Zone The Space

Living rooms are often used for more than just one purpose — you might find yourself relaxing at the end of a particularly hard day there, or entertaining friends, playing with the children or even working from home in this room.

Whether yours is a compact living space or a room of more generous proportions, it pays to view the room in terms of zones; though do think carefully about what you use the room for before sectioning the space, either visually or physically. This might be as simple a task as using a screen or room divider that doubles as storage to conceal your work space or play area, arranging your seating in a cosy cluster around the fireplace for entertaining, or even creating an intimate reading corner using shelving and a well-worn armchair. You could also use a different type of flooring, or even vary the ceiling or floor levels to define the various areas.

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Get The Lighting Right

Avoid, at all costs, relying on just a single overhead pendant in the living room — not only will it create a very one-dimensional, downward type of light, but it will do nothing to create the different moods required in this space.

Instead, use a range of lighting types, such as wall lights, downlights within alcoves and a selection of floor and table lamps, in order to provide pockets of light around the room — and be sure to set them on dimmers. Don’t forget to highlight certain features in the room either — a spot above the fireplace or tucked into an inglenook perhaps, or picture lights and even concealed lighting beneath built-in shelving or seats will all add to the interest of the room.

“Not Just a Good Room”

Jane Burnside is an architect and author of Contemporary Design Secrets, janedburnsidearchitects.co.uk

The living room will be different things to different people. For some it will be ‘the good room’, mainly used for family get-togethers; for others it will be a special place to retreat from the whirl of family life. Living rooms and family rooms are mostly occupied during the afternoon and the evening. Accordingly, these rooms often benefit from a southerly and, ideally, a westerly aspect.

Some people think they only have to have a ‘good room’: an adult-only zone with expensive furniture that is only used once a year. I can almost hear the ticking clock on the mantelpiece! But the living room can be so much more than this. If designed as part of your home – reflecting the way you actually live as opposed to how you think you might live – the living room can be the most important space. After all, why put all this expense into a ‘good room’ that only gets used at Christmas — it would be cheaper to take everyone out!

To get the most out of your living room, you need to think first about how you could use and enjoy it in different scenarios: relaxing on your own, or entertaining family or throwing a party. Then design the room with those activities and needs in mind.

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Furniture Choices

Start by thinking about your seating and how it will be arranged. Ensuring you have enough seating for when guests visit is important; this can sometimes be an issue in smaller rooms. Along with a large sofa (modular models work well in both large and small spaces and can also help with ‘zoning’), include occasional seating too — built-in window seats or upholstered ottomans are all good examples.

It makes sense to arrange your seating around a coffee table in order to create a sociable feel in the room, but avoid the thought that all seating must be pushed up against the wall. Pulling the sofa out a little and placing a sideboard or console behind it works on a visual and a practical level and provides a useful spot for lamps, reading material and so on.

Ensure the furniture you choose is all in proportion with the size of the room — compact sofas in large rooms leave the space feeling cold and cavernous, while a chunky, large sofa will just seem intrusive in smaller, cramped spaces. Think about their height too — rooms with low ceilings will benefit from low-level furniture, for example.

“It’s Not a Singular Room”

Andy Ramus, Director of AR Design Studio, ardesignstudio.co.uk

When designing rooms in a house, including the living room, the essential starting point is to think carefully about what you are going to use them for.

A space should service needs, enhance one’s living experience and it should be a place where people can enjoy congregating. At most, it should be somewhere that lifts the spirit.

To us, the typical definition of a ‘lounge’ is no longer a singular room and is in fact two spaces, one of which is a comfortable and relaxing space where friends and family can be together in an informal setting. We generally incorporate this space into an open plan layout, linked from a kitchen and dining space. This area should benefit from high ceilings and a feeling of airiness. We like these spaces to be surrounded by large sliding glass doors that open up on to a terrace, and the furniture should therefore be orientated to a view out of the space through to the garden and beyond.

The other type of living room is the ‘snug’; a more introverted space where you could spend time alone working, reading or watching television. A central focal point, such as a TV or fireplace, helps to provide a sense of retreat and solace.

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Think About Location

If you are building or completely remodelling, aim to position your living room in such a way that it feels like a retreat as opposed to a walkway — if you have to walk through it to access other rooms it can take away some of the relaxing appeal the space is supposed to have.

Living rooms work best when they have direct access to the outside space, so if possible, locate this room so that you can open it up to the elements when the mood takes you — patio doors of some form not only add to the space visually but also extend the space when open.

“It Should Reflect the Owners’ Lifestyle”

Annie Martin, Architect, anniemartin.co.uk

The living room is personal and needs to reflect the owners’ lifestyle — it is essential to analyse this first. Some of us want to feel cosy and see the living room as a space for watching television by the fire; some of us want to sit and read the paper with big bi-fold doors opening on to the garden. This also relates to the location of the living room; some clients want to retreat to a quiet living area which is separate from the open plan kitchen/dining area, others want to feel like it is an extension of the space. Both requirements can sometimes be accommodated by the use of sliding partitions, at least one solid wall to locate the TV and fireplace, blinds/curtains to control natural light and flexible lighting.

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Create A Focal Point

Some kind of focal point is essential in the living room if it is to feel cosy. While fireplaces are the ideal, acting as the perfect anchor around which the rest of the layout is hinged, there are other ways of creating a point of interest.

If you have a great view, then turn this into the focal point by arranging seating around the window from which to admire it. An oversized mirror or a piece of art leaning up against the wall can work well too, as does using just one wall to display a gallery of your favourite pictures, an interesting textured plaster finish or feature wallpaper.

Using a statement piece of furniture, such as a striking oversized coffee table, will do the trick if you really are lacking in any architectural points of interest.

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