It’s where you sit, relax, entertain, catch up, hang out — you know, live. Whether you’re crashing on the couch after a long day or chatting with friends over cocktails, the living room is the center of your home and the place to be. And of all the rooms in your new house, living rooms can be the most fun to decorate. “You can [experiment] with scale, textures, patterns and colors,” says Alice Chiu, a San Francisco interior designer and owner of Miss Alice Designs.
But the living room is also the first place your guests see, so it needs to be comfortable and inviting, whether for tête-à-têtes with your BFFs or weekend movie marathons.
No pressure on decorating it, though. Take your time perfecting the space through these three stages.
Stage 1: Build Out the Basics
Start by getting the room’s essential elements in place.
Start with the primary necessity: a sofa. The couch’s main role is a place to sit, but it’s also a hefty piece of furniture that will help define the room’s style—a sleek leather sofa sends a more modern message than a quilted floral one. Be sure there’s enough seating for the whole family plus a few guests; introduce a loveseat, recliner or club chairs if the couch alone isn’t enough.
Have a small space? You’re not limited to elf-sized furniture. “Don’t be afraid of larger pieces,” says Jeff Fiorito, a Northern California interior designer. “A complete sectional may be a better use of the floor space.”
Then, add a coffee table (one with a shelf or built-in storage keeps magazines and remotes organized!), and an end table or two. If your TV is mounted on the wall, you’ll need a small credenza to house your cable box and other electronics; if not, you’ll need a sturdy TV stand. Your coffee table, TV stand and end tables don’t have to match, but it’s smart to purchase them at the same time to be sure they look cohesive.
Play around with the pieces before settling on a layout. “Arrange furnishings in a way that allows for intimate conversations,” says Choo. And don’t let your couch become a wallflower: “Pull furniture away from walls and float pieces in arrangements,” Fiorito says. “Play with composition.”
Stage 2: Add Embellishments
Layer in a little something extra.
The living room’s lighting has to be flexible — after all, you’ll want it bright as can be for game night, and nice and dim for Netflix marathons. So think of lighting in layers: You probably already have overhead lighting, but layer in lamps for reading and ambient light. “Switch out your table lamps for ones that have a pattern or a pop of color,” suggests Fiorito. “And make sure lighting can be dimmed when you need a softer mood or for movie watching.”
Then, add in additional furniture that further defines the room’s purpose and adds a bit of height; the tallest thing in the room shouldn’t be the couch. If you have collectibles to display, purchase a curio cabinet to show them off; if your book hoard is reaching library status, bring in a tall bookshelf.
Draw the eye up even further (and keep a glare off the TV!) with window treatments that fit the room’s style. Think in layers: For large or floor-to-ceiling windows, consider a combination of sheer and heavier drapes; for smaller windows, a Roman shade and valance combo makes for simple style.
Stage 3: Give It the Wow Factor
Load the living room with items that take it to the next level.
Invest in a beautiful, well-made area rug. A large rug or two not only adds a layer of texture and pattern into your design, but it anchors furniture and defines smaller seating areas within larger rooms, Fiorito says.
Then, turn your attention to the walls. If the space is small, consider hanging an oversize wall mirror; it’ll trick the eye and make the room feel more spacious. “Turn a wall into a gallery with framed photographic prints and/or canvas paintings,” Chiu says. “[Or] hang floating shelves and display your collectibles, kids’ artwork, travel souvenirs and books.”
Not all of the décor has to be framed: Use an oversized wall clock as a decorative element, or position a clock in a focal point, like a mantel. Candles or a centerpiece bowl add style to a coffee table. Chiu suggests accessorizing with plants, vases and small sculptures, and crowning furniture with accent pillows or throws in bold, colorful designs that be swapped out as your tastes change.
Of course, the living room needn’t be all practical: Bring in an element (or two) of luxury. “Replace the hanging light fixture with a trendy chandelier,” suggests Chiu, or hang a textured or patterned wallpaper to add richness. Even little luxuries — a cashmere blanket, a sweet-smelling candle — go a long way.