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Getting that perfect balance of cozy and functional in a living room can be tricky, which is why homeowners will often turn to a design expert for help. We spoke to five professionals to find out the features they put at the top of the list when designing a client’s living area. They’re guaranteed to take your living room project from good to great.

1. Comfortable Sofa

Alison Felstead, owner and interior designer at Naibu Design, says, “When designing a living room, I’d recommend you select the sofa first as it is generally the largest piece of furniture in the room. It needs to be proportionate to the space it’s going into, and very comfortable. I will often choose an easy-to-clean fabric in a neutral color that’s simple to update with cushions.” Giulianna del Popolo, the principal designer at GDP Interior Design, adds, “I’d recommend specifying custom-made upholstery pieces from local makers. Not only does this support local manufacturing, but it’s generally easier to customize pieces to your client’s needs, you can easily follow the progress of the manufacturer, there’s often more flexibility with timing, and you won’t have the hassle or cost of relying on overseas shipping.

“If you consider the quality and life span of custom pieces, they are not necessarily more expensive than imported retail pieces. Superior frames and fill types guarantee a long-life product. If you choose a piece with clean lines and comfortable proportions, it can last your clients for years, with the option to update the look and feel with new upholstery or filling down the track.”

2. A Focal Point That’s Not the Tv

Alix Helps, creative director at Alix Helps Interiors, says, “Where possible, look to design the living room so the television is not the main focal point of the room. Ideally, design custom cabinetry to house the television or use a dark color on the wall behind the screen to camouflage it when it’s switched off. If that’s not possible, consider a television that disguises the screen as an artwork when it’s not in use.”

3. The Right Rug

Del Popolo says, “The right floor rug can really make a room, and getting the proportion right is part of the success. The rug you specify should appear generous, however, leaving some exposed floor around the rug is also important. As a general rule of thumb, choose a size that allows you to have a third or two-thirds of the room’s furniture sitting on the rug.

“Area rugs not only define and frame the living space, but they also provide acoustic benefits and add coziness. Seagrass and sisal rugs look beautiful but are no fun if your clients are sitting on the floor for games night, so I typically encourage soft-pile carpets.”

4. Natural Light

Alishia Minett Johnson, design director at Minett Studio Architects + Interiors, says, “Orienting the living room … so you can capture the light while adding skylights and highlight windows gives you some flexibility with furniture placement. Capturing different light conditions, such as morning sun and the evening sunset, framing a garden view, or including window seats will all help make a home’s interior more inviting and comfortable.”

5. Thoughtful Lighting Scheme

Julianne Bull, a principal designer at The Den Interiors, says, “Good lighting in a living room is essential. Consider how your clients will use their living room to determine the lighting you need. Soft ambient lighting is often preferred in the evening when watching TV. Task lighting, such as a floor lamp, is necessary for reading. And don’t forget to highlight any architectural features or artworks with accent lighting to create interest and visual drama.”
Helps adds, “Planning ahead for lighting allows you to create different moods in a living space. Aim for a minimum of three different light sources. Include a mix of overhead lighting and an assortment of lamps, both floor and table lamps, to provide options to change the lighting for different moods. This may require running power to a recessed PowerPoint on the floor to allow for a reading lamp to be positioned next to a favorite chair. You may also want to use spotlights to illuminate the artwork. Adding individual dimmers to the light sources in the room will give users the ultimate control over lighting levels.”

6. Marble or Stone-clad Fireplace

Minett Johnson says, “A fireplace creates a central focal point in a living room and helps ground the furniture arrangement in the space. It also creates a wonderful spot to put seasonal decorations, cards, and treasured mementos. Clad it in stone or marble and you instantly elevate the space, while adding a luxurious new material.”

7. Plentiful Storage

Felstead says, “I would always discuss my client’s storage needs with them when designing a living room. Depending on the space available, storage could be in the form of a TV unit, bookshelves, a sideboard, buffet, or side tables.”

8. Multipurpose Pieces

Helps says, “Multipurpose furniture is a great way to provide extra seating when it’s needed. For example, some small ottomans might serve well as side tables six days a week but make for a handy extra seat when your client is entertaining.

“Similarly, a large ottoman provides a great place to rest your feet on movie night, but when topped with a large tray, forms an elegant coffee table that can be styled with a few design books, a small vase of flowers and, importantly, a large glass of wine.”

9. Layers of Texture and Color

Felstead says, “Accessories and small decor pieces add that extra layer of texture, color, and interest to a living room, finishing it off and personalizing the space. This might include lamps, soft furnishings, plants, ornaments, vases, and candles.”

10. Personal Touches

Bull says, “When decorating a living room, look to introduce something fun and unexpected to the space. Add a splash of color with art, an interesting lamp, or an unusual chair to bring in that element of fun.”

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