A living room has to be the most adaptable of all rooms, yet it’s important to create a relaxed atmosphere where your family can recharge, pursue their interests and be themselves. It is best to start with a list of your activities and the equipment needed.
Next draw plans of your living room and its furniture, trying out various ways of incorporating areas for the activities that have emerged.
Seating is the most important factor in a living room, so give it pride of place in your designing. You won’t want a stream of people walking through your sitting area, and it will look rather unfriendly placed all round the walls. On the other hand, if the seats are too close together no one will be able to stretch out their legs. Incidentally, people find conversation easiest if they’re seated at right angles to each other. A study area should be tucked away to one side — so you can turn your back on whatever is going on — and preferably lit from the left. If eating is only occasionally done in the living room, avoid large tables taking up too much space and use trolleys and folding chairs instead. You may feel you could fit everything in much better if you moved a doorway, a non-loadbearing wall or a fireplace. The best plan is probably one that gives you the most floor space.
Remember that in this room, more than anywhere, you will need a ‘focal point’ — that is, something your eyes are drawn to, some thing you can sit and gaze at. Traditionally this was the fireplace, and it still takes a lot of beating. But an obsolete fireplace does little for anyone’s feelings of comfort, so you may have to provide an alternative focal point. A television only fills this need when it is switched on. A really good piece of furniture is better, or a large picture or print, but whatever it is, it should emphasize the room’s good points.
Extra room can be created by building a separate unit to house items such as the television set, stereo equipment, drinks and glasses and books. Grouping together these aids to modern living in one unit covering, perhaps, one wall from top to bottom, can create a focal point.
You should also develop secondary points of interest — groups of objects, plants, dried flowers — to balance both the main focal point and each other. You must keep changing these to give a feeling of life to the room.
A three-piece suite is the least flexible of seating arrangements, and three-seater sofas rarely get used by three people — do you really need one? A cheap and simple way of providing seating is to build a low-level platform in a corner and put large floor cushions on it, It isn’t necessary to have all your upholstery matching, as long as each relates to the other. Any low tables should be high enough to eat from.
If you are able to start from scratch, and your ceilings are high enough, you could consider constructing a ‘conversation pit’. Build a 1 m (3 ft) high stage around your walls (remembering to include some steps along one side), with a secondary stage half as tall around the other three sides. Cover the main stage and the steps with carpeting and upholster the secondary stage and its backing to form a giant settee.
The equipment you collect in your living room can be quite terrifying, so aim for a lot of storage, either to display or to conceal it. Remember, if you incorporate your television into the storage you will need ventilation. When choosing any item of furniture, bear in mind all the rest and the eventual atmosphere you want to create. If you are a hi-fi addict, you will want it to be very easily accessible, but remember that dust is the enemy of such equipment and it may be best to keep it behind cupboard doors.
In a much-used room a relatively plain scheme will be easier to live with. Is your living room going to be more of a day-time or night-time room? – for that too will affect your choice of colours. Your windows will have to make it private and interesting. Lighting is, to a degree, a matter of common sense (bright lights for reading etc.), but you should be able to get a bit of extra drama from your lighting arrangements. A display of things you’ve collected can be a great focal point — it needn’t cost much, it just needs imagination and a little patience. Prints are cheap too — the best quality ones come from museums. If you’re going to make a feature of one big print, make sure that that one is well framed. Lots of cushions will add a feeling of relaxation. If your room is very small, a light colour over both walls and woodwork will help. Tidiness, fresh flowers, a plant or a bowl of fruit will give it a lift far beyond its size and cost. Above all you must let your living room evolve continually so that its atmosphere keeps alive.