A Guide to Living Room Furniture & Decor

The living room is the place where you live. You spend a majority of your waking hours here (or at least it's a close race between here and the kitchen). You want this space to look great but you also want it to bring your family together and feel like you can relax. In this guide, we are going to address how to find the right balance through furniture placement and decor choices so that you can live the life you want to be living in your living room. 

Formal vs. Haphazard

There is a spectrum of design approaches, from formal to haphazard. When things are too formal, the living room looks great, but it's rarely comfortable and you don't end up using the space how you want to - if at all. But when things are too haphazard, you're using the space for everything - none of it well - and it looks like a disaster that you just can't control.

Family Room vs Living Room vs Front Room

Before we talk about where to place your furniture, let's talk about the functionality of the living room compared t other living spaces. Many families have one room with sofas and chairs with a TV and a few other things, while others have several rooms that could be used for the same purpose. Let's talk about the differences between the family room and the living room first. 

Family room

Contemporary basement by Bloomington interior designers & decorators, Susan Yeley Interiors

Contemporary basement by Bloomington interior designers & decorators, Susan Yeley Interiors

The family room, as the title suggests, is a place for family to be together. This is the least formal of all of the common rooms. The family room is often in a finished basement or in the living space furthest from the front entrance or not attached to the kitchen.

Family rooms frequently have larger pieces of furniture like an "L" shaped sectional and a greater focus is allowed to be on the television. Family rooms are a great place to cozy up together and watch a movie together. Because it's more hidden, if the family rooms doubles as a game room or has the elliptical trainer off to the side, it's not as big of a deal. The only guests that typically come down to the family room are the neighborhood kids and they would be just as happy if the basement were unfinished down to the studs.  

Living Room

Midcentury living room by Bloomington interior designers & Decorators, Susan Yeley Interiors

Midcentury living room by Bloomington interior designers & Decorators, Susan Yeley Interiors

The living room, on the other hand, is typically in the middle of the home, closest to or even attached to the kitchen. You might have a television here, but it won't be the central focus of the room.

You'll give preference to seating facing each other as if the seats themselves were having a conversation. You'll have a few chairs and a couch that are all easily movable to accommodate different numbers of people. In a living room, give preference to multiple chairs over sofas, but each seat must be comfortable.

A coffee table or an ottoman can be chosen interchangeably. A built-in cabinet or console will be great for both style and functionality, holding some of the cozying things like blankets or games.

Remember, the living room is supposed to be a little more versatile, so if you have the space to put in a bookcase, make sure to have a reading chair nearby with a floor lamp whose shade is just below eye level. Having movable chairs lets us turn our attention to each other or to the TV if we decided to watch a show. This is a little different than the front room where formalities are a little more rigid. 

Front Room

The front room is the living space nearest the entrance and serves as a place to receive temporary guests. It should still be comfortable and homey, but focused around conversation only, with a small group of people. If you entertain often, the front room is a great place for a smaller group to break off from the larger group to have an isolated conversation. There should be no television here. Instead, fill your walls with art and bookshelves. Give preference to upright chairs, a formal but modest sized couch or sofa, and a coffee table.  Front rooms look best when naturally lit, so open up those windows!

Laying Out Your Living Room: Conversation is King

We can’t tell you specifically where to place your furniture because of the variation of floor plans, sizes, window placement, and furniture styles. But as you choose your layout, let this be your guide post: conversation is king. Conversation is how we deepen relationships and know each other, so you want it to feel natural and easy.

Being glued to handheld electronics is a battle on its own but having all of the furniture pointed toward the television is showing you where your focus is. I'm not demonizing either of those things because I love them both, but if you don't set clear boundaries in your home for use, you'll be disappointed by the state of your family relationships when everyone has left the house. 

The Couch

If you're starting over in a new living room, start with a great couch. If you are going to splurge anywhere in your living room, it has to be the couch. Cheap couches aren't going to stand up to time very well, neither in longevity or style. With the couch, if you buy cheap, you buy twice. A sturdy, durable couch will last forever and it'll have a sense of timelessness as you switch out your decor throughout the years.

There are a number of different styles of couch. While the lower profile "L" shape is very popular right now, don't be afraid of a good old fashion Chesterfield. Be different. For upholstery and color, chenille and osnaburg is really current and gives nice texture to the piece.

Plain colors are always classic and a neutral couch color will add to its longevity. If you are thinking gray, consider a gray with a tinge of warmth to it. Going too gray, too tan, too white, or too dark may backfire down the road. Patterns are great as well but you may consider bringing patterns in through throw pillows and blankets instead so they can be easily traded out in a couple of years. 

Seating

Next, start to look at your other seating options. I like at least one big comfy papa bear chair. You've got to have maximum comfort in the living room. Before we get it twisted, comfort doesn't mean big plushy ugly. It just means that you've got to do some serious digging to find both comfort and style. Do some test sits. You've got to test sit. Papa bear chairs are really nice for reading and relaxing. Put a floor lamp on one side of the chair and a small end table on the other side. A table lamp would also be fine. Make sure that the lamp shade is low enough so that it's just below eye level. You don't want to shower yourself in light, you just want it to fall on the text and illuminate what you're reading.

For your other seating options, you can pick another small floating sofa, if you have the space, to have sitting across from the other couch with a cocoa table in between (I'm not a coffee drinker so I call it a cocoa table). I would avoid matching sets if possible because they tend to rope you in to a close-minded decorating scheme. Another option for smaller spaces is to line up the second sofa adjacent to the main couch. However, double chairs might be a better option. Matching chairs are great because they can be easily rearranged. You can turn them more inward for conversation or if its movie time, direct them toward the flat screen. Also, chairs can give you the same amount of seating without being as stuffy. Chairs also create negative space and typically need space behind them which gives your living room the illusion of looking bigger. For these chairs, be a little more daring on the fabric choice if you'd like. Patterns are great for chairs.

Tables

Cocoa tables are a double edged sword. On one hand, its nice to have something to put your cocoa on. They can be decorated with coasters and a floral arrangements. On the other hand, they can take up a lot of space and make the room feel stuffed. They are also a lightning rod for clutter.

Ottomans are a really great alternative to tables because they are lower profile and easily moved around. Many of them have storage for extra throw blankets which tend to come out every night regardless of the thermostat.

As for the shape of the table, rounded or rectangle are the basic options. Oblong shapes can make a statement but with much of decorating you want to pick your pizzazz. Rounded tables are more suitable for square rooms with even furniture distribution, while rectangular tables are more fitting for rectangular rooms. Don't have more than two end tables - they can be on both sides of one couch but not on both sides of both couches. Be ultra conscious about space with tables; when in doubt, strike it out.

Television and Electronics

I am not a TV hater, I am a TV lover. I think TV is great. Have all the TVs you want. But don't go crazy. Pick a flat screen that is an appropriate size for your living room. This is again relative. However, if it is bigger than a 45" class flat screen, mount it to the wall.

(If you somehow still have a tube television or anything of considerable girth, it is not for your home. Let it go, let it go.) 

Put a nice, low-profile unit underneath that does a decent job of hiding cords. Leave enough space between the top of the unit and the bottom of the TV to put pictures of family and other decor on top of the unit. You can add a stereo, Blu-Ray, or Apple TV but leave the movie collection and the video game system for the family room.

Many designers get frustrated by the "big black box" that the flat screen becomes when it's turned off. It's not that big of a deal. If you have guests you can put on an artful Blu-Ray without the volume on. The new Apple TV has these wonderful city scape videos that play in standby mode that are really beautiful.

Out of sheer ease of access, you might have an extension cord with a couple of chargers plugged into it sprout from somewhere near the couch. If I told you not to do it, you might change for a little while and then you'd end up plugging it back in. Besides that, I'd be a hypocrite. An option for you to clean it up is put a small clip on the underside of an end table so that the cord is at least off the floor. Some end tables or even couches have outlets built in.

Lighting

Overhead lighting in a living room is pretty obtrusive; it tends to flood the room unnecessarily, killing all good vibes. Living rooms should be lit by lamps evenly placed. Lights are best placed in corners because the light reflects off of two walls. Lamps with soft white bulbs produce the best color representation for your color scheme. It isn't necessary to buy multiples of the same lamp base. Matching lampshades are fine, but lamps should be unique pieces of decor. This was well understood in Mid-Century Modern decor and absolutely made a complete mockery of in the 90's and early 2000's. Curse you brass and glass, curse you.

You can also light a candle in front of a mirror and the light from the candle will bounce off of the mirror, reflecting onto the ceiling to maximize the candle's reach.

Flooring

Hardwood or carpet is acceptable in the living room. I personally like carpet because I like being able to sit on the floor or kneel down without feeling like I'm expediting the need for a knee surgery. When picking a carpet, the more neutral the better especially if you ever decide to sell. Neutral carpeting will give you more flexibility in other decorating color choices. Avoid bright and bold colors as well as overly dark colors. 

If you decide on wood flooring - which is always aesthetically pleasing - you'll need a big area rug to help keep the place warm in the winter and to bridge together your furniture pieces. Hardwood color is a personal choice, but overall lighting conditions should be taken into account. If you have a lot of natural day light coming in and your ceilings are high, a darker wood will look great. But if your living room doesn't get a lot of light, a dark wood can make the room feel dreary and cramped. The style and color is completely up to you, but again, pick your pizzazz. A unique and vibrant rug can really work but it may cause other elements in the room to be subdued out of necessity. The nice thing is that area rugs can be replaced easier than carpeting if you do decide to go with something with a little more trendy.

Art & Decor

The art you choose must be the most personal part of your living room. Art is a reflection of who you are because the presumption is that when you chose a piece of art that it somehow spoke to you and provoked you. I'm not talking about "deep" pretense. I'm talking about a feeling that made you say, this is the one. My personal feeling is that until you find that work of art that truly moves you, use a mirror or a large clock to fill your walls instead.

Color

Of the many things that can be said of color, this is what I will say about color in the living room. This space is so often the connecting room to all other rooms. Whether the kitchen is adjacent, the entrance pouring into it or the hallway flowing to it. If the hallway is a river, the living room is your lake and every other room is a nearby pond.

The connection it has to all of these other rooms makes the living room the best place to cleanse your color palette. You might choose yet another neutral color for the walls; this will give you permission to experiment in the nearby "ponds". Save your fun colors for rooms that you don't spend as much time in. Reserve the calming and relaxing colors for the living room.

Americans typically gravitate toward blues and greens, the colors most often found in our ancestral habitat. These colors make us feel safe and secure. A clear blue sky day and green grass signify life and a safe environment. Grays are also a popular trend because of the versatility they offer for other color choices and the clean look. There are warm grays and cool grays. Warm grays are more appropriate where there is a lot of wood, whether in flooring or trim. Cool grays are best if your trim is white and your floors are carpeted.

Typically we don't want to clash warm and cool colors, especially if they are similar in value (i.e. shade of light or darkness). In general with color, we follow the 60/30/10 rule. 60% of the room is one color, 30% another to complement, and 10% for accent pieces. When thinking beyond the living room, you can take the 30% or 10% color and carry that into another room and redistribute the weights. In our house, we painted the walls of our hallway yellow and then in the nursery at the end of the hall we brought the yellow in as accent pieces. This creates cohesion and unity throughout the home. 

Susan Yeley Interiors

Today's photo gallery came from Susan Yeley Interiors. Susan is one of Bloomington's best interior designers. Her friendly disposition and keen eye for design is a fresh of breath air of mid-west design. Her taste is modern and clean. I recommend her to all of my clients. 

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