stability, if that's a concern for you.

The dividers I had were about 6' wide, so they weren't like fake walls or anything, but they provided some visual breakage in an otherwise large space, and made the enclosed spaces feel much cosier than they were.
posted by MeghanC at 7:29 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Darker paint on the walls can make it seem cozier & smaller.

Pull your furniture away from the walls & towards the center of the room.

Large-scale art (tapestries, etc.) on walls might help. Small pictures in the middle of a big wall would emphasize how big the room is; shifting the proportions might fool the eye a bit.

Use large rugs to define the space. (Maybe an 8x10 with the sofa, chairs, etc. resting their front legs on it.) This can create a room-within-a-room.
posted by belladonna at 7:29 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Distinctly defined zones with multiple focuses. You really need furniture for this: a big sofa or a table can serve as a room divider, or you can furnish corners with their own character. You can also think in terms of concentric circles: one ring of furniture around the outside to create distance from the walls (bookcases, shelving units, dressers, console tables, etc., mostly at waist height) with a walking area and then another ring of furniture towards the middle. Lots of ideas and illustrations here.

It might be worth checking Craigslist or going to the nearest furniture thrifty/charity place just to get bits that will fill the space and test out arrangements and ideas, in the knowledge that you can always sell them on or replace them with pieces that you want to spend more time with. IKEA is also not bad for "trial run" furniture that's about filling a space and performing a function.
posted by holgate at 7:31 PM on November 9, 2014

Using amro's idea, I'm wondering if you could use a few big bookcases to divide up the room. You might have to work around any ceiling lighting fixtures but you could use them the way cubicles are built.

And what about using the opposite of some of the tips to make rooms feel bigger.

#8 here says use a striped rug to elongate the room. What about a rug with really wide strips set crosswise?

#13 says use glass or lucite to avoid blocking light. So maybe the bookcases would help here.

#2 says to use light colors on the walls and floor. How about painting the walls or even one wall a dark color? I painted a (normal-sized) living room dark blue once and loved it. Our bedroom now is dark green. I'd think with a big room, you could really have an nice opportunity for using rich, dark colors.

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 7:32 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

+6 to trying to break up the space into separate areas. Bookcases, console tables, larger-height chair clusters can all work. There are also ideas on the web and Pinterest.

What fabrics do you have in there now? My living room is also really large, and laying down some big luxe overlapping rugs and thick curtains helped a lot with lessening the echo-chamber feel and creepiness. Not sure how high your ceilings are but you can also look into linen panel swags; some restaurants near us have them and they do a lot for acoustics and atmosphere.
posted by stellaluna at 7:35 PM on November 9, 2014

Divide the big space into smaller zones through the arrangement of furniture and area rugs. A tv watching area with sofa and chairs arranged for conversation. A reading area with two comfy chairs and a big ottoman with reading lamps. An office area with an elegant desk and writing materials for household administration. Zones will make the space feel smaller.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:37 PM on November 9, 2014

Seconding belladonas suggestions, plus lamps lamps lamps. Use subtle lighting to emphasize the zones in the middle and deemphasize the whole width. I feel like overly bright lights will make it feel larger, and less cozy. I think watching some period piece tv/movies could give you some ideas for tricks too, Victorian libraries maybe?
posted by pennypiper at 7:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Back-to-back rows of bookcases or low, long shelves; rugs; floor lamps that provide different light in different areas. Things that break up the sightline like asymmetrically divided shelves/tansu chests/etc. could be nice, too.

I know the feeling of rattling around in a huge room, and I don't like it either.
posted by wintersweet at 7:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding textiles (several large area rugs, curtains, cushions, etc) to damp the echoeyness, and breaking up the space into a few distinct seating areas. Maybe in one area you could have a table suitable for playing cards or whatever, then your main couch/company area, then a tv area or quiet reading nook. Ikea Expedit bookshelves are good as a room divider - they're open on front and back so you can see through them, use the upper shelves for to display nice vases or whatever (semi-see-thru), and the lower shelves as book storage.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:49 PM on November 9, 2014

We lived in a place where the bedroom was gigantic, and we divided it with folding room screens, and then I hung my scarf collection on top of them to make it seem more cozy. I left a space to walk by into the main bedroom, so it made me a little office space, really. I think the addition of scarves on top of the screens made it seem more cozy. So in using design techniques, such as pillows and throws on furniture, it really worked out for us. And using pillows and throws and cozy furniture, in addition to perhaps room screens and maybe see-through bookshelves, textiles on the walls, etc. those all might make it seem more cozy to you. Best of luck.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:08 PM on November 9, 2014

Not mentioned yet are plants - tall ones, at least four feet, fake is fine if you dust them - plants can provide similar visual separation of zones without being a WALL, and greenery warms up the space a lot.

Just the suggestion of a division helps, BTW: my bowling alley of a family room features a backless bookcase about 3 feet wide sticking out from the wall, which is plenty to make it feel like two smaller rooms even though the remaining 12 feet of room is just open.

Backless bookcases are great display/dividers, BTW. And also consider hanging things from the ceiling: partitions, curtains, beads, pretty cutwork plastic dividers, lots of things like that. Even strings of Christmas lights hanging down from the ceiling in a curtain will do the job.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have a giant room in my father's old house (now mine and my sister's house) that is a challenge like this. A few things that helped

- built in bookshelves, really deep ones, takes over a foot off of every dimension, plus you can put things on top of them
- giant furniture. Overstuffed chairs and couches. You can stick little tables behind the couches so they take up even more room. Big coffee table.
- A few moveable tables and chairs that can go in places and be smaller eating or crafting areas.
- tall plants which help block off spaces, and a few little desk-like things at various edgy parts of the room
- area carpets that block off different parts of the room in a subtle way
- LIGHTING - this is huge, a lot of area lights so part of the room can be not "in use" by basically being dark. But also have options for when you're going to use the whole room. The room I use has some lights waaaay up in the top of the vaulted ceiling if we want to whole room lit up but we don't use it that often.
- have things that fit in the parts of the room that are big. A stereo that can fill the space, a television that you can see from other parts of it. And power outlets for all the different parts so you're not in the center of the room and in the dark without your laptop because the outlets are all in the walls. One great thing about bookshelves or other furniture going into the room is that you can also use it for power conduits and places to put lights.
posted by jessamyn at 9:39 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a flat that comprises a bedroom and then a large open plan living space, which includes the kitchen area, just shy of 600 sqf openness...This space has 9ft+ ceilings, exposed concrete and very modern, industrial kitchen design. And I've managed to make it feel cosy.

Nthing what everybody is saying about visually breaking up the space into distinct sections, using rugs & wall hangings as well as lighting. Think non ceiling lighting, warm colour schemes, rich textures. Eventually think about appropriately sized furniture, but first live there for a while to work out how you really want to define the areas in the space, what you want, have and need.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:51 PM on November 9, 2014

Built-ins, wood ones.

Living areas defined with a rug. Put a console table with tall lamps behind the sofa to act as a divider.

Multiple focal points. A game table in one area, maybe conversational seating in another. Perhaps an aquarium or a neat old card catalog along one wall. Float some of the furniture away from the walls.

Large houseplants. Perhaps get a large ficus and put some little white lights on it. Or a Norfolk Island Pine.
posted by Ostara at 10:25 PM on November 9, 2014

My first thought was: why not throw in a few walls? Three rooms instead of one? It's easy for me to think this way, as I've got all the tools and I'm from a construction family, they shoved a hammer in my hand at 13 and I'm still at it, some; I'm often called upon by friends for help on this project or that one.

Say even a few partial walls -- 6 foot high, a shelf or hunk of glass on top, plants on that. Or open walls, that go floor to ceiling but pass-throughs in them, open sections with plants or shelving for books or whatever beautiful objects you'd want to display.

Do you have a friend who's a carpenter, willing to bang a few nails, throw some sheetrock in the back of his pickup then bang some nails into that, too? Throw some trim on the walls and he's outta there. When you start to reaching for some money he'll be all "Forget it, it was fun." but buy his gas and throw at least two hundred bucks at him, and send him home with a pie.

And none of this need be permanent, either, it'll have to attach one way or another but done right it could be removed easy-peasy, and no sign of it ever having been there.

I don't know your eyes, I don't know if you can "see" IE can you imagine where you'd want a wall and/or what type of wall, can you imagine what your carpenter friend can.

I don't know your budget, either. But a couple of walls, esp if you've a friend with a hammer in his hand, it might not cost too very much.

Just take a peek around, where would you put a wall, or walls, what type of wall(s). Open yourself to that. Or not -- it's your home. But it could be cool.

Have fun, instead of being lost in that big sortof spooky room have fun thinking of the room it's soon to be, turn around and stick your tongue out at the spooky, waggle your thumbs in your ears, tell it loud and proud that you're by god on the case, and change is coming pronto!

Or, you don't have to do that part maybe. But do have fun.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:28 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion to divide the room into separate areas -- even if they seem duplicative.

But the big thing to make a space cozy: use table and floor lamps rather than overhead lights.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:32 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can break it up into smaller "rooms" by putting a bunch of tall bookcases back to back to create one or more "walls."
posted by Jacqueline at 1:06 AM on November 10, 2014

You can use paint or different decorating schemes to make the room look like several different sections. Unlike someone with a small house, you can use darker colours of paint (carefully!); a darker colour on the ceiling might help make it feel lower and cosier.

Don't put the furniture along the walls. If you put your existing sofa and chairs into a little cosy grouping somewhere, with a rug in the middle and a floor lamp and a massive plant, and find a sideboard or something like that to mark the edge of the space, that's a pretty good start.

If this was my room I'd get some benches and make a hobby space for any kind of crafting or jigsaws or messy projects that nobody wants on the dining room table.
posted by emilyw at 1:07 AM on November 10, 2014

Here's a Pinterest search for "room divider" where you can see everything from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it'll give you an idea of what's out there.

Here's a few articles: 13 decorating tips to make a large room feel cozy; Cavernous into Cozy (you have to scroll past a lot of cruft); 10 Tips for a Large Living Room; WaPo Making a Large Room Cozy. "Big room cozy" or "large living room cozy" turn out to be pretty good search terms for pulling up articles about makeovers in newspapers and things. Most of these focus on suggestions people have already given you, but I always think it's helpful to see pictures since I'm not super-great at visualizing otherwise.

PS, I'm obsessed with tete-a-tete chairs, but my house isn't big enough for one, so I think you should TOTALLY use one as one of your space-defining furniture pieces between two zones so that I can feel I am living vicariously through you. (Because obviously what you need is something expensive AND impractical! But no, it'd be a great focal point/conversation piece.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:16 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Darker colors
Larger furnature
Lots of lights at different levels
Zones within the room arranged by use

Ideas for areas:

Liquor/Wine Bar
Art Gallery
Collection Display
Craft Table
Game Table
Plant nook
Cat tree-land

You get the idea. Adapt as it suits the way you want to live.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:20 AM on November 10, 2014

Does your living room have a fireplace or wood stove or something? In addition to all the good advice on how to make some distinct areas, if one of the areas has a fireplace or wood stove as a focal point it will automatically make it feel cozier. You can get some decent electric ones if you don't have something already.
posted by gudrun at 9:47 AM on November 10, 2014

I could even see a fabric canopy of some kind over your primary conversation circle - not draping down to the floor, but more of a dropped ceiling. Maybe a rug that you suspended from the center and each corner, letting it blouse down a little in between. It would give even more definition to that area and feel cozy.
posted by lakeroon at 10:16 AM on November 10, 2014

I enjoy shopping in vintage and secondhand "flea malls" where multiple vendors share one large open space, and attempt to define each of their areas from the others. I bet you could discover a lot of ideas that might work for you personally in your space without it turning into the flea museum.

Large canvases that you paint and hang are a good way to get a lot of color and visual interest without painting the walls and are movable with your moods. Usually easier to deal with than 4800 square feet of paint in a color you "used to" like.

Upscale large hotel lobbies are also good inspiration. I bet the echoing acoustics are a big part of what make you feel like you're in an airport terminal.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2014

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