Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How to design a modern living room

By Kelley Carter, Real Simple
updated 2:06 PM EDT, Wed March 13, 2013
This room, designed by Barbara Barry, has traditional style. This room, designed by Barbara Barry, has traditional style.
HIDE CAPTION
What makes a room feel great?
What makes a room feel great?
What makes a room feel great?
What makes a room feel great?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Filling a room with a complete furniture set is dated and not advised by expert designers
  • Choose furniture and decor that is the same style of design, like traditional, modern or Asian
  • Your room needs three colors: two main colors for walls and upholstery, and one accent
  • The elements of your room should tell a visual story: Choose them wisely

(Real Simple) -- Putting together a beautiful space is less mysterious than it seems. Once you know the tricks decorators depend on, the fairy dust follows. Here are the layman-level strategies you need to achieve pro-level success.

Commit to a style
Take a look at the elegant room by designer Barbara Barry (featured in the book Barbara Barry: Around Beauty; Rizzoli, 2012) in the gallery above. See the traditional curves, tailored upholstery, muted color scheme, and symmetrical arrangement? Just about every choice in the room is classic.

Committing to a single style—whether it's the one you see here or something completely different—guarantees a cohesive space. It also makes decorating easier by narrowing the range of options. This doesn't mean you should buy a living room in a box. You don't want things to appear pre-made and impersonal (more on that later).

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter @CNNLiving or "like" us on Facebook to have your say! Get the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Think about creating style unity among your "big five:" sofa, window treatments, rug, side chairs, and coffee table. Then you can veer a bit from your aesthetic with things like art and decorative objects.

Real Simple: 19 amazing kitchen decorating ideas

Before you buy anything, scan your home for items you may already have that fit the look you're going for.

Stick to a strict palette
Nothing makes a room feel more pulled-together than color.

One way to streamline a palette is to think in threes—two main colors, plus an accent color that either keeps the peace or adds vibrancy. In the room by designer Ellen Hamilton, pictured in the gallery above, the major players are peacock blue and coral—two rich jewel tones—and the accent color is cream.

Real Simple: What your paint color says about you

Paint is the foundation for any palette, but just as significant are upholstery, rugs, decorative accessories, and sometimes woodwork. (To make a strong color statement, even flowers and books should abide by the palette parameters.)

If you're looking for inspiration, copy your colors from a large piece in the room, like a rug or a painting. Or take a trio from the matrix in the gallery above. It works vertically or horizontally to offer six different whole-room combinations. Within each trio, any two can be the main colors, with the third as an accent.

Real Simple: Update your décor with easy paint projects

Create visual flow
Thoughtful placement of the elements in a room can establish an overall feeling of wonderfulness, as in the space by designer Betsy Brown, in the gallery above. You want to encourage the eye to hit only the sweet spots and gloss over anything underwhelming. Here are the essential ingredients.

• The inviter is what draws you in to a room. Here, it's a dramatic cowhide rug. But it could also be a lively fabric framing the windows or a sculptural coffee table.

• The cozifier begs you to stay. Think of a lush cashmere throw or a snuggly chair. In this room, the long green bolster on the sofa does the trick.

Real Simple: Simple updates for old furnishings

• The eye-lifters create height and a frame for everything else. See the three-headed black floor lamp and the étagère.

• The wow object is the loudest or shiniest piece in the room. It deserves prime real estate: Imagine a big painting above a sofa or a sparkly mirror (see right) over a fireplace.

• The weird thing is what stops the eye and prompts people to ask, "What the heck is that?" or "Where on earth did you find that thing?" Think sculpture or decorative objects. Invest in one large piece that looks like you got it from somewhere far, far away (time or place), and set it near your big-screen TV (a great distraction). Or choose smaller pieces and strategically place them throughout the room so that the eye moves from artifact to artifact. This is also known as the cool factor, exemplified here by the giant wooden ball in the foreground, the yellow objet on the side table, and the blue bust behind the sofa.

Real Simple: Turn clutter into storage and décor solutions

• The personalizers are significant items from real life, such as family photos, books you've actually read, and sentimental objects. Group them off to the side (here, on the étagère).

• The natural element adds life, texture, and, in some cases, color to a space. Choose flowers or a plant that reflects the style of your room. If you have a feminine, sophisticated space, try peonies in a low vase. In this minimalist, organic-inspired room, a tall, transparent vessel with austere branches ups the earthy feel.

• The finishers fill in the blanks: a basket of magazines, a stack of books, a tray on the coffee table. And the ultimate finishers are those signs that life is being lived in a room. Your shoes and your glasses, wherever you left them. Your morning mug of coffee. Because what really makes a room complete is, of course, the people who fill it.

Real Simple: 11 bedroom makeovers

Get a FREE TRIAL issue of Real Simple - CLICK HERE!

Copyright © 2011 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Living reflects your life. From advice for modern parents to the freshest news in food: It's all here.
Summer is practically synonymous with cooking food over the fire and sharing it with friends and family. Here's how to grill great food, step-by-step.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning and camp planning associated with kids? You can.
updated 8:08 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
In April, Carol Rossetti began a personal project to continue practicing her drawing technique, "while saying something worthy."
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
"Obvious Child" has all the story arcs for romantic-comedy gold, but one of the film's major topics isn't often broached in theaters: abortion.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A teen planned to build a tiny house with her parents for a school project, but after her father's sudden death, more powerful lessons emerged.
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Our mothers and the women we look up to offer our first lessons in beauty and personal maintenance. What do they tell us about loving our gray hair?
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
rings matrimony
When a partner is terminally ill, do you still go through with the wedding? Meet people who said 'I do' with a future in doubt.
updated 5:40 PM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
You have a new home or your first apartment and dozens of crazy ideas to make it look the way you want. But what's your decorating style?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT