The living room is tiny -- nothing grand or imposing about it. But it's a high-traffic, multi-function space that should advertise your excellent taste and clever furniture-arranging skills. So decide what will fit and where to put it before you start shoehorning in the massive couch and inherited antiques from your old space. Where you put the furniture, and what you surround it with, determines how well that small living room works.
No rule says that every living room must have a sofa. Skip that step and free up a lot of space in the living room, without sacrificing seating. Cluster individual chairs -- matching club chairs, a reclining lounger and footstool angled into a corner, upholstered ottomans or leather-covered poufs that double as tables with a tray or seating without -- around a pair of clear acrylic end tables, pushed together to form a coffee table. Under the conversation grouping, a decor-friendly carpet -- faded oriental, dhurrie, abstract modern, spare sisal -- pulls the space together. Floor lamps with curved tubing allow you to reposition them at will, as they don't require a table base and can work as reading lamps or for ambient lighting.
Your open plan space is not so open; it's really a small awkward "L." Whether the kitchen flows into the dining room and the living room gets the short side of the "L," or the narrow living room empties into a truncated dining room, you have a balancing challenge. Define the conversation area with a large carpet, organizing your main seating wholly or partly on the carpet and creating a sense of intimacy by positioning two chairs to face a sofa or loveseat. Designate leftover corners for storage and display cabinets, a quiet reading nook or a music corner. Install a translucent divider between the living and dining areas -- a "curtain" of clear plastic shapes strung on invisible wire or a latticework screen. Use an accent wall in the dining room to set it apart, leaving the expanse of living room walls unbroken.
Control the eye with color in a small living room. That doesn't mean everything has to be white. Consider a rich aubergine grass cloth on walls framed by glossy white trim, under a white ceiling. Keep the focus on high-gloss white for the window frame, shade, under-window radiator, and window seat, creating a light oasis in the room. Ceiling-to-floor raw silk drapes the same color as the grass cloth are elegant and erase the boundaries between wrap-around grass cloth and the window break and corners, softly expanding the room. Now you can add a pale, muted carpet over hardwood floors and some definitive color to furnishings. A camel-colored couch positioned a few inches from one wall complements the rich color. An aubergine chair angled next to the couch blends in, but cinnabar accents in a few throw pillows, and a single piece of wall-hung art reflecting those colors enlivens the space without a hint of visual clutter.
Older buildings often feature apartments with modest square footage and high ceilings. You can't increase the floor space, but you can fool the eye into seeing "expansive" rather than "cramped." Build or assemble a wall system that covers one wall floor-to-ceiling. Alternate closed cupboards with open shelves for books, art and even the TV. Fill an odd corner near a room entrance with a tall antique cabinet that provides clutter-busting storage and set an armless chair in front of it. Hang the drapes at ceiling height and let them pool on the floor behind a pair of upholstered ottomans. The seating shifts around according to need. Cover a wall behind a daybed with a framed collection of art or photographs. Use wall space with the same care as floor space to open up your room and maximize every inch.