Your living room is arguably where you spend the most time at home (at least when you're awake), so it goes without saying that you want this room, above any, to feel inviting, personal and comfortable. But beyond choosing furniture you like and hanging a few pictures, it can be difficult to decide where to focus your efforts, especially for renters or those on a budget. For a truly "custom" home, think about focusing on these few areas...
Upgrade the lighting.
We all know lighting is one of the most important elements in a living room, especially in terms of creating a mood. Switch out existing (and bland) pendants for more attractive (and not necessarily expensive) options, like the sputnik chandelier in the above photo from My Domaine, or skip ceiling lighting altogether in favor of a combination of flattering floor lamps and wall sconces. Bonus points for installing dimmer switches, which can make existing lighting more palatable.
Use paint to define (or create) features.
Nothing changes a room quite like a fresh coat of paint, but the time and expense of re-painting an entire space puts many people off. Instead, think about how you can subtly use paint to draw attention to your home's better features, or perhaps fake a few you wish you had. Think painted fireplaces and doors, striped ceilings, two-tone walls mimicking a dado rail, or accent a staircase like The Design Chaser did in the above photo—any will create a unique feature area easily.
Add one old chair.*
My advice to almost everyone? Don't be so quick to outgrow your hand-me-downs. I think almost every space benefits from one random vintage or antique piece (*chair or otherwise), and if that's something you've been lugging around since your student days, all the better. If not, hunt out a piece you love by visiting flea markets, junk shops and garage sales. Of course, new things can be really great, but that secondhand conversation-starter is where the real story is. For instance, the vintage, angular seat in this living room (spotted on Style and Create via Kinfolk) really adds unique style—style that would be hard to achieve with a new piece of furniture.
Custom frame and mat that art.
Truly personal spaces always feature art (how great is that tightly arranged gallery wall this room featured on Coco Lapine Design?). And good art deserves a good frame. But I'll tell you a secret: even cheap art, in the right frame, can look fantastic. And while custom framing can be an investment, it needn't break the bank. Consider buying pre-made frames, from either a box store or a framer, and getting only the mats custom cut: a much cheaper solution that still makes a piece feel bespoke.
Also, if you can find a framer who's out-of-town or in a less fashionable area, they're often much more affordable—rather than pay London prices, I'll often save up pieces and take them to be framed when I visit my sister out of town. All in the name of creating a considered home.
Don't ignore the windows.
Naturally, windows become a focal point in any room—a combination of light and painting, in a way. Make sure yours are worth looking at (especially if the view beyond them isn't) by using the right window coverings. I love floor-length curtains in bold colors, natural rattan blinds (like the shade above from House Updated), or gossamer white sheers on a beautiful curtain pole. And window treatments don't need to be expensive: IKEA do great, affordable curtain panels (just make sure you're hanging them correctly). If you're looking for some drapery panel pairs under $100, start your search here.