How to Decorate a Living Room – Forbes Advisor

Editor’s Note: We earn a commission from affiliate links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a design novice, creating a well-designed living room that balances curated elegance and lived-in charm can be a challenge. With a little thought and a few insider tips from McAlpine interior designer Hanna Propst, there’s no reason you can’t transform your living room into a welcoming oasis.

Compare offers from top interior designers

Free, non-binding cost estimates

1. Know your space

The starting point is the space itself. If you’ve lived in your home for a while, you may already be familiar with the unique challenges and characteristics of your space. If not, take some time to measure and sketch a floor plan for your new canvas. Be sure to note window and door locations, fireplaces, and other objects that affect where you can place furniture.

2. List your needs

Once you’ve determined your dimensions, it’s time to think about what you need from your space. “First of all, I like to think about how the room should be used and how I imagine the room to be,” says Propst. Are you the fun type? Design your space for conversation with ample seating that can be moved and grouped. More of a movie and popcorn person? Find a large, comfortable couch and consider where to put your TV.

If you have children or pets, be sure to consider the durability of the new parts you choose and plan for toy storage.

3. Identify your tastes

Do you think that sleek and modern furniture feels calm or cold? Does a full bookshelf feel inhabited or cluttered? “It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re attracted to different styles,” says Propst. “As a designer, I appreciate so many different aesthetics, but of course it wouldn’t make sense to fit everything in one room.” Consider your lifestyle and the aesthetic that would also work best for your space.

Old Hollywood glamor or Scandinavian minimalism might look pretty in a magazine, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right style for you. If you’re still having trouble, Propst recommends looking at the pictures or rooms you keep coming back to. “It’s helpful to think about the things you find timeless – what do you keep coming back to? What environments make you feel the way you want your space to feel?”

4. Plan your color palette

While many different aesthetics gravitate toward specific color palettes, it’s still important to think about which colors best suit your home. It can be helpful to look at trends you’re already seeing in your space. Do you stick with neutral tones, or do you prefer a more moody, saturated palette? Is there a specific accent color that pops up frequently in your space?

“If there’s a specific piece of vintage furniture or rug… that I really love or want to incorporate, I can use that as a basis for the color scheme and let it influence the other aspects of the room,” says Propst. Keep the other materials in your space in mind as they also add to the overall palette. Try to keep your wood tones consistent for a cohesive look, and add cooler tones like grays, blues, and greens for a little visual contrast to warmer spaces.

5. Set your budget

It might seem like a no-brainer, but knowing upfront how much you’re willing to spend will save you a headache later. When it comes to design, budgets are all about priorities. To set a realistic budget, it’s crucial to understand what parts you’re willing to spend money on, what you need now, and what you can fill in later.

Rugs and lighting can be as expensive as larger pieces, so do a little research at some of your favorite stores to get a realistic cost of decorating to your liking. If you plan to include custom millwork, furniture, or upholstery, get quotes early so you know where you may need to cut corners. Last but not least, always add a little cushion to the budget in case you fall in love with a special or unique piece along the way. You never know where design inspiration will hit you.

6. Find your big pieces first

Once you’ve done all your homework, you can start shopping. Start with your focus pieces that anchor the space. “A good sofa is a good starting point for investing in living room furniture,” says Propst. “I’m always looking for timeless lines and a neutral fabric or leather so that no matter how your style evolves, it makes sense in the space.”

Other focal points could be a beautiful antique rug, an heirloom chair you’d like to display, or even a wall of shelves to highlight your collection of Penguin classics. No matter what you center your space around, starting with the larger elements will help you focus the design over time.

7. Fill in the blanks

Once you’ve determined your priorities, it’s time to refine your design. Filling in the gaps can be satisfying, like putting the last pieces of a puzzle together, but it can also be overwhelming. These are the pieces that are often overlooked and can really take your space to the next level. According to Propst, the most important element is the lighting.

“When I walk into people’s living rooms, the lighting often seems secondary,” says Propst. “That said, it’s arguably the most important aspect of the design. Choosing the right type and number of fixtures, color temperature and intensity has a dramatic effect on the mood, usability and aesthetics of a space.”

A few designer tricks is to focus on uplighting your ceiling to create a nice, even glow instead of downlights. Keep your LED lights at a warmer color temperature to create that cozy feeling (about 2700K and no more than 3000K for a living space). Well-placed wall sconces or artfully hung pendant lights can make for interesting accent lighting, so don’t be afraid to look beyond the standard table and floor lamps.

8. Personalize your finishing touches

Finally, let your personality shine through your space. Even a clean, minimalist space can feel cozy and inviting when it has that personal touch. Bring your favorite candles, a stack of beloved books, or put some artwork on the wall or lean against a piece of furniture. Venture out into the world and look for eclectic pieces that showcase your interests.

Propst’s favorite place to look? “I’m a big antiques fan, so I do this whenever I can browse a vintage or antique shop, especially when I’m travelling,” she says. “Sometimes the messier a store is, the better – that’s when you find those hidden gems!” When in doubt, add more plants, which always warm up a space and give it a lived-in feel. Accessories are a great way to turn a well-designed space into a place that’s all yours.

Regardless of your space, budget or style, anyone can turn their living room into a retreat.

Compare offers from top interior designers

Free, non-binding cost estimates

Leave a Comment