Living room design: A step-by-step style guide

living room with wooden floor and sisal rug
(Image credit: Sisal and Seagrass)

By taking a thoughtful approach to living room design you can create a room that provides the perfect ambience for relaxing and coming together with family and friends.

Whether it is small living room ideas you are after or ways of dealing with a lack of natural light, taking the time to really think about how you will be using the space, which members of the household will spend the most time in there and considering how you will deal with the room's individualities, such as alcoves, low ceilings, awkward angles and so on, will ensure you are really making the most of the space you have.

In this guide to living room design, we cover the main areas you will need to consider when it comes to making this area of the home work for you. 

Living room design essentials

Before you start buying furniture and selecting colours for your living room, you should list everything you want from the space. It helps to begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who will be using the room? Will it be a mainly adult space, or is it a room to be enjoyed by the whole family?
  • Will you be using the room for entertaining guests?
  • What kind of feel do you want the space to have? Relaxed, vibrant, welcoming?
  • How much natural light does the room get? Look at where light enters at different times of the day?
  • What shape and size is the room? Very large living rooms need just as much thought when it comes to layouts as small. 
  • What activities will be going on in the room? Watching television, playing games, working from home, playtime for young children, gaming?

pink living room with stone fireplace

Your living room design should reflect your personality at the same time as making the very most of the space you have available.  (Image credit: Molly Mahon)

Getting living room layouts right

One of the first things you need to think about when designing your new living room is its layout. This is particularly important in awkwardly shaped rooms – such as those that are long and narrow – as well as in small spaces and those that are very large. 

When considering your options when it comes to living room layout ideas, your main priorities should be how to ensure you are making the most of your particular room and how you can ensure it feels comfortable, relaxing and somewhere you look forward to spending time in. 

In small living rooms, a symmetrical layout can work well, keeping the space feeling uncluttered and neat. Using two matching sofas with a central coffee table is the ideal way to get the look. Bear in mind that the best distance between a sofa and table is 14 to 18 inches and do think about how much space you need to manoeuvre around various items of furniture. 

In larger spaces, it can be helpful to create a 'zoned' layout with larger items of furniture. Through clever placement of sofas, shelving and side tables, you can split your space up — a space for watching television or hanging out with friends and one more restful space for curling up, for example. 

This idea can also work well in long, narrow living rooms — you can treat the room almost as two separate areas — a cosy, snug space at one end, and a more vibrant entertaining spot at the other. 

Whatever your approach, remember that the living room needs to feel welcoming and warm. Foster a sense of togetherness by ensuring seating is set out in such a way that people can face each other comfortably.

living room with corner sofa

L-shaped sofas can work in large and small living rooms and add a nice sociable feel. Using wall panelling adds depth to a neutral space. The Penny Corner Sofa from Rose & Grey costs £6,325. (Image credit: Rose & Grey)

pastel living room with stone fireplace

This pleasing symmetrical layout frames the focal point stone fireplace, while the large mirror accentuates the ceiling height.  (Image credit: The Painted Furniture Company)

Lighting a living room well

Your living room lighting ideas will form an important part in both the way your living room feels as well as how you can use it. 

"Layering lighting in your living room will create a more flexible lighting scheme," says Luke Thomas, design director at John Cullen Lighting. "Consider positioning LED downlights that are angled towards curtains, artwork and any joinery so that the reflected light comes back into the room, enhancing the feeling of space. 

"Always try and avoid a grid of downlights as this makes a room look flat and dull," continues Luke. "It is important to create focus within any room. Quite often the simplest way to achieve this in a living room is to pinpoint a coffee table or decorative object with a narrow beam of light.

Luke also suggests using lighting to bring the features within the room to life. "Consider lighting joinery and shelving to highlight books or objects. This can be done in a number of ways: highlighting specific items with a miniature downlight or using a linear LED strip concealed within the depth of the shelf for an even glow at the front of the shelf, or used at the back for a dramatic back light effect. Discreet low glare uplights can add a magical touch to window reveals, fireplaces and architectural details."

For maximum control over the mood of the room, look to the type of lighting controls you fit. 

"Using lighting controls so that each effect can be individually controlled separately is the key to setting the mood," advises Luke. "At a minimum add dimmer switches so you can manipulate the light levels.  If budget allows, a pre-set system is ideal, as at the touch of a button the lighting will readjust to the pre-set setting to suit the mood and time of day."

living room with mood lighting

Using layers of light, such as in this scheme by John Cullen Lighting, means different moods can easily be created and architectural features highlighted.  (Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

The best flooring for living rooms

Although your living room flooring ideas will heavily influence the overall look of the room, they will obviously also need to be considered on a practical level. There are, in fact, various flooring materials that are suitable for this room.

"Wool floor coverings are ideal for living rooms as they are hardwearing and soft underfoot," says Jon Flannigan, product manager at Kersaint Cobb. "As a natural fibre, wool is also breathable, it will be warm in the winter but remain cool in the summer. 

Some other types of natural flooring also work well in living rooms. 

"Sisal, seagrass and mountain grass all have smooth fibres and offer a crisp, neat effect," says Jon. "Coir is suitable for those seeking a rougher, more casual effect. Jute is the softest of the natural floor coverings, giving a comfortable feel underfoot. However it is less hardwearing and more absorbent."

“Choosing the right living room flooring can make or break your room," says Johanna Constantinou, brand and communications director at Tapi. "Nailing that perfect mix between style and comfort can turn your space into the ultimate place to relax and unwind after a long day.

"For many, carpet is understandably the number one choice of flooring for a living room, and as these areas generally see lower traffic, you can invest in a thick, luxurious carpet without the worry that it will get trodden down or marked as much as it might in a hallway or on stairs.

"However, the one downside to carpet is furniture marks being left around the room should you change the layout and positioning," continues Johanna. "Although there are preventative measures such as placing furniture coasters under your sofa, firmer carpet types are less likely to show dents, such as twist pile carpets.”

Of course wooden flooring is also suitable for the living room, being hardwearing and very beautiful. Placing a large rug on top of wood flooring in areas where comfort is paramount is a good idea. 

Don't forget the influence the colour of your flooring will have on the room either. 

“Shades of blue evoke a calm feeling. It is an uplifting colour and an ideal choice for the living room as its tranquil qualities create a relaxing atmosphere within the home," says Sarah Jenkinson, Kingsmead product manager. "Reminiscent of the beauty of nature with the sea and sky, the shades that sit within the blue colour palette are best placed in areas where we wish to wind down.

"Partner this with sandy-coloured shades to breathe life into the room and create the illusion of space," continues Sarah. "Choosing a lighter or neutral flooring options helps to create a cohesive room scheme. Muted tones will instantly uplift the space whilst remaining timeless, creating a welcoming feel. These two are a well-loved pairing that’s perfect for those neutral-loving homeowners who search for a serene home environment or those who want to introduce just a hint of colour.“ 

cream carpet in living room

Your living room flooring needs to be comfortable and warm underfoot as well as durable. The Malabar range from Cormar Carpets has the look of natural seagrass and coir but is made from 100% wool.   (Image credit: Cormar Carpets)

Choosing paint colours for living rooms

The shades you choose for your walls and ceilings in the living room will really set the tone for the whole space and have the power to completely transform the way it feels. 

Whether you choose to paint or paper the walls or like the idea of using timber panelling, the shades you use need to be carefully considered. 

"Choose your paint colour in tones that are right for the orientation of your room," says Cathryn Sanders, head of creative at Earthborn. "North and east facing rooms will benefit from warmer shades compared to south or west facing living rooms. Then decide whether you want to create a bright and airy space, a bold statement or a dark and cosy room, as this will also impact your colour choices.

"If any room in the home can take a deep shade, it’s a living room," continues Cathryn. "Darker tones, such as Hobby Wood or Lady Bug from Earthborn, will cosy up a large space, helping to make it feel more intimate and inviting. And if the thought of painting the whole room in a dark colour feels a bit too much, introduce it in small areas like alcoves or table legs for a subtle effect. Alternatively, another way to add colour to a living room is by painting just the lower walls. You could opt for a paler colour on the top half of the walls and a darker colour at the bottom — ideal for disguising scuffs and marks in these busy areas.

"Green tones are the perfect choice for almost any room of the house, especially living rooms. Bright, bold shades can energise and add ‘zing’, whilst soft muted greens create feelings of calm and relaxation. Secret Room and Fiddlesticks are consistently popular shades for this area of the home," says Cathryn.

Soft neutrals can be a great choice for a sophisticated and relaxing colour scheme. "Using panelling or painting woodwork in a complimentary hue helps to add subtle texture to the space so it doesn’t look bland," suggests Cathryn. "If you’re just wanting to do a quick update, consider selecting a wall that you want to highlight in a room, for example a picture gallery wall. Feature walls can simply be painted a different colour from the rest of the room and this is an easy way of updating your living room without much time or effort."

"The living room is the perfect place to play with colour," says Chelsea Clark, head of brand at Lucie Annabel. "If you’re looking to create a relaxing space, soft pastels and natural tones are the perfect options to make the space feel light and airy. Greens and blue tones in particular are noted as being the best for creating relaxing spaces, due to the colours' link to nature.

"If your living room has lots of natural light, you can consider going a bit darker with your colour scheme and play with busier floral wallpapers. If you’re looking to create a cosy feel, a darker colour such as a deep blue or grey is great, making the space feel more enclosed, and will add an element of sophistication or drama." 

grey living room

Dark shades, such as Earthborn's Rocky Horse, shown here, can make a living room feel more intimate.  (Image credit: Earthborn)

pretty living room with stove and floral wallpaper

Softly-patterned wallpaper, such as Lucie Annabel's Sketched Meadow in Cornflower Blue on Cream, can add interest and texture to a living room.  (Image credit: Lucie Annabel)

How to make a living room feel cosy

If there is one room you want to feel welcoming, warm and snug, it has to be the living room — and there are several design tricks to ensure your space feels cosy.

Firstly, introduce a focal point or two. While living room fireplace ideas are guaranteed to add instant character and charm to the room, those without a fireplace need not despair. Large pieces of eye-catching artwork or a picture wall, a stunning picture window framing a view, a feature wall or even a stand-out piece of furniture can all become focal points that ensure the room doesn't feel bland.

Comfy furniture such as squashy chairs and sofas that beg to be sat on, something soft underfoot, the soft glow of side lamps and lots of different textures will also inject a cosy feel. 

In very large living rooms it can be hard to steer away from the space feeling empty or cold — use your furniture placement to section off comforting little corners for nestling down rather than leaving the whole room open. 

cosy sitting room with open fireplace

An open fire or log burning stove will instantly add character and warmth — as will side lamps and comfy furniture.  (Image credit: ILIV)

Keeping clutter under control with living room storage

For any room – living rooms included – to feel restful, clutter needs to be kept under control.

“The living room is often considered the heart and soul of the home," says Cari Bateman, designer at Neville Johnson. "As well as being somewhere to relax as a family or entertain with friends, it’s a room that also needs to be functional for everyday life. This includes providing a space to store belongings, whether that’s your book collection or spare blankets.

“There are plenty of ways to incorporate living room storage units that not only look effortlessly stylish but also provide you with plenty of cupboards, drawers, and shelves," continues Cari. "A sumptuous storage cabinet helps hide various things that commonly clutter up the lounge, from books and board games to electronics and candles. There’s also the option of a fitted living room storage cabinet with doors or even a whole wall of units.

“Many homes have alcoves on either side of a fireplace or chimney breast. These are brilliant places for bookcases or fitted shelving units, including those with doors that effortlessly hide any clutter you don’t want to see. A modular shelving unit is a brilliant option, too. Not only will it provide you with ample space to store your belongings, but you’ll be able to display ornaments, books, and decorative items stylishly."

living room with floor to ceiling shelves

Great living room storage, such as this from Neville Johnson, will ensure the room remains neat, tidy and restful at all times.  (Image credit: Neville Johnson)

Designing a multi-functional living room

Very often living rooms also have to perform functions other than just providing somewhere to unwind.

They might need to include a spot from which to work at home or for children to do their homework, they might have to double-up as a dining area or play area for younger members of the family, for example.

It is important that you plan for these additional needs well in advance as it will probably have a big effect on things such as how many electrical sockets you require, your lighting scheme, the kind of storage you incorporate — even placement of radiators and the fireplace. 

Once you know exactly what is going to be happening in your living room you can approach its design in a more considered way that means you won't have clutter building up in the corners, cables snaking all over the floor or too little space for your chosen sofas and side tables. 

home office

If you need one corner of your living room for home working, keep things organised with a good desk unit such as this from Shelved (Image credit: Shelved)
Natasha Brinsmead

Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Content Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. Over the years Natasha has renovated and carried out a side extension to a Victorian terrace. She is currently living in the rural Edwardian cottage she renovated and extended on a largely DIY basis, living on site for the duration of the project. She is now looking for her next project — something which is proving far harder than she thought it would be.