Living Room Decorating Lessons

garden stool
It doesn't take a huge overhaul to completely transform your living room. Designer Elaine Griffin shows how a few simple strategies are all you'll need for redecorating your living room.

Choosing Colors

Decorating a room is like preparing a recipe: You need quality essentials to create the foundation and an adequate dose of flavor to make the result memorable. In your living room, or any space, a good layout and reliable, durable furniture are the foundation, while color adds the spice. Before a makeover by New York-based interior designer Elaine Griffin, this living room was adequate but bland. Griffin started by laying out a sound furniture arrangement, with the sofa along the room's largest window, which allows for better traffic flow and the addition of an armchair.

Mirrored Magic

Master the art of symmetry to create a polished look in your wall art and accessory arrangements. In this living room, the same display of plates appears on both sides of the window, and identical side tables and lamps flank the couch. The arrangements act as a "visual border" so the eye is drawn to the beautifully dressed couch and windows.

Go to the next slide to see how to hang art.

Hanging artwork will add polish to your walls. Watch and learn how to hang artwork with ease.

How to Hang Art

Watch and learn how to hang wall art.

Timeless & Trendy

One of the most-touted decorating standards holds true in this living room: Invest in furniture you'll love forever, and incorporate less expensive accents that you love right now. Styles and trends change, and a timeless sofa, chair, or dining room table can carry almost any trend or accessory you might wish to layer in a few years from now. This oatmeal-colored sofa in a woven fabric supports, rather than competes with, the collection of colorful pillows splashed across it. Later, different pillows could replace these for a new look at a minimal cost. Mixing shapes and sizes also gives your pillow collection presence. If you want to use a wide variety of colors, try sticking to one type or classification, such as jewel tones, ethereal pastels, or, as shown in this living room, deep, yet bright hues. Defining a range in which to work makes selecting objects for your room easier.

Go to the next slide for tips on how to arrange sofa pillows.

Pillows arranged prettily on a sofa add a flourish to living room. Bring a designer look to your sofa with these throw pillow arranging tips.

How to Arrange Sofa Pillows

Get a magazine-worthy sofa with these tricks for arranging sofa pillows.

Pattern Mixing

Patterns add visual texture and can capture an of-the-moment trend. No matter what types of patterns you are mixing -- from traditional stripes and florals to geometric designs and motifs -- a few basic principles apply. Vary the scale of patterns throughout the room -- whether they're on draperies, artwork, or pillows. Mix large, medium, and small patterns so they don't compete with one another. Look for patterns that will unify your color scheme. A patterned pillow or window treatment can be a perfect starting point for a room makeover, because it can help determine other patterns and colors to use within the room. For example, you can repeat the background of a fabric as a wall color or play up a hue that appears in the detail of a fabric in other accessories.

Furniture Selection

When choosing furniture for your living room, consider what functions you need it to perform. And don't be afraid to mix it up. This coffee table has a shelf below for storage and emanates an industrial quality, while the side tables next to the couch sport a modern silhouette and don't have any storage space. Just because one of your tables is designated for storage doesn't mean the others need to be too.

Function and Finesse

A living room is, of course, for living -- for gathering, relaxing, and conversing -- and needs to accommodate certain necessities to make the room functional. Look for ways to turn function into form. Trays can corral accessories and also be used for serving drinks or dessert when necessary. Use pretty boxes to stash remotes or crafting supplies, such as yarn and knitting needles for projects you like to work on in your living room.

Go to the next slide to see how to style a coffee table.

Add style to your coffee table with a just-right arrangement. With a mix of accessories, books, and flowers, and our favorite arranging tips, you can create a magazine-worthy tablescape.

How to Style a Coffee Table

Give your coffee table presence with these styling tips.

Color Planning

If you already have a piece you love, use it as a starting point for a room makeover. The pair of green armchairs was the only color in this living room before its dramatic transformation, but they set the tone for the rest of the room's style points. The apple-green leather chairs eased the introduction of other colorful accents, such as the raspberry pouf and lamps, as well as a new teal armchair. All of the colorful elements together create a horizontal swath of color across the seating area, so the eye is drawn across the room to take in all of the beautiful elements within it.

When you are working with numerous colorful accents and accessories, consider whether you want to go all out and apply a bold color to walls or you want the walls to be a secondary feature. Here, a gray-tinted beige coordinates with the sofa and area rug and serves as a soft backdrop for the gorgeous colors throughout the room.

Window Dressings

"Most rooms need two layers of window treatments: one for light control and privacy, the other for looks," Griffin says. Roman shades and draperies in ribbed polyester work in tandem to perform both jobs. A green-ribbon detail on the draperies adds style. Hanging the drapes above the window frame visually increases the room's height.

Make hanging curtains easy with our tips and tricks for measuring and installing these simple, yet stunning window treatments.

How to Hang Curtains

Watch and learn the tricks to hanging curtains

Jewelry for Walls

Artwork, whether it's prints, paintings, or photos, can complete a room, just as jewelry can complete an outfit. Buy smaller, more affordable pieces and place them in larger frames and have mats custom-cut. Bigger frames will give the artwork a larger presence on your walls. White mats and frames are no-fail choices, as they allow the artwork to shine. When determining how to hang your artwork, look at the space you want to fill and determine whether a vertical or horizontal arrangement would work best. Measure to ensure your artwork is placed evenly and centered to your chosen reference points. This trio is centered on a sliver of wall between the window and the corner and was spaced to align with the window's top and bottom trim.

Coordinating Versus Matching

Rather than precisely matching everything within your room (which can be daunting), give yourself a little breathing room and focus on coordinating. "Matchy-matchy tables are a no-no," Griffin says. "Varying finishes is the key." She put that principle into practice with the selection of this fretwork console. The white finish matches the tulip tables next to the sofa, but the overall look of the piece is decidedly different.

Repeating Colors

Using the same color more than once is also a smart decorating principle that will help your room to flow. But don't discount a piece just because it doesn't perfectly match. This lamp was chosen to repeat the hue on the pair of green chairs, but there is a slight difference between the two colors. The pieces aren't next to each other, so the variation is hardly noticeable. Also keep in mind that matching colors that appear on different types of surfaces can be challenging. A solid, shiny surface reflects light differently than a linen fabric. Rather than looking at objects side by side, look at them separately, and note what undertones you see within the colors. Both the lamp and chairs have yellow undertones, making the objects a perfect example of coordinates, not matches.

Bookcase Tips

It might seem counterintuitive to fill a space to make it feel bigger, but that's exactly what this trio of bookcases does. They fill the wall and expand almost to the ceiling, adding visual width and height. Clever arranging also contributes to the success of the expansive display; books are arranged by color, and a variety of objects -- orbs, boxes, urns, plants, and artwork -- in interesting textures and finishes are incorporated.

Rethink and Repurpose

The basic arrangement of your rooms might work well for day-to-day living, but consider special occasions, too, as you are putting the final polish on your room. A garden stool next to the bookcase can be pulled over next to one of the chairs as an end table for drinks when entertaining. Make sure extras such as this are portable and easy to maneuver to get the most out of them.

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