9 Things Every Stylish “Adult” Living Room Needs

published Aug 18, 2020
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Your decorating chops have seriously improved since your childhood bedroom or college dorm. Butterfly chairs and unframed posters might’ve been all the rage back then, but you’re now older, wiser, and know those accents don’t always jibe in a space. Just because you’ve graduated, decor-wise, doesn’t mean your apartment is a full-blown adult oasis.

Interior design is a constant work in progress, and you can always pick up a few tricks to make your home more stylish. To help in that department, I asked a few interior designers to share their favorite ingredients for a stylish, adult living room, and these 9 things topped their list.

Credit: Jacob Snavely

Wow with a wet bar

If you think back to your parents’ dinner parties—or the fancy fêtes you saw on TV—almost every super elegant entertaining space has some kind of a designated bar area, whether it’s a bar cart or built-in wet bar. “What’s more adult than having a full bar in your living room?” says designers Jessica Geller and Virginia Toledo, co-founders of the interior design firm Toledo Geller. “Nothing screams grown-up space quite like having liquor on display and the ability to serve up a cocktail in a moment’s notice.”

If you want to bring your favorite lounge’s look to your home, consider a bar cabinet. Whether you want to stay refreshed with a mocktail, split a bottle of wine with some friends, or kick back with a stiff one, this spacious style has plenty of room to do it all, and it’s a great alternative for small spaces, since you can utilize blank wall space with a vertical version.

Credit: Kai Byrd

Go big with coffee table books

For anyone who prioritizes practicality, placing a stack of books on your coffee table sounds counterintuitive. If you have a bunch of tomes cluttering this surface, how could you possibly have enough room to plop down a cup of coffee or last night’s leftovers? This design trick is certainly a hallmark of an adult living room though, and these books aren’t just for show, according to Toledo and Geller.

“Coffee table books are the perfect home accessory, and we’re always surprised at how few of our clients already have their own stash,” says the design duo. “They are the perfect finishing touch, serve as conversation starters, and are a great thing to pick up and breeze through when you have free time instead of grabbing your phone.”

Craving some extra inspiration? Use any one of these 40 brilliant ways to upgrade your coffee table tableau.

Credit: Jacob Snavely

Add entertainment with grown-up games

Admit it: There’s only so much Netflix you can watch before you feel like a complete couch potato. (It’s OK, I’m right there with you.) If you want to adult-ify your space and hobbies though, add an old-fashioned board game to the mix.

“Adults play games, too,” explain Toldeo and Geller. “Whether poker, canasta, or puzzles, adults like to unwind with a mindless game, so we love to encourage that with a great looking game table. They are the perfect size and can find a spot nearly anywhere.”

If you can’t fit a full-blown game table into your space, you can certainly find an aesthetically-pleasing version of your favorite game that will match your living room decor perfectly, whether it’s an old-school edition or a super colorful version of a classic. Don’t be afraid to leave a particularly pretty chess or checkers set out on a side table or your coffee table either, if there’s room for it.

Shake up your seating arrangements

Why settle for just one sofa when you can enjoy a slew of seating options? “A lounge chair angled toward the sofa encourages people to stay a while,” says designer Christina Kim. “[It’s] so much better for conversation than having all of your company sitting on one long sofa!”

From structured armchairs to bohemian floor pillows, there’s no shortage of options. Don’t overfill your room, of course, but it’s best to include at least a few extra places to perch, even if they’re stools or ottomans you bring in from other rooms just when you need them.

Credit: Emma Fiala

Dress up your design scheme with drapes

Once upon a time—you know, back when you were a design novice—a room’s window treatments seemed like a total extra. Who cared about a curtains when there’s a big couch and an even larger television? As you’ve grown up, you might’ve realized, however, how invaluable curtains can be. “Adding drapery has a huge impact on making a living room feel pulled together and instantly ‘dressed,'” Kim says.

Admittedly, buying curtains can be an expensive and daunting experience. However, there are plenty of tricks to make the process easier. Living in an apartment with unsightly blinds? Flex your DIY muscle and add some sheer curtains over them with a tension rod. Want to get the look on a budget? Believe it or not, a shower curtain can be your new best friend for faking proper curtains.

Credit: Melanie Rieders

Add art thoughtfully

“Statement artwork can elevate a living room and become the focal point over a sofa or fireplace,” explains designer Shawna Underwood. “Introducing color and pattern with artwork can command the attention of your guests to draw them into the space.”

Though it’s important to frame most of your art for a more finished, “adult” look, you can still let your creative spirit shine through. “The frames don’t need to match; they just need to coordinate,” Kim adds.

Credit: Viv Yapp

Pick up some plants

When in doubt, introduce a few plants into your decor. “Adding greenery or a nice floor plant can really bring your living room to life,” says Nina Magon, principal at Contour Interior Design. “Including a nice organic element such as a plant or greenery can bring a nice pop of color to your space and can create a calming element that provides soothing properties.”

Layered lighting FTW

ICYMI, your living room’s overhead lights aren’t doing you or your space any favors. First and foremost, generic overhead lighting fixtures tend to lack style, and the more lighting solutions you can add to a space, the more atmospheric it will be on the whole.

“A stylish and adult living room has a combination of home decor items within it; however, I always start with a variety of lighting to elevate the look of a room,” says designer Liz Caan. “By adding solid lighting at eye level including table lamps, sconces, and floor lamps to layer the look, it will give a sense of ambient lighting in the living room.”

Credit: Stacy Zarin-Goldberg Photography

Style out your shelves

It doesn’t matter how far long you are in your adulting journey: A personal touch will never go unnoticed. Where better to display your favorite, most personal trinkets than on a stylish shelf? “A stylish adult living room should have interesting shelving that displays some of your favorite or more precious collectables,” shares Sheryl T. McLean, president and creative director of design firm McLean & Tircuit LLC.

Build out an ideal, grown-up shelfie using a collection of like items or objects that have totally different textures or heights. Group things in odd numbers and remember to add something with a little bit of sparkle or shine for an eye-catching focal point.