5 Golden Rules for Designing a Great Living Room

published Aug 1, 2019
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The living room is the every-room. According to a recent survey of more than 3,400 customers of the UK-based design firm John Lewis & Partners, the majority of respondents said they watched TV and read in their living rooms (of course), but they also said they napped, entertained, and ate meals there. So how do you design such a multifaceted space? Here, Decorist designer Caitlin McBride shares her best tips. 

Don’t skimp on rug size

In a large room, like a living room, you can unify the space with a rug. And to do that, all of your furniture’s legs should sit on the rug, says McBride. If your sofa is against the wall, the front legs of the furniture should sit on the rug, she says. 

If you have a smaller rug you simply can’t bear to part with, “layer it over a larger rug that you can place the legs of your furniture on top of instead of floating the smaller rug in your room,” says McBride. (Learn more about choosing the right rug for any room here.)

Layer lighting

Overhead lighting is great, but it can be harsh, says McBride. A soft glow creates a more intimate and sophisticated vibe. To achieve this look, add a variety of light sources—table lamps, floor lamps, wall sconces, bookshelf accent lights, and candles—to the room. 

Follow the rule of threes

“When styling anything—coffee tables, console tables, bookshelves—I always recommend grouping objects in odd numbers,” says McBride. Though three is considered the magic number, groupings of five, seven, or even nine also work well. An odd number of items not only looks more natural, it also forces your eyes to move around, creating more visual interest. For an even more attractive vignette, McBride suggests varying the size, height, and finish of the objects as well.

Credit: Kristan Lieb

Choose the right accent tables

It’s no fun—for you, or your guests—to hunch over every time you want to place a drink down on a table. “Coffee tables should be the same height as your sofa’s seat cushions, or very close to it,” says McBride. “And end tables should be within a few inches of your sofa or chair’s arm height.”

Credit: Minette Hand

Float your furniture

It’s hard to create a conversation area when all of your furniture is pushed up against your walls, says McBride. By floating sofas and chairs away from your walls—even by just a few inches—you instantly create a more intimate conversation space. If you have a very large living room, you can break up and group the furniture to create natural conversation spaces throughout the room.