This is our 17-step living room design guide!
My interior design firm does quite a few living room makeovers and designs. Whether you’re building a new home, are moving into a new house , or want to do a living room makeover, the process is similar with an interior designer. Here are the 17 steps for creating the perfect living room design ideas.
1. What will you use your living room for? What’s the main purpose?
Traditionally, the term living room refers to a more formal area in the home used for entertaining. It’s long been separate from the more casual family room. However, these days, the living room is often one and the same as the family room. Open-concept layouts often have one “living room” area that is used for both entertaining and recreation.
This means the first step when designing your living room is to determine its purpose. Will it lean toward the formal side and be used mainly for entertaining or will it double as the family room for watching TV, reading, playing games, etc.?
Many types of living spaces could fall under the broader “living room” category. Figure out precisely what you’ll be using your living room for.
2. Measure your space to get the living room dimensions
Many guides suggest that you must establish a budget first but IMO, I find that in order to put together an itemized budget you need to know your room’s dimensions and size first. The reason for this is that the cost of various components is dictated by size. For example, flooring is priced by square feet. Painting often is priced by surface area. Therefore, sketch out and list your room’s dimensions before putting together your detailed living room budget.
3. Put together your floor plan layout
I also find it helpful to do a 2D living room floor plan or layout before putting together a budget because an itemized budget will set out which furniture items you want. Will you go with the sofa and loveseat or one sofa and two armchairs in your seating plan? Or perhaps a sofa, a loveseat, and one accent chair.
There’s no need to get all fancy with this. Pencil to paper is sufficient to jot down your living room ideas. There are also plenty of great free and low-cost interior design software options that will do the job.
The point is your layout will dictate the main living room furniture items you need which will form a significant part of your budget. Moreover, furniture pricing is fluid. If you have a larger living room space, you may opt for more pieces and spend less per piece instead of fewer, higher-priced pieces.
4. Create an itemized budget
Coming up with a budget for your living room design ideas and makeover is critically important. It will dictate how much you decide to change, furniture selection, lighting, flooring, and decor. Working with clients and our own homes, we’re pretty knowledgeable about living room makeover budgeting and how much it costs to improve your living room design.
You can spend a little or a fortune on your living room space. You already know that.
Here’s a good budget for a living room makeover: $10,000 to $30,000.
With that budget in hand, you’ll be able to do enough to dramatically change the look of your living room for the better. It might not do everything you want but it’s pretty good.
TIP: When you go through the budgeting process, be as detailed with your living room ideas as possible. Yes, it will adjust but an itemized budget is helpful. Moreover, as you’ll see with the sample budget below, the “small” items add up.
Here’s a sample living room budget breakdown for a 200 sq. ft. living room:
Assume it’s all done by professionals.
- Engineered hardwood flooring: $4,000
- Walls painted: $2,500
- New sofa – mid-grade: $4,000
- 2 armchairs – mid-grade: $4,000
- Area rug: $1,500
- 2 side tables: $800
- Shelving: $2,000
- Coffee table: $1,200
- Lighting: $2,000
- Art: $1,000
- Decor touches (throw pillows, decorative objects, etc.): $1,500
The above is an extensive makeover going with mid-grade quality furniture. In other words, $25,000 is sufficient to create a terrific living room. Not all living room makeovers require new flooring or painting either.
On the other hand, if you need to do anything structural such as remove or add a wall, the cost will go up. Or, if you need expensive window treatments, that can add significantly to the cost. Notice that the sample living room budget above does not include window treatments.
How to come up with a living room budget?
There are two approaches. Most people go with approach number two.
1. Money-is-No-Object Budget Method
First, there’s the money-is-no-object budgeting approach. You have plenty of money so the cost is meaningless. Basically, you choose exactly what you want to do and buy and then get it. Your budget is dictated by what you want to have done.
2. There’s Only-So-Much-Money Budget Method
Second, there’s the “only-so-much-money” budgeting approach. While there might be some wiggle room, at the end of the day you have limited funds and therefore must make decisions so that the final cost fits your budget. Most folks have no choice but to go with this budgeting approach (yours truly included).
5. Decide on a living room design style
With the layout and itemized budget in hand, it’s time to decide on an overall style. This will dictate much of what you buy for the space as well as the color scheme, flooring, art , and lighting.
What is a design style?
There are three overarching interior design styles: traditional, transitional, and contemporary. Within those three there are dozens of sub-styles. Think mid-century modern, farmhouse, West Coast contemporary, Victorian, etc. Most people these days go with transitional or contemporary living room. See 18 living room design styles here.
The best way to develop an overarching style is to browse living room design photos. The internet is loaded with them; so many that it can be overwhelming.
If your home has a general interior design style, stick with that (unless you’re renovating your entire home). Unless you are eclectic, it’s good to have a similar style throughout.
6. Choose a focal point
Every room needs a focal point. It could be a wall or piece of furniture, fireplace, and wall above, area rug… something that when you enter the space, it’s the first thing people notice. If you’re going to spend extra on anything, it should be the focal point.
It could be something as simple as a standout console table against the wall with a stunning piece of art above it. Or, it could be a magnificent sectional sofa. In many living rooms, it’s the accent wall.
7. Feng Shui
Feng shui rules can apply to the interior design in every room of the house, including the bedroom (see feng shui bedroom rules and layouts), dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. However, each room will have a set of unique rules, layouts, and colors due to the different purposes and features in each room. Living room feng shui pertains primarily to orientation within the home, furniture arrangement, lighting, and colors.
8. Develop a color scheme
For your color scheme, do you want to go dark, bright, earthy, minimalist white , or perhaps all white with one accent wall?
Or maybe you prefer plenty of natural materials in the space such as stone, wood , and glass.
Most people know right off the bat the general color scheme they want but at this point, you should get specific. What shade of white? Furniture colors. Area rug colors. Accent wall colors. Put it all together with as much detail as you can.
9. Living room flooring
Not all living room makeovers require new flooring. Some do. Some don’t. What’s great about flooring for living rooms is pretty much most of today’s options are viable options. Think hardwood, engineered hardwood, carpeting (and variations), laminate, vinyl, tile , and even concrete.
Any floor can be enhanced with a large area rug. In fact, unless you go with carpeting, you’ll want to budget for and choose an area rug.
My preference is wood or carpeting.
Relevant articles for more information check out my Definitive Flooring Guide.
10. Cap it off with the perfect ceiling
The good news is you often don’t have to do much to the ceiling so it won’t cost you a fortune. The bad news is if you want to create a stunning ceiling, it’ll cost a fortune. Think vaulted, tray, barrel, ceiling tiles, and so on. For what I call the “show-stopper living room ceiling” check out my “Show-Stopper Living Room Ceiling Guide“. This is all very expensive. Throw in a high-end chandelier or two and you’ve doubled your living room budget pretty fast.
If you’re on a very limited budget, do nothing to the ceiling except paint it (if you are painting the walls). You can create a stunning living room with a more or less bare ceiling.
11. Choose your furniture (shopping time)
Choosing furniture and furnishings is fun. It’s such an integral part of the living room makeover process. There are books written on furniture alone. There’s so much to consider regarding seating and the overall furniture arrangement. Before you start, be sure you have your layout so that you know exactly what pieces to look for. Avoid veering from that; it’s easy to get sidetracked when you spot something that catches your eye. It’s best to stick with the plan.
Now, if you find something not on the floor plan that you absolutely must have, before buying it, return to your floor plan layout to ensure it will work in the space. Seriously, your layout is very important to the success of the room. If you fail to leave proper traffic lanes and/or have too much or too little furniture, the entire design will suffer.
Here are some basic furniture selection guidelines:
- Number of people to accommodate
- Pets in the house? This dictates the fabric you choose (i.e. as in pet-friendly fabric).
- Kids in the house? Like pets, if you have young kids, you might want stain-resistant fabric.
- Style – while some furniture items can work well in various design styles, some are definitely designed in a specific style.
- Size – this is important. You want your main furniture pieces to be the right size for the space. If it’s a huge living room, seek out larger pieces and vice-versa.
Don’t forget to include enough surface areas for people to put down their drinks within easy reach. Side tables and end tables are inexpensive but add so much functional value to any living room.
12. Textures – fabrics, window treatments and rugs
Textures add depth and interest to a room. It’s a balancing act. You don’t want it too texturized but at the same time, most living rooms benefit from some texture throughout. Materials that add texture include fabrics, flooring (i.e. rugs), stone , and wood. Unless you’re going for the ultra-sterile modern look, you’ll naturally incorporate texture into the living space.
Another design component to pay attention to in a living room layout is whether to incorporate any thematic patterns such as curves, floral, right angles, linear lines (horizontal or vertical), triangles, geo-designs, or no patterns. Incorporating a pattern is done with fabrics, wall materials (accent wall, wallpaper, stone, brick), flooring , and furnishings.
For example, curves soften a room while straight lines and right angles harden it. You can certainly combine patterns to create a balancing effect. You can create a focal point with patterns such as a bright, floral sofa. That’s just one example of many.
Pattern options are limitless; it’s something to be mindful as you put together all elements of your living room decor and design.
14. Living room lighting
Do not underestimate the impact lighting has on your living room’s decor. It’s substantial; for some interior designers, lighting is the most important aspect of a room. Lighting in any room serves two purposes:
- Decor (form)
Arguably, living room lighting should be more about form than function. You don’t need much if any, task lighting. Instead, it should be ambient and the lighting fixtures themselves should enhance the decor.
There are several types of living room lighting options. You won’t need them all but you should incorporate a variety in the space to create the perfect ambient lighting whether day or night. Speaking of daylight, the amount of natural light your living room receives should be considered. If not so much lighting, you may want to add more than you would in a space with plenty of lighting.
15. The Fireplace (and surrounding wall area)
Many living rooms include a fireplace. Despite it being costly to replace (i.e. switch to gas), many homeowners opt to change out the fireplace and then enhance the surrounding wall area.
When it comes to buying a gas fireplace, you can save money if you go with an existing model your fireplace company has in stock or can order for you. If, however, money is no object, you can hire a fireplace company to do a custom design for your home. This will considerably increase the cost. For example, hotel lobbies often feature a custom-built fireplace. This is only necessary if you have a gargantuan living room and would like it to be a showpiece similar to hotel lobbies.
- Regular gas fireplace: $4,000 to $10,000
- Electric fireplace: $1,000 to $5,000.
Many homeowners save money by installing electric fireplaces themselves. Gas, on the other hand, should be done by a professional with a gas ticket. If it’s a new gas fireplace, a gas line needs to be run to the fireplace.
The surrounding wall area
Another consideration is the wall area surrounding and above your fireplace. This is often designed to be a focal point in a living room. The fireplace itself attracts attention so if you really want to make an impact, dress up the surrounding wall area. You can use tile, stone , or dress up a painted wall with an impressive mirror and/or shelving. Another common option is a large screen, wall-mounted TV above the fireplace. Whether you want a TV in your living room boils down to the room’s intended use (see step 1 at the top).
16. Wall design, decor and art
I could write an entire book on living room wall design; books have been written on it.
You can keep it super simple and frankly, it doesn’t take much to dress up your walls. There are two key wall considerations in any living room:
- The accent wall: Whether to have one and if so, how to design it.
- Non-accent walls: The remaining walls and how to design them.
The accent wall requires a design unto itself. It could be an accent wall solely by being a different color or by material such as wallpaper, stone, brick, wood paneling, etc.
The non-accent walls can be bare or include decorative elements such as art or include functional elements such as shelves (floating shelves are particularly popular).
- 24 Different Living Room Accessories to Personalize Your Home Decor
17. Finishing decorative touches
Decorative touches are a way to incorporate personal flourishes, add further accents or textures, and/or provide additional functionality. These include throw pillows, blankets, poufs, shelf decorations (vases), books, plants, clocks, mirrors, and so forth.
Decorative touches are a low-cost way to improve any room dramatically. Seriously, if you have none in your living room, adding a mirror, plants, some wall art, and a shelf with some attractive decorative pieces and books can dramatically improve a living room.
Likewise, if you go all out and makeover a living room following all the steps above but fail to add decorative touches, the room will be lacking big time. Do not ignore the decorative touches.