We have all seen the real estate photos where it is clear as day that the property has been professionally styled to sell. We have also seen living rooms that are nicely painted, which have some decent furniture but absolutely no soul. What you are aiming to achieve for your own home is one that looks loved and lived in, stylish but not professionally styled to within an inch of its life. I will share my tips with you to show you how to style a living room and add warmth and interest that makes you and your family relax.
7 Tips to style a living room
Before you even go through these tips I want you to consider what you believe is the most important element to getting a living room right. It's not the latest trends or the newest sofa and swish occasional chairs. The element that really matters is how the room reflects your personality. You will probably know the style that you like, although this can be tricky with so many that also overlap. You will know how the room has to function to suit your family and how you use the space. But what really matters is that the living room, and the entire house for that matter, says a lot about you and your family.
This doesn't mean that you need a photo gallery wall, although this can look great. It just means that if you love to read, then the room should contain books. If you love music, then accommodate that too, whether it's a guitar on show, a piano or an old record collection. Choose artworks carefully that have some meaning, perhaps an art exhibition you have enjoyed or a fabulous holiday.
These are the elements that you should consider to make the room personal to you. Once you have this in mind, here are my specific tips to follow to style a living room successfully:
Think about a colour scheme and carry this through the room. This doesn't mean you have to choose just one colour but put together a mood board and see which colours go together. You don't want just one feature colour, unless it is a striking feature in a statement piece. But you should aim to have either some related colours (next to each other on the colour wheel) or complementary colours (opposite on the colour wheel). If you are stuck for a colour scheme, then get some inspiration from a favourite item. This could be a beautiful textile design in a cushion or a statement artwork that you love. It's always a good idea to work from the ground up, so if you have a rug that you love, then extract a colour palette from there.
If you're not confident with colour, this is a good idea to remember as talented designers have already designed the rug or the textile so that the colours work together.
Colour is a huge subject that I can only touch on here but finding that one inspirational piece and then putting together a mood board from there will help to refine your ideas.
The room below is clean and fresh but still has lots of lovely colour. Timber, rattan and leather are a great natural way to inject colour into a space. The leather ottoman makes this a comfortable room too as psychologically you feel happy putting your feet on it. The palette for the room is a rich, earthy one that is complemented with a small amount of grey.
Again, it is the elements of timber and leather that add rich warm tones to this living room so if you are not a great fan of just adding colour, always consider how else you can include it in a scheme.
On the other hand, if you do love colour, you don't need a lot of it to make an impact. This striking yellow chair has set the tone beautifully for this living room. You don't need much to make an impact if you are using a bright colour. People sometimes feel that they need to carry through with the colour in other areas of the room but you can end up with a spotty effect. For example, if you also added yellow cushions to a sofa, a yellow vase and a yellow artwork. The overall look is then overwhelming and the eye doesn't know where to settle. Just make one big impact and then use other neutrals or a complementary colour throughout the rest of the room. Purple is complementary to yellow so perhaps some sofa cushions in a neutral with some purple would work.
A successful decorating scheme relies on a mix of textures and I always consider this alongside colour choices. The idea is to make the look interesting with layers of different textures so that the finished room isn't too flat and one dimensional.
Include all of the elements of the room when you consider the textures. You can see how this piece or coral below is so effective with the soft flowers and smooth finish of the book – the vignette comes to life with the addition of it.
3. Cushions & Throws
Where would we be without cushions and throws? I know they are not always the most popular items but there is no doubt that these accessories are right at the top of the list when it comes to styling a living room. They are a perfect way to introduce colour and/or layers of texture.
Although the room below has a gorgeous rich and warm neutral on the wall, if you take away the colour from the cushions, the room could look a little flat. The colours here are gorgeous muted tertiary colours so don't make a bold statement but add layers of texture and colour and pick up the toning of the plant.
If you're not a fan of colour, don't worry. Check out this gorgeous room below that only has natural colour from timber and rattan elements. The cushions add a lot to the styling but as they are in layers of black, grey and white, they add interest rather than dominate the room.
This really is a gorgeous room isn't it?
Related: How to choose cushions
I don't think a room is complete without a rug. I even love them on carpet. If you have an open plan area that incorporate a living room, dining area and kitchen then a rug is perfect to zone these individual spaces. I really don't like an open plan area that has hard flooring and no rugs. The room echoes, becomes very noisy and it just looks incomplete. See how great these rooms look with rugs. Rugs are also perfect to introduce layers of texture and a great inspiration piece to use for a colour scheme.
The soft blue rug has set the tone for the blue colour scheme which really lifts the grey and neutral tones. Orange is the complementary colour to blue and used as a very minor accent, it brings the room alive. Complementary colours should always be used in an 80/20 blend or thereabouts. Colours that are opposite on the colour wheel are designed to work together but if they were in a 50/50 mix the eye wouldn't know where to settle. You should therefore always ensure that these colours are used with one being dominant.
The rug in this room has defined the seating area perfectly and is the basis for a soft blue and grey colour scheme. With touches of natural green and earthy colours from the rattan and timber, I think this room looks pretty perfect.
The grey rug in the room above, grounds the palette of blues and pale greige. I really like the different textures from the ottomans and cushions against the simple linen sofas. This gives you the contrast in colour and type of fabric.
Related: How to select the right rug
I love to read and with the exception of artworks, I think you can tell a lot about the person from their book collection. Even if you read your books on an electronic device, consider investing in some beautiful books that you can just look at from time to time. They give a room personality and soul. I can't think of anything worse than not reading a physical book and I always have lots of them around my house. They are also great for just adding some colour!
Related: Styling with Books
A styling vignette is a recent addition to our decorating language but they can be a lot of fun to put together and also look terrific. Basically, this is a grouping or collection of accessories to enhance the appeal of a space. So rather than just buying a beautiful table lamp, consider when you display it, what else will work with it. I have some vignette tips here:
- If you have a collection of 2-3 coffee table books, rather than display them on their own, add something interesting on top. This could be a pot or a candle or even a beautiful piece of coral or a shell
- When displaying a plant, give careful consideration to the pot and how this can be grouped with other accessories. For example, by placing the plant in a rattan basket, you bring a relaxed element to the space.
- If you are displaying artworks over a hall or side table, ensure that they are part of the vignette. Don't just place them as you normally would at eye level, but lower them so they are part of the collection of accessories on the table. An artwork or two can look great just propped against the wall too.
- Odd numbers should always be used. Three items, rather than two and five rather than four.
- When displaying accessories on a coffee or dining table, group them on a large tray, platter or bowl.
- Don't forget the elements above of texture and colour. These play a huge role in getting the look of a vignette right.
There are two lovely vignettes in the above living room. Notice how the artworks are part of the vignette. This room really has all the 7 elements to successfully style a living room. Colour from the gorgeous sofa and cushions, texture from the rug, some books, beautifully arranged vignettes and some natural greenery.
Remember to consider a colour scheme and a grouping of three for a great vignette.
Don't forget that metallics are a colour too. The warm creamy tones in the flowers work perfectly with the Rose Gold in the accessories.
Related: A Coastal Style Vignette
Indoor plants have seen a revival in recent years which is fabulous as they add so much in terms of styling and colour. Did you know that they're good for us too?
Think carefully about the pot or basket that you use as this can be another great way to introduce colour and texture to a room.
I have a FREE Resource Library where you can download my e-book on How to create a mood board. Although you might just want to rush to the shops and start to look for styling ideas, it is really worthwhile taking some time to put together a mood board so that you can see exactly what will work. This prevents you from making costly shopping mistakes too! You can download it for FREE here.