Put life back into your living room with these design ideas

Where do you spend most of your leisure time at home? Chances are, it will be in the living room. Does yours allow you to live in it the way you want?

Planning a new or revamped living room can seem a daunting task, particularly as these rooms tend to serve many purposes – they can be somewhere to watch television, a conversation space, a computer workstation and maybe even a place to nap (if you are really lucky). The current trend toward open-plan homes can complicate the equation even further, as there are often no firm boundaries between the living room and the rest of the space, such as the kitchen or dining area. 

If this week’s episode of The Block 2019 is anything to go by, the living room is of vital importance when it comes to a home’s decor. In previous years, there have been some stunning rooms created by contestants.

If you would like a The Block-worthy living room, perhaps this simple set of planning tips could help: 

  1. Function: Decide how you want to use the space
  2. Form: Think about how you want it to look and feel
  3. Resources: Figure out what you have to work with 
  4. Plan: Put it all onto paper
  5. Buy: Source what you need
  6. Detail: Decorate the space to create your ideal living room 
  7. Live: Sit back and enjoy your new living room

1. Function: How will you use the space?

Before you start planning your new room, it’s important to do some groundwork first.

Think about how you want to use the space, including who will use it and what they will use it for.

A family sits in a living room.
Image: Monkey Business Images (Shutterstock)

Questions you could ask yourself may include: 

  • Time of the day: When will you use the space? How does the natural light fall at different times of the day – is it very sunny in the afternoon in a particular spot, so you will need heavy blinds or to place couches in particular positions so the fabric won’t fade? Will there be glare on the TV screen? Do you need more light? Will there be activities going on in other areas nearby, such as the kitchen, while you are using the room?  
  • Television: Is it for everyday television watching, or is it just the backup area when another TV room is in use?
  • Entertaining: Do you want it to be a showpiece as a place to entertain guests, or is it tucked away enough so that it can be fitted out in a more practical way?
  • Noise: Will you need a thick rug to try and dampen the noise of, for example, a timber floor?
  • People: How many people will use it at one time? How many seats do you need to include? 

When you have considered how the room will be used, when and what for, it’s time to think about what you want it to look like.   

2. Form: How do you want it to look and feel?

Now that you have a handle on how the new space has to work, it’s time to think about its aesthetic appeal. Does it need to fit into the rest of the house’s decor, or is it a stand-alone space that could have its own style?

Think about how you want the space to feel, too – are you up for a more relaxed atmosphere, or do you want a sophisticated edge, or maybe a soft, romantic ambiance?

A formal lounge room.
Image: Breadmaker (Shutterstock)

 

If you are unsure about your decor preferences, you could start by building an inspiration file of pictures of living rooms and decor styles that you like, drawing from magazines, online resources, social media and even store catalogues. 

You could even opt for professional advice – interior decorators, interior designers and room stylists could help you to find your favourite style, or even do the entire job for you, although this would be for a price. 

3. Resources: What do you have to work with? 

It’s now time to look at the practical matters, such as your budget.

How much money do you have to spend on the room? This will have a major impact on what you can do, such as the quality or amount of furniture and decorating items you can afford to buy. There are ways you may be able to economise, however – can you reuse existing furniture, or remake it, such as by re-covering couches or cushions? Are there decorational items that you could relocate from other areas of the house? Could you source items from thrift stores or family and friends?

A butler's pantry hides appliances from view.
Source: JR-stock (Shutterstock)

 

Another potential limitation is the physical size and location of your living room. If it’s in the middle of an open-plan space, you may need to use the decor to ‘carve out’ the living room zone. Also, the size of a room will determine what furniture you need to choose – compact for smaller spaces or luxurious for large areas; as well as selection of other items such as the size of the television (see below).

It could be a good idea at this stage to draw a rough plan of the room without furniture, noting down fixed items such as walls, light, powerpoints and light switches. Mark on the plan other spatial considerations, such as where your walkways to other areas will go, or where there needs to be room left for a door to open.

Once that’s done, it’s time for the fun part – creating the new space.   

4. Plan: Put it all onto paper

Now that you have an idea of what you want and what resources you have to make it happen, it’s time to set down the essentials of the room.  

Start by putting on the plan the living room items that cannot be moved – for example, if a television has to be in a particular spot as it is nearest the power points. Then slowly build up the rest of the space:

Seating

Where do you want to sit, what do you want to sit on, and how many seats will you need? Seating options come in a variety of sizes and styles, but the main configurations are:

  • Armchairs: Single chairs with room for one person;
  • Sofa, couch or lounge: A single chair that seats two or more;
  • Lounge suite:  More than one chair sold as a set;
  • Modular lounge: Several pieces, or modules, which fit together to make a complete unit. 

Modular lounges are usually larger in size than other types of configurations, can include an extension called a chaise, which is a protrusion on which a user can usually lie down. They are also available in corner units, which is a great space-saving way of seating lots of people in a smaller space.

Tables

Having one or more small tables in a living room can be a great idea, especially if you are going to use the setting for entertaining. That way, guests won’t have to juggle their cup of tea and plate of goodies on their lap – they can rest it on one of the nearby tables. Coffee tables are small, low tables that generally sit in front of the largest seat. Side tables are typically smaller, and go beside the armrests of seats, within arm’s reach. 

Entertainment

As this space is for living, you’ll probably want to have something to do, such as watching television, playing video games or listening to music. There are many technological solutions available which can combine all these functions into one, cutting down on the amount of powerpoints and space you may require. Then there’s the more old-fashioned – but no less fun – pursuits, such as board games, reading or even playing music on instruments such as a piano or guitar. 

Couple installing a TV.
Image: Shutterstock.

Think about how you would like to display or disguise these entertainment options. That’s where the entertainment unit could come in handy. These range in options from a simple plinth that can hold a TV, to more expensive, full-wall units that can be custom-made for the space and what you need them to store. And if you prefer a minimalist look, investigate having your main TV screen mounted on a wall, as you would hang a picture. This does often require the services of an electrician to install a power point at the appropriate height in a wall. 

Most living rooms are likely to have a television. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that the larger your TV, the further back you generally have to be to be able to watch it in comfort, so the further back you’ll have to place your lounge suite. That’s because TV screens are made up of pixels – every image is broken into tiny dots – and your eyes need to be a certain distance from the screen to make sense of the image without noticing the dots.  

Recommendations from manufacturers differ as to how far you should sit from a television – between 1.5 and 4 times the diagonal measurement of the TV screen. The recommendations also change according to the type of TV you buy, for example, some manufacturers say that you will need to sit closer to a 4K (Ultra High Definition) TV than other types of screens, such as a High Definition television. 

Optometry Australia Chief Clinical Officer Luke Arundel said that as a general guideline, it was good practice “to sit between 1.5 to 2.5 times the diagonal screen measurement away, with about a 30-degree viewing angle”. 

“For example, if you have a 40 inch TV (or 100 cm), you should be sitting somewhere between 5 and 8.3 feet (1.5 and 2.5m) from the screen,” he said.

Television manufacturer Samsung states that while personal preference will determine how far away from a TV you like to sit, there is a handy equation that might give you a rough guide (for HD TVs): 

What size TV do I need to buy for the space in my living room? 

Viewing distance divided by two = recommended TV size.

For example: Your couch is 150cm away from where you will put the TV. 150/2 = 75. Therefore, the recommended TV size is 75cm (or 30 inches*).

How far away do I need to put my sofa away from my TV?

TV size multiplied by two = recommended distance between TV and couch.

For example: You have a 75cm TV. 75×2 = 150. Therefore, the recommended best viewing distance is to place the couch 150cm away from the TV. 

*It’s important to note that TVs are sold in a variety of different sizes, based on the diagonal measurement of their screens. In Australia, most TV sizes are expressed in metric units (centimetres), but there are some brands that use the imperial system (inches). Use a “imperial to metric” online calculator to work out the correct sizing, or multiply the stated inch measurement by 2.54 to find the centimetre measurement. 

Rugs

A rug is often more than just a decorator item in a living room. It can help to carve out the living space into its own zone, provide an island of soft, textural relief for your feet if you have hard floors and help to cut down on noise reverberation in big spaces. The size of your space and what you want it to do will determine what type and size of rug you will need to buy. 

A woman watches TV.
Image: Andrey Popov (Shutterstock)

For instance, rug retailer Harvey Norman’s buying guide states that small rugs are good if you just want something to put under the central coffee table, while medium-sized rugs can be useful for visually linking pieces of a lounge suite together. Larger rugs claim a room-sized space for a living area without the need for walls. 

When choosing a larger rug, bear in mind that they can be expensive to buy, meaning it could be a good idea to stick with neutral colours. If you decide to refresh your decor again at any point, having a neutral-coloured rug means that you may not necessarily have to change it, too. 

Lighting

Lighting helps to set the mood of the room, as well as performing its usual job of illuminating a space. 

Retailer Beacon Lighting’s advice is to “layer” light in the room, combining ceiling lights with accent lighting – such as lamps – to create a “warm, inviting room that can accommodate a variety of situations”. It could be a good idea to install dimmer switches, too. A qualified electrician will probably need to do that work. 

While having extra lighting – in the form of lamps – is not strictly essential, it can add to your ability to control the ambiance of your space. For example, instead of having a brighter overhead light on at night, you could choose to turn on the softer light of a floor lamp or table lamp. They could also be an essential item if you plan to use the space for reading at night.

Decorative accessories

It’s with accessories that you can really let your decorating flair show. This is where you refer to your file of images for inspiration.

Accessories could include items available from myriad retailers such as:

  • a throw rug (a small blanket that lives on the couch) or two
  • a few cushions
  • decorative vases that look good even when empty
  • sculptural pieces (such as figurines or something more abstract)
  • decorative bowls
  • table runners, mats, coasters and other items that will protect surfaces
  • plants, real or artificial
  • candles
  • foot stools
  • wall hangings, such as framed pictures, art on canvas, mirrors or even tapestries and other artwork made from fabric. 

These are all little touches that can help make the room look a particular way. 

5. Buy: Source what you need

It could be a good idea to shop around when it comes to buying living room items. In addition to a wide range of online-only retailers, there are also a plethora of furniture stores that you can visit, and they usually have their living room furniture and decor items set up to show customers what they could look like in a home. Most also have websites where you can check out their range before deciding if you want to make the trip to head in to the physical store. 

Online shopping
Source: Wayhome studio (Shutterstock)

Many furniture retailers offer delivery services (usually for for an extra fee), and some even offer assembly services, particularly those companies which sell flat-pack items. 

If you want to source used goods, try online marketplaces such as eBay, Gumtree or Facebook, although it could be a good idea to observe the sites’ advice when it comes to payment and receipt of goods to try and protect yourself against would-be scam attempts. There are also real-world stores, such as Lifeline, Salvation Army and other thrift shops, which sell used items. 

6. Detail: Decorate the space to create your ideal living room 

Now, it’s time to put all that planning to into action. Some homeowners may find that a logical sequencing of installation could help with this project. Perhaps start by clearing out the existing space. Then, you could move on to arranging the infrastructure. If you are using a very large rug, start by installing this first. Then add the couches. If you are instead using a smaller-sized rug, install this next. Then move in the entertainment unit and tables. Then install the entertainment devices you are using in the room – the television and game consoles, for example. 

A cozy lounge room.
Image: Photographee.eu (Shutterstock)

Next, install the lamps, working to hide the power cords as best as you are able, such as by running them under the rug or along a wall, reducing trip hazards. Then, position the accessories you have selected. It could then be a good idea to stand back and see how it all looks, adjusting if you think that’s necessary. 

7. Live: Sit back and enjoy your new living room

Put your feet up – you deserve it! As with any newly renovated room, as you use it you may find that you need to adjust items so that they look or work better for the space. That’s completely understandable, as it is sometimes difficult to conceptualise how something will work in real life when you are planning it on paper. 

In the end, it’s all about ensuring that your new living space allows you to live the way that you want. 

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