How to Decorate Your Living Room

Style your family room using design tips in this step-by-step guide.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Decorate Your Living Room

Well-lighted flat interior with plants and couch

Don't forget long drapes and attractive lighting when designing your living room.(Getty Images)

You want to improve the space your family spends the most time in, but the thought of knocking down walls to create a more open floor plan in your living room sounds expensive and time-consuming.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to revamp this gathering space in your home without a major renovation.

Living room decor doesn't need to impress the masses, just offer comfort and showcase your individual style, which makes it both an easier and cheaper project to complete. "You can arrange simple accessories for depth, inspiration (and) a sense of calmness," says Alyssa Rosenheck, interior and architectural photographer and interior stylist based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Here are eight steps for decorating your living room to encourage better conversation, increase comfort and embrace design trends:

  • Build your decor collection.
  • Choose a color scheme.
  • Paint to add depth.
  • Pick lighting.
  • Add ambiance.
  • Select furniture.
  • Hang drapes.
  • Find the focal point.

Build Your Decor Collection

Whether you’re starting from scratch or refreshing a living room that looks dated, resist the urge to buy everything from one home decor store, which could end up making your space look staged. Instead, Rosenheck says you should let your decorating style take shape over time, and only buy pieces like vases, lamps or art that you really enjoy.

“Buying what you truly love allows your home to evolve organically,” she says.

With vintage items or one-of-a-kind pieces, your decor can serve as a conversation piece and window into your personality. “Use a coffee table to showcase new loves, old treasures and ornaments that tell a really good story,” Rosenheck says.

Choose a Color Scheme

Whether the goal is to put the house on the market or give it a more HGTV-ready look, consider a neutral palette of gray, beige or a similar color. These are the most common choices for homeowners painting their living rooms, says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia.

But Nokes stresses that personal preference should drive the paint-color decision. If a bold, bright color in your living room makes you happy, go for it. "This is your home to do what you want. Whatever you love is really the best thing," Nokes says.

If you stick with neutrals on the wall, that doesn't mean your color scheme has to be muted. Choose complementing colors for the rest of your decor, such as area rugs, throw pillows and art, to keep the room looking monochromatic.

Paint to Add Depth

You paint choices can also make the room pop. An accent wall is a way to introduce a new color without overwhelming the entire space. You could even create a toned-down accent wall by opting for a color that's a few shades darker than the primary shade in the room “to add some depth,” Nokes says.

Another popular choice for homeowners looking to update the living room is to paint over the bricks of a fireplace. Nokes says white and gray are the most popular options, and they have the effect of brightening an otherwise neutral room.

Pick Lighting

If your living room has high ceilings, embrace the extra space and choose a chandelier or large light fixture that can become a focal point.

“In the higher-end homes that have higher ceilings, maybe even a 12-foot ceiling, they are going with more big fixtures as opposed to ceiling fans,” says Jay Weaver, service professional at Mr. Electric of Grand Prairie in Cedar Hill, Texas.

Also consider switching from a single light fixture to recessed lighting. “By taking the light out of the center of the room and moving them into the corners of the room, you get better light distribution,” Weaver says.

However, installing new recessed lighting is a renovation project that involves a professional cutting holes in your ceiling or replacing the drywall entirely. For one room, six lights and a dimmer switch could cost $1,200 or more, according to home improvement cost comparison site Fixr.

Add Ambiance

Transform your living room by installing a dimmer switch for your lighting, which will allow you to soften the lighting or brighten it depending on your mood. “It changes the whole look of the room completely,” says Gary Dagley, owner of Mr. Electric of Grand Prairie.

Make sure that any lamps you purchase are rated to be dimmable, Dagley points out. Otherwise, the dimmer will not be effective.

Select Furniture

When it comes to selecting your primary furniture, such as the couch, coffee table and chairs or love seats, Rosenheck recommends sticking with a neutral color: “a blank canvas to layer different color schemes over and over again.”

Once you select your core pieces, it’s easy to add color with throw pillows, blankets, wall color and additional tabletop decor. These are all easy to switch out as your preferred color scheme shade changes with time.

Hang Drapes

Make your living room feel bigger by raising your curtain rods at least 4 inches above the window frame. With long drapes that reach the floor, the window and the entire room will appear larger.

“I want my eye to be continuously able to move around the room … and the ceiling-height drapes allow the eye to do this,” Rosenheck says.

Find the Focal Point

When it comes to staging your furniture, the setup should help foster conversation. A fireplace is often a natural focal point, and couches and chairs surrounding it make fireside chats easy. Similarly, if you have built-in shelves showcasing items from places you've traveled, consider orienting your furniture toward the shelves so your treasures are in the spotlight.

While a TV is a given in many living rooms, you may struggle to incorporate yours without making it appear that your family worships it. In Rosenheck’s home, the wall-mounted TV is covered by artwork when no one is watching a show or movie. Alternatively, she recommends keeping the TV accessible but away from the center of attention by placing it off center – for example, in a corner next to the fireplace, with the couch centered facing the fireplace.

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