Interior Design for Living Rooms

Michelle Radcliff
Color-Coordinated Living Room

Your living room can be formal, or it can be the place where you spend the majority of your time at home. Regardless of which version yours falls into, remember to consider the function as well as the comfort of your space as you design it.

Living Room Basics

Formal Living Room

A living room can be a formal space for receiving visitors, a casual space for your family to gather or a combination of both formal and informal uses.

Formal Living Rooms

Formal living rooms are usually situated near the front of a home for receiving guests. A typical arrangement would include a sofa and two armchairs, or a sofa and loveseat combination. The formal living area can also double as a library for your home with the addition of bookcases to display favorite books and accessories.

Informal Living Rooms

Informal Living Room

If a home has a formal living area, there is usually a secondary, more casual space for the family to use on a daily basis. These informal living rooms feature a more relaxed seating arrangement which typically includes a television for the family to enjoy together. The furniture involved is similar to the formal living room, but features more casual fabrics, along with sectional sofas, chaise lounges and ottomans. This more comfortable furniture allows family and guests to kick back and relax.

A Single Living Room

Small Living Room Flowing into Dining Area

Many homes feature only one living room that doubles as a formal and informal space. In this situation, it is a good idea to have a room that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. For example, a casual slipcover can cover your sofa on most days, but it can be removed to show off a designer fabric when guests are expected.

Even when you're designing for a small space, you can create an inviting living area for your family and friends. Small homes, lofts or apartments tend to have combination rooms where a small living area flows directly into a dining or office area. Due to their close proximity, the overall look and feel of these spaces should complement each other. You can use lighting, color or textures to either unite or distinguish each room.

Living Rooms Essentials

Must-haves for your living room include a number of elements.

Seating

Living Room Filled with Essential Design Elements

Furniture that is upholstered with fabric or leather is the most comfortable, but mixing in some non-upholstered furniture, such as a wooden armchair or rocking chair, will create a more eclectic room.

Seating can include:

  • A sofa or sectional sofa
  • A loveseat, chaise lounge, settee, or chair-and-a-half to balance with the sofa
  • Armchairs made from wood or upholstered in fabric or leather
  • Ottomans and benches used as seating, foot rests, or coffee tables

Tables

All seats should have arm-length access to a table surface for drinks, books, magazines, remotes, etc. Also, tables are a foundation for lamps and accessories.

Types to consider:

  • Coffee table or ottoman with a tray
  • Side tables or end tables
  • Consoles or sofa tables
Chairside Table Lamp

Lighting

  • Task lamps for proper reading light in the room
  • Ambient or general room lighting, ideally on a dimmer to go from low-level to bright as needed

Window Treatments

Window treatments should be in keeping with the theme or style of your living room furniture, and hard and soft window treatments can be used alone or in combination with each other. Many custom fabric draperies feature fabric that complements the upholstered pieces in the room.

Hard window treatments include:

  • Blinds
  • Shutters
  • Screens
  • Specialty glass applications

Soft window treatments include:

  • Draperies
  • Curtains
  • Shades
  • Valances

Color and Texture

The basics of color design include choosing monochromatic, analogous or complementary color palettes. Add color and texture to your living room with:

  • Wall treatments such as paint, wallpaper and faux finishes
  • Throw blankets and pillows
  • Accent rugs
  • Accessories and artwork
  • Window treatments

Focal Points

Every living room needs a strong focal point. However, it's not uncommon to have more than one focal point, especially in large living rooms or great rooms.

Fireplace Focal Point

Fireplaces

Many living rooms feature a fireplace as a built-in focal point of the room. However, this architectural feature is often ignored with poor furniture placement or by placing large items in front of the fireplace. If you have a fireplace, arrange your furniture with this focal point in mind. Placing your sofa or largest furniture piece so that it faces the fireplace is a traditional classic.

Entertainment Centers

Most living rooms are comfortable spaces for family members to gather and watch their favorite television programs. Options for supporting and housing the television range for simple carts to elaborate armoires and wall units with bookcases attached. As with any focal point, your furniture arrangement should focus around this entertainment center.

Spectacular View

If you're lucky enough to have an incredible view from your living room windows, such as a cityscape or woodland area, you should consider using that view as a focal point of the room. In order to achieve that, the living room needs large windows, preferably floor to ceiling length. If privacy is not an issue, the windows can be left bare so the view is always on display.

Conversation Areas

L-Shaped Furniture Arrangement

Stimulating social interaction and conversation is vital for family members and visitors alike. Therefore, creating a comfortable conversation area is probably the most important element to consider in your living room design. This is easily accomplished by placing pieces of furniture near each other instead of having large distances between them.

Typical placement ideas include an arrangement of sofa and chairs in a U-shape, L-shape, or a face-to-face arrangement with two sofas.. Long, rectangular living rooms with more than one focal point may require separate conversation areas.

Create a Floor Plan from Scratch

U-shaped Furniture Arrangement

So where do you begin when designing a living room? The best place to start is with a floor plan. A floor plan will allow you to visualize the room before the furnishings are actually placed. It will also show you how much available space there is in relation to the furniture you plan to include. This will help you decide where the best placement is and whether you have too much furniture or perhaps not enough.

You can find free designing software online. Use one of these programs or buy some designing software to create a virtual floor plan of your living room.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Follow these steps to form a proper floor plan.

  1. Measure the living room. Make a rough sketch of the walls (as if looking down from above) and fill in the length of each wall.
  2. Go back to a corner and measure the distance from that corner to the first doorway or architectural feature like a fireplace or stairway. Record that measurement in the appropriate space on the rough sketch.
  3. Continue around the room, and record measurements between doorways, windows and special features. Include the length of each wall opening, doorway and window.
  4. Note the location of doorways, windows and electrical outlets on your sketch.
  5. Measure the length and width of any furniture you have that will be used in the living room.
  6. Take your rough sketch and measurements to the computer. Log in or create an account to use the free design software you chose.
  7. Create a room using the measurements from your living room sketch. Most programs allow you to upload your own room photos.
  8. Add the furniture you plan to include. Some programs, such as Autodesk Homestyler, use real products that you can purchase.
  9. Play with different furniture arrangement ideas. Create a conversation area around a focal point. Try U-shapes, L-shapes, face to face groupings and other arrangement ideas.
  10. Make sure your placement ideas don't interfere with natural traffic flow between rooms or with the function of other furniture.
  11. Fill in empty space with accessories. Change the flooring and wall color to see how it affects the other decor. Some changes need to be made while viewing in 3D. Don't forget to use this option to really see how it will all work.
  12. Save your ideas and print them out so you can refer back to them.
  13. Take the plan you ultimately decide on with you when shopping for furniture and accessories. Share it with the salespeople who can help you bring your vision to life.

Tying It All Together

Keep a unified look throughout the living room with decor that has similar shapes or colors. Repeating colors, forms and patterns throughout different rooms will create a unified look throughout the entire home.

Interior Design for Living Rooms