Make your living room a space you never want to leave with these cool design and decorating ideas.
Written bySunset StaffSeptember 17, 2012
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1 of 37Mary Costa
Pick Key Colors
With an open floor plan, it’s important to have everything go together smoothly. Here, the designer looked outside for inspiration and chose blue and green to highlight the backyard pool and lush foliage. She punched up the two dominant colors by varying tone and intensity for each space. In the living room, a Prussian blue custom sectional serves as the main block of color. Pops of coral and gold, borrowed from the Salvador Dalí painting The Yin and the Yang hanging behind the sofa, add brightness.
The custom fireplace is set into a hand-built wall of oiled afrormosia, an African teak. Pieces of mirror at the ceiling give the illusion that the wall is open at the top. To complement the home’s wooden accents, interior designer Sam Cardella chose masculine, classic pieces in soft tones, including a pair of J.J. quilted lounge armchairs from B&B Italia, Volume Tub leather swivel chairs from Donghia, and an Easy Sofa by Jens Risom.
This space functions almost like a Swiss Army knife. The sofa and coffee table—both on casters—can be rolled away, and the lightweight chairs and stools can be reconfigured to create an open party space. The room also has a secret: a Murphy bed that pulls out from the wall (linens are stowed in built-in banquettes).
Designer Tim Pfeiffer mixes furnishings from various eras with ease in the living room. The clean lines of the pieces tie the eclectic look together. As well as housing books, built-in shelves display nautical treasures ranging from sculptural pieces of driftwood to naval tea cups. “For me, it has always been about layering,” says Pfeiffer. “If you like something, live with it.”
The furniture in this houseboat living room is a mix of modern and rustic; the couple bought the teak tables on their honeymoon in Bali.
6 of 37Lisa Romerein
Start with One Big Idea
After a fire burned down his property, homeowner Casey Caplowe was tarping what was left of his roof and soaking in the rolling hills of Echo Park when he had a lightbulb moment: He wanted to design his house around the views, including this bright living room.
Sunshine from the two-story atrium floods the sitting room. Custom metal mesh panels usher the light through the stairwell to the basement, living room, and second floor. The room used to be a galley kitchen; velvet sofas and a vintage bar cart turn it into a place for cocktails or reading.
White paint gets a bad rap these days for being over-used, but it can truly transform a room. This living room was dark and drab and very, very brown. Designer and blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel add a couple coats of paint and skylights to this A-frame living room to add light and some life back into the space.
Let utility be part of your design strategy. Here, colorful book spines create an artistic moment, and thoughtfully-designed fireplace tools double as sculptural art.
10 of 37Thomas J. Story
Emphasize Natural Light
Whenever possible, let natural light dominate a space. When designing a home, or remodeling, take every opportunity to let in more light from the outdoors—add windows, raise the roof, add a skylight.
11 of 37Thomas J. Story
Invite Nature In
The glass-encased living room and a wall of windows in the master bedroom set the homeowners in the middle of the landscape. The property is so private (there are no neighbors in sight) that the couple decided not to use curtains in the common rooms.
To create a wider living space, Noyes removed a bathroom and guest room, expanded outward into an exterior walkway, and raised the roof by 18 inches. Burgundy Douglas fir floorboards were swapped for light oak hardwood, and the space was re-designed with a wraparound concrete hearth reminiscent of a similar one from Piper’s childhood home. A white-painted steel-tie rod braces the exposed beams of the lifted ceiling.
Steel columns make this living room’s glass corners—and airy feel—possible. The fireplace serves as an interesting focal counterpoint, yet keeps the room warm and cozy.
14 of 37\Thomas J. Story
Strive for Versatility
In a small space, make furniture do double–or even triple–duty. In this live-work home, a midcentury Hans Wegner daybed in the multifunction main room acts as sofa, guest bed for visitors, and “conference room” seating for business meetings.
15 of 37\Coral Von Zumwalt
Embellish with a Quirky Find
Add a statement piece, like this reclaimed wood swing (dekorla.com), to make the room’s aesthetic unique. You can blend heirloom and global finds for an eclectic look.
16 of 37Thomas J. Story
Frame a Doorway
Bookshelves surrounding the entry from a living room to a dining room make creative use of what might otherwise be under-utilized wall space.
17 of 37Thomas J. Story
Go for Transparency
How do you double a small living space? Appy a few smart design tricks. For instance, glass walls trick the eye into thinking there’s more space than there is. In this living room, transparent walls seem to bring the plants into the room itself. It’s a twist on a more traditional take on outdoor living: sliding doors opening onto patios.
18 of 37Thomas J. Story
Embrace the Eclectic
You can go for an electic scheme that doesn’t stray into hodgepodge terrirtory by using a connecting thread of color, tone, or shape. In this living room, floral fabrics mingle with graphic prints, and Moroccan and Mexican accessories with midcentury furniture. All are linked by a ’70s palette.
19 of 37Dave Lauridsen
Don’t Forget the Ceiling
Small-home living requires creative–sometimes even eccentric–storage solutions. Bicycles held up by a system of pulleys hover above this comfortable living room.
20 of 37Thomas J. Story
Provide a Common Denominator
When it comes to displaying your art, diverse mediums and frames are brought to together by a single, shared wall color.
21 of 37David Fenton
Get a Beach-House Look
Love the beach-house aesthetic but don’t live near the ocean? Fake it with this fun idea. A Craigslist find, this drift boat was reinvented as a sofa. The new owners added a fresh coat of white, cut away one side, and inserted a foam mattress. Instead of cutting off the leftover rope, they coiled it into a floor mat.
22 of 37Ericka McConnell
A color-blocked daybed adds more hues to a room’s decorative scheme while remaining sleek and modern.
23 of 37Thomas J. Story
An open, studio-style floor plan in the areas used for dining, sitting, and cooking makes for easy entertaining.
24 of 37Thomas J. Story
Get Cabin Fever
Go for a cabin-inspired look that doesn’t stray into dated territory with exposed and sandblasted rafters and beams and a granite hearth.
25 of 37Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Update Traditional Emblems
In this California home owned by a Spanish emigrant, a metal peace sign gets a boost from white lights and some horns, creating an homage to both California and Spain. The red wall and fireplace underscore the Spanish vibe.
26 of 37Thomas J. Story
Mix High and Low
Inexpensive furniture mingles with high-end touches in this living room: Ikea curtains hang on plumbing pipe behind a $1,200 chandelier; custom pillows sit atop a bargain settee from Urban Outfitters; a hand-painted chinoiserie coffee table rests on an old Pakistani rug.
27 of 37Thomas J. Story
This living room has only what the family needs: a sofa, a video player, blankets, and pillows. The sectional couch here expands to a queen bed; pieces separate for extra seats; and a mirror-top tray turns seating into a table. This minimalism helps the room remain uncluttered.
28 of 37Thomas J. Story
Expand to Outer Space
The living room of this sustainably-built home is airy and spacious, with sliding glass windows that open to a balcony and breathtaking tree views beyond.
29 of 37Thomas J. Story
Define small rooms with furniture that makes a statement. Here, neither the leather sofa nor the Wegner shell chair, both from Room & Board, “matches” the custom coffee table, but they create an eclectic vignette in front of the retiled fireplace.
30 of 37ohn Granen
Play with Color
This living room finds harmony by combining a mishmash of patterns, offbeat accessories, and colors that might not match 100%, but remain in the same family.
31 of 37Thomas J. Story
Unify a Collection
Even a random collection feels coherent when displayed in a wraparound gallery. The trick here? Hang the gallery centered on a line just above eye level. The piano creates an optional yet strong visual anchor.
32 of 37Thomas J. Story
Create an Anchor
A Danish heirloom bookshelf unit anchors the room with its well-made, classic form. The 1960s unit displays ceramic and glass collections that add personality.
33 of 37Daniel Hennessy
Put Furniture to Work
A small living space can accommodate a lot when you use multi-functional furniture and clever design tips. In this living room, the window seat stores extra blankets, and the subwoofer doubles as a side table.
34 of 37Thomas J. Story
Give Guests a Comfy Oasis
This living room can easily be transformed into a guest room. The futon unfolds into a bed, and the coffee table becomes a nightstand. Futon casters make for quick rearranging.
35 of 37Thomas J. Story
Marry Past with Present
The living room of this midcentury ranch home is designed to mesh with the retro style of the architecture, but with fresh touches that keep the look current. The Danish-modern coffee table was purchased on eBay and the side table/planter at an antiques mall for $40. New items include a Crate and Barrel sofa and a flock of Etsy pillows.
36 of 37Thomas J. Story
Streamline the Palette
The blue and white color scheme pulls this room together. Soothing blue furnishings and accents add just the right amount of color while also providing a tasteful mix of textures and shapes.
37 of 37Thomas J. Story
Be an Editor
In this house, knickknacks are few and far between, which results in each item gaining a sense of importance and meaning. This makes the house feel peaceful and―by calling attention to the few well-edited pieces on display―also intensely personal. Except for a mix of items found while traveling and trolling flea markets, the living room is uncluttered.