How to Decorate a Living Room, According to Designers
Living Room

How to Decorate a Living Room, According to Designers

Decorating a living room, which is easily one of the most utilized spaces in your home, sometimes presents a bit of a challenge. That’s true whether you are starting from scratch, doing some light designing, or planning a renovation. That said, the effort is well worth the reward: A curated, intentional living room that elevates the overall aesthetic of your home. To help with this endeavor, we tapped several interior designers, who were happy to share their best advice on how to decorate a living room.

Tessa Neustadt

Create a Game Plan

It’s important to start with a thoughtful plan and view your space with fresh eyes, says interior designer Kelsey Haywood, the founder of Haywoodmade Interiors. This even means completely moving all existing furniture out of the room so you can see its potential. “Once the room is empty, put some painter’s tape down on the ground to play with dimensions and layout,” she says. “You will be surprised by what a difference this step makes.”

Determine Your Budget

You can’t execute your living room design vision without first determining your budget, says Haywood. “Identify where you want to save and where you want to splurge,” she says, noting that it’s equally important to take stock of what you already have to limit excess spending. Step outside the living room and comb through your home, mining your house for items that might feel lackluster or forgotten that can be repurposed in your living room instead.

Thomas Richter of The White Arrow

Design With Your Family in Mind

Naturally, a living room should reflect the people doing the living. “Add personal touches that reflect the personality of you and your family,” says Laura Chappetto Flynn, an interior designer and founder of Element Design Network. “Add artwork, install drapery, and layer decor. And remember: this room should be cozy. This is where you curl up and watch a movie or share a glass of wine and a good conversation at the end of a long week.”

Start With a Big Piece

“You really can start with any piece, be it something you have and love or something you’ve been coveting and are ready to purchase,” says Michelle Gage, the founder and CEO of Michelle Gage Interior Design. “For ease, it’s helpful to start with a large one—like a sofa. That lays the foundation and helps to inform the furniture layout.”

You also should consider the color and material of the sofa’s fabric. “Use these elements as a jumping-off point on where to go next!” Gage says. It is also helpful, notes Haywood, to determine which retailers you feel drawn to—something you will likely discover early on, especially when you shop for high-ticket items.

Always Measure

Whatever your aesthetic and however you ultimately decide to design and arrange your living room, there is one step you should never skip, say our experts. “Be sure to measure your space before purchasing the large stuff, like a sofa or a rug. Those are two pricier items that are difficult to re-home if ordered incorrectly,” says Gage.

John Merkl

Layer Your Decor

Chappetto Flynn says that one of the biggest mistakes she sees people make is not emphasizing decor. “It is rare I see someone really screw up their layout. Where people go wrong is they fall short on the decor front,” she says. “Decor is where you can really show your personality and transform a room from one that is boring to one that has tons of visual interest. What’s the secret? Layer, layer, layer.”

Don’t Forget Fresh Greenery

Incorporating real houseplants is a quick way to liven up a living room. “Head to your local nursery and get a unique plant,” Chappetto Flynn says. “Plants tend to fix everything. And don’t be afraid to go bigger than you may initially think. It’s surprising how plants really can make a great statement in your living room.”

Choose the Best Rug Size

If you’re starting with the sofa, choose the rug next, says Gage. “Make sure you measure the room and order the proper size,” she says, noting to also consider the general wear of the room when choosing the right type of rug for your space. “For most people, their living room is a high-traffic area, housing children, pets, and guests. Wool is going to be a durable option for that reason.”

And when it’s time to consider the rug’s color, think back to your couch selection. “If you chose a bright sofa, perhaps you want a neutral rug with some pattern. If you picked a gray linen sectional, opt for a rug that will add a pop of color to your space,” Gage says.

William Abranowicz

Purchase Multifunctional Pieces

Stock up on stylish-meets-utilitarian pieces that serve multiple purposes, says Haywood. “Upholstered coffee tables can work as an ottoman. A sofa sleeper allows the space to double as a guest room when necessary,” she says. “When you’re purchasing investment pieces, it’s good to get all of the use out of them that you can!”

Define Your Layout

From there, the recipe is simple: Determine the center of the space. “Place your rug, then your sofa and coffee table. Create balance with one or two side chairs,” Haywood says, noting that she’s also fond of adding swivel seats with a side table in between. “It instantly adds function and a bit of fun. Work in ambient lighting on the floor or a side table next to the sofa, a basket for rolled throws, and voila!”

William Abranowicz

Get Creative With Art, Objects, and Technology

“Of all of the rooms in your home, this commonly used space should reflect you the most,” says Gage. “Be sure to show off your style and flair in fun ways. This doesn’t mean you need to line your walls with family photos—it can simply mean that the art displayed is from international travels or a favorite local artist.” She’s partial to paper mâché busts, which can be installed on the wall for an artful, three-dimensional moment, or window treatments, like drapes, to help define the room.

Position Your Television

If you have a television in your home, you will want to choose the right size for the space and position it a certain distance from your couch, says Hy Haddad, the owner of HDH Tech Corp, a New York-based automation company. “The equation the professionals use is to take the distance from the screen to the best seat in the house in inches, then divide that by three,” he says, which will give you the optimal screen height. “So, at 10 feet, that’s 40 inches.”

Design Flat Surfaces

As for how to decorate your flat surfaces, from bookshelves and consoles to coffee tables? Treat the former two as treasure troves, says Haywood, who likes to line shelving with trinkets and objects she collects over time (they should be in a constant state of evolution, she adds) and balance out consoles with a pair of table lamps or houseplants. And for the latter, “coffee table books, a candle, and a brass vintage object always finish off this surface nicely!” Gage says.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Create some basic parameters by coming up with a budget and color scheme. From there, pick one or two large pieces that fit the scale of your space and then build your living room around those items. Make sure to keep your family top of mind as you decorate, and remember to layer smaller pieces of decor—like lamps, objects, rugs, and plants—to create dimension.

  • This popular decorating strategy refers to choosing the best color scheme for a room. The goal is to fill 60 percent of the space with a dominant color, and then 30 percent with a secondary color. Dedicate the final 10 percent toward an accent shade.

  • “Sometimes the hunt is the most fun part of the design process, and being on a budget forces you to hunt so enjoy the journey,” says Chappetto Flynn. She recommends checking out local antique shops, thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets to find truly unique pieces. Keep an eye out for gently used items you can install right away, or lightly refinish or reupholster.