Whether you’re working on a new space or craving a fresh look for your existing living room, the end goal is the same: you want an enticing feel, functional pieces, and a look that truly reflects your style. It’s a tall order, but we’ve taken tips from the pros to help you create a living room that will do all three – without doing damage to your budget.
Scale for the space
No idea where to start? If you’re like us, this isn’t going to be a complete overhaul. You’re probably going to be working with some existing pieces of furniture. The very first thing to do is take stock of the space you’re working with and the pieces you already own: given the size of the living room, will you need more seating, storage, tables, or lighting? Put those items on your shopping list.
It’s okay to keep it generic for now; you don’t need to decide on table lamps versus torchieres, for example. But if you’re working with a small space, you’ll need to narrow your search down – literally – to furniture pieces with smaller footprints. You may even want to seek out multi-tasking specimens: a shelved end table for additional storage, or an ottoman coffee table that can double as extra seating.
Next, look at the bones of the room. Will the television need to go in a specific spot due to the cable hookup or outlets? Which walls will accommodate your sofa without blocking foot traffic? Is there a window with a particularly nice view that you want to showcase? Settle the big questions first. Where will the sofa and TV go? Everything else will flow from here.
Work with what you’ve got
Whether you’ve inherited hand-me-downs or have already purchased some of your big-ticket items, you’ll need to integrate your new pieces with the existing ones. But be warned: one of the biggest mistakes rookie designers make is going too matchy-matchy. It’s okay to have pieces in different styles and finishes, as long as the overall look is cohesive.
Designers achieve that curated-over-time but coordinated look by controlling the variables – style family, finish, and materials. For instance, if your existing coffee table is a French-inspired deep-toned wood, don’t opt for metal industrial end tables. Choose a unifying theme.
Keep accent pieces in the French wood family, but give the green light to a different finish – distressed white paint, for example. By changing only one or two variables, you’ll build a unique but cohesive look. Pro tip: take photos of the living room furniture you own before you go on a shopping trip. You can refer to them while you’re eyeing potential new pieces.
Accessorize for color and texture
Once you’re happy with your furniture choices and arrangement, it’s time to really personalize your living room. You’ll be adding pops of color and texture to create a richly layered look. One of the best tips we found? Raid your other rooms (and even your yard) for pieces that fit in with your space – books, pillows, throw blankets, candles – all these will give depth and dimension to your living room.
For example, you can easily create a vignette on a shelf with a few books (stack some and lean others vertically against them), a natural item like a shell or large pinecone, and a pillar candle in a sleek metallic holder. The pros swear by the rule of three or five – arrange your accent items in odd numbers (and try to gather them in a range of heights, widths, and shapes).
Texture and color work hand-in-hand to add interest to furnishings, window treatments, and accessories. Choose a nubby, cozy throw blanket to contrast with your smooth microfiber sofa, for example, or offset the soft gleam of a wood floor with a chunky hemp area rug. And don’t hesitate to pull in color, even (especially!) if your major pieces and walls are neutrally hued.
If you can’t paint, then the color is especially vital. Consider window treatments and rugs as your chance to “paint” the room with large-scale color. Stay in a color family or explore the spectrum. If you’re unsure, choose similar levels of intensity. Mix your pastels with a few pops of mid-toned shades, or blend jewel tones with more dramatic hues.
Wall art, like furniture, should be proportionate to the size of the room and to the specific wall you’ll be displaying it on. A small mirror will be lost on the large expanse of a bare wall – save it for a narrow spot between doorways. You can also boost the impact of smaller wall art pieces by gathering them in (you guessed it!) groups of three or five.
Look online for templates that show how best to arrange your photos or illustrations. It’s more of a science than you might have guessed. We also looked for pro guidance on how high to hang wall art. Height makes a big difference, and you’ll want to get it right the first time, especially if you’re renting—the fewer experimental holes in your walls, the better.
The last tip we gleaned from interior experts? After you’ve arranged and decorated, see if the setup truly works for you. You may want to rearrange furniture, add or subtract lighting, or clear off a tabletop to make more room for phones, coffee mugs, and remote controls. After all, it’s a room meant for living!