For most of us, the days of the formal living room are long gone; today's contemporary living rooms are places to lounge and linger. But the living room still welcomes house guests, hosts cocktail parties, and—even if you fail to entertain as much as you'd like—the living room still sets the decorative tone for the rest of the house. In some ways, the living room now needs to do even more; be a comfortable, accessible space for the family, while still looking polished.
We asked several of our favorite designers and bloggers about their strategies for creating living rooms that do it all, and after studying their spaces, we think the key is in the mix. Browse through the projects below and you'll find bold colors, contemporary artwork, and textural rugs set against traditional overheight ceilings, aging wood floors, and walls of moulding. We like the approach NYC designers 2Michaels take in their living room overhauls—playing with several options until they find the perfect mix.
Above: A living room in a tiny Georgian townhouse on London's Great Ormond Street that was once the abode of UK designer Ben Pentreath. The flat was originally decorated in a subdued, traditional scheme, but over time, Pentreath injected more color and contemporary furniture. The designer has since moved on to a new London dwelling, but remains wistful about the space's traditional/quirky mix. Says Pentreath, "I will always look back very happily on the Great Ormond Street years!"
Above: The "before" living room of blogger and designer Kelly Muys Wood from TearingUpHouses. She loved the historic charm of her 1928 house, but wanted to reinvent the space in a way that felt current without detracting from its original architectural elements.
Above: Wood's "after," in which she layered several design genres via artwork and furniture against a neutral color palette on the walls and millwork. Says Wood, "The result is meant to feel layered and timeless, but intentional and relevant. Comfortable. With enough surprise to keep things interesting."
Above: Before this Central Park flat was renovated by New York City designers 2Michaels, the previous owners had used the living room as a dining room. 2Michaels' clients, however, wanted their apartment to feel more comfortable and less formal.
Above: The "after" from 2Michaels still has the drama of high ceilings and period wainscoting, but the apartment feels far more comfortable. The designers filled the room with cozy furniture including thick rugs for warmth and texture. With the help of vintage modern antiques dealer Larry Weinberg, the room came together through a process of testing accessories and art until they found the perfect mix. Say the designers of their approach to living rooms, "We avoid too many matching elements, and we try not over-determining the arrangement. A room needs to be lived in and not merely admired."
Above: The living room "before" photo of Chez Larsson blogger Benita Larsson. Among many things, she lamented the orange pine stairwell, closed-off kitchen, and robustly dinged ceilings and walls.
Above: Two years later, the stairwell is white and the cramped kitchen wall is gone. In addition, extra space at the rear of the living room is now an office nook, visually offset with gray paint. Says Larsson, "I love the open plan and how light it is, which is what attracted me to the house in the first place."
Above: A Houston townhouse living room before a renovation by designer and blogger Bailey McCarthy of Peppermint Bliss. Says McCarthy, "everything was getting lost in a sea of beige."
Above: Almost unbelievably, McCarthy completed the living room overhaul in one week. She kept the existing couch and had the walls, shelving, and mantlepiece painted in a mix of matte and glossy dark green paint. Adding a more dynamic mix of color went far to define space for McCarthy's client.
Above: This living room by London designer Kate Monckton is set in a traditional Victorian cottage. Her client requested a comfortable and welcoming living room, wanting a contemporary look and nothing too formal. Monckton set the tone with a neutral backdrop of antique white paint, offset by splashes of contemporary color; in this case, a perennially chic pairing of charcoal gray and bright orange.