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Should my living room furniture match?

This age old question for designers and homeowners is one that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. So, stay tuned to read about all the factors you want to consider in making the decision on whether to match your living room furniture or not. We’ll walk through everything from colour palettes, to time period, giving you the resources to make your own decision! 

No matter your affinity for interior design, creating your dream living room can be stressful and all the so-called “rules” don’t make it any easier. A common question designers often receive is around whether or not you should focus on matching your living room furniture. This seems like it should be an easy undertaking, but if you’re an indecisive shopper or love incorporating different colors, patterns and textures, then you may be thinking, does my living room furniture have to match? The reality is, there is no have to in design. There are, however, a series of loose rules of thumb that can guide you through the process of making sure that everything has a cohesive balance. 

In fact, sometimes matching can go really wrong. I’ve seen too many living rooms that consist of a single set all from the same place. It is bland, boring, and looks careless. The right balance is somewhere between matching and mixing. What’s more important than pre-existing décor guidelines is that you’re creating a space that makes you happy and feels like home. It’s safe to say you’ll spend a significant portion of your day in the living room, so your first priority should be creating a joyful interior that embodies your individuality. If it works for you, then it works!

The secret to maintaining a cohesive living room while mixing your furniture is to coordinate colors, upholstery, and wood or steel finishes. Look for common threads that tie the pieces together, even if in a less obvious way. For instance, you can achieve a balanced and unified living room look by opting for upholstery of a similar texture (such as velvets or linens), or featuring complementary colors or patterns. If you’re mixing colors, we love to reference our handy color wheel to pair colors opposite each other. When mixing patterns, following the rule of threes is a handy starting point: choose a large-, medium- and small-scale pattern in a color palette you adore. Then apply the patterns to your pieces in any way you’d like. Another trait to keep your eye on when coordinating mismatched casegoods (hard materials, such as wood, metal, glass or plastic) or upholstered furniture is their finishing. For example, when combing a coffee table, a sectional and a recliner from various retailers or time periods, each should encompass a similar arm or leg style and have consistent steel and/or wood finishes to give a feeling of intentionality. So, let’s dig into the 10 cardinal rules for making sure a living room is put together, beautiful, and also gives you freedom to play. 

Cardinal Rules of Mixing and Matching

1. Create Balance of Scale 

Accent pieces make up for powerful focal points. Whether they’re pops of color such as a bright cushion or striking accessories (like a unique-looking lamp), they elaborate a room enough to create a pleasing visual aesthetic. Resist the temptation to overdo accents as too many focal points result in a potentially distracting space. When you find accent pieces, it can also be a great way to scale off of them. If the accent piece is an oversize couch, play off of it with some accent pieces that contrast it in scale, like a simpler small side table. 

2. Explore Patterns, But Create a Limit

The easiest way to ensure that your room will look coherent, even if it features a variety of styles, is to limit the color palette. In this New York City kitchen, the palette is strictly black and white with pops of greenery, which ties together the ornate architecture and chandelier with modern kitchen cabinets and a contemporary ladder. As a general rule of thumb, use a simple color scheme to easily apply a mix and match style. This usually involves two neutral shades and two accent colors. A simple color palette ensures that the subject of attention is the overall theme of the space. Although patterns are an excellent way to create interesting designs, overdoing them only makes it all erratic. Use subtle patterns over smaller surface areas as opposed to having large-scale patterns on larger surface areas. Remember that you’re chasing a sense of cohesion in the look of your space, and not make it appear too busy.

3. Forget About Symmetry 

Put simply, asymmetry is a type of balance that’s often used in design. Typically, when people consider balance as a concept, they stick to working with symmetry — or mirror images — in their interiors. While that’s always a viable option, it’s far from the only one to choose from. In reality, there are three distinct forms of balance you can incorporate as part of your design. They are as follows:

  • Symmetrical/formal balance: This type of balance is created by taking the room and splitting it into two halves that mirror each other. It could, for example, include a living room that features two sofas with a coffee table between them.
  • Asymmetrical/informal balance: In this case, the room is balanced by the repetition of similar forms, lines and colors, but there is no mirroring or exact duplication. A living room done in an asymmetrical style might feature a sofa with an end table on one end and a floor lamp on the other.
  • Radial balance: Radial balance is the most infrequently used option on this list, but it involves similar objects being placed around a common center point. It’s most often seen in dining table arrangements where the same chair is used throughout.

We love orderly home as much as the next person, but there is such a thing as too orderly. I see very calculated symmetrical living room designs over and over again. Everything with similar shapes and proportions. This gets boring! Explore your creativity and work to create asymmetrical balance in the living room.  

Don’t be afraid to shake things up! “In order to have a living room with real character, you have to mix and match, and be somewhat eclectic,” she explains. Combining different styles, colors, and proportions will make your home feel welcoming and cozy. Now that you know what asymmetry is, it’s important to take a more in-depth look at why people use it in their designs. The most common reason is that it adds more visual interest. Where the repetition of symmetrical arrangements has a tendency to feel monotonous over time, asymmetrical looks keep us on our toes.

4. Find Common Traits 

Shapes are a large part of an interior scheme. Have pieces that are completely different but share some commonality can be a subtle, yet powerful way to tie things together. For example, chairs of different styles may look strange together, but this can create a surprisingly unified look if they all have clean lines. While mixing is about creating contrast, it is also about finding the similarities between items that are not the same. It can be a sort of ephemeral skill, but there are also real elements we can point to to figure this out. 

5. Create a Clear Vision 

Another way to mix and match furniture styles with ease is to envision a theme. For instance, if you wanted to create a dramatic professor’s library for a room with wood-paneled walls, you may start collecting objects that serve the theme: a green wingback chair, a tri-arm floor lamp, hammered brass baskets, and a French secretary desk. Having visual points of reference helps keep your overall theme on track. It’s easy to get dazed and confused when going for a mix-and-match strategy. Hence, it becomes all the more vital to start with an idea of the look of space so you don’t get swayed by the assorted options while shopping. A good start would include building an inspiration board to narrow down the direction in which you want your decor to head. Blogs, magazines, lookbooks, and style guides are all excellent sources of inspiration.

6. Balance Soft and Hard Lines

Look for pieces that have similar shapes so that even though they might have different styles, they still “match.”  For example, all of the seating in a room might have rounded arms, or all of the chairs in a dining room might have low profile backs. At the same time, you want a nice balance of hard and soft lines. If your couch is angular and modern, try opting for a rounded wooden coffee table to balance it out. On the other hand, if your aesthetic is really modern and you love all things sharp and angular, go for it! There can be beautiful balance achieved between these elements, but depending on your style, you may want to go all the way in one direction. This will create a stronger brand aesthetic for your room, but if that’s what your going for, then perfect!

7. Create Interplay Between Natural and Synthetic Materials

The same way you should pay attention to scale, you should also look to balance the different materials in the room so as to not end up with a room full of mid-brown wood tones. For instance, mix a sleek stone surface such as marble and travertine with a more rustic material such as cane or rattan. Mix shiny black wood finishes with matte blonde wood. Add in glass, metals, velvet, and patterns. Thinking of materials in terms of contrasts will help in creating a layered space. I love the combination of materials like wool and linen that really ground the room, with something glossy like glass or or chrome. You can usually do this by feel, gauging how many items that fall into each category you want in the space. It may be good to consider before going out and buying a bunch of pieces with a glossy finish, though. The result of all one type of material can be overwhelming and all too much. 

8. Explore Different Eras

From Mid-century Modern to Art Nouveau, there are so many eras from the past, and styles in the present that you can choose from. While a room that is entirely Mid-Century will look cohesive, it may be a little outdated and specific. Mixing styles from different eras is a great way to create diversity, while still choosing pieces that have something in common. It could be the stain of the wood, or the angular lines. It creates a rich tapestry that integrates history and creates intrigue into your space. You can have pieces that are talking points, pieces passed on to you from generations earlier, but then also make them contemporary with pieces you’ve picked out. 

9. Use Your Eyes and Trust Yourself 

Finally, educate yourself. It’s easy to throw furniture together, but a space starts to become really thoughtfully curated when you know the provenance of items and their meaning in design history. For instance, you may want to pair a Belgian art nouveau armchair with a midcentury side chair or an art deco table with a velvet fringed tufted sofa. Knowing how they coexist in design history will help you tie in the pieces together using color palettes or materials. The living room is a main part of your home, and where you spend time with people. It is yours, and you should be able to trust your own judgement, and your intuition on what feels right to you. 

10. Use the Power of Repetition 

Repetition works wonders in design. Even if your room mixes different styles, it will look more polished if similar patterns or items are repeated. It always helps to start a room with one focus object and build from there. Repeating elements, while not completely matching, create continuity. That is the main factor that many people are going after when they try to match in the living room. There are many old rules that will tell you certain elements need to match to be cohesive. The use of repetition, however, will give you the same effect, but with more of an updated and personal touch.

Decorating, or re-decorating as the case may be, your living room can be a really fun and exciting project. It’s important to keep in mind some basic principles, that can guide your decisions, and go into the process with a vision or dream. Creating moodboards and looking at inspiration on Pinterest can be a great way to gather ideas. This gives you a guiding principle, to make decisions from going forward, which gives you the flexibility to just go for it when you find a piece that just screams your name, but then also return to the board to figure out how you’re going to balance it in the room. Matching is a thing of the past, but creating continuity and fluidity in the living room is always going to be important.