How to decorate a living room

With the right design and decorating tricks you can have your dream living room. The colours and themes you choose, the way you position your furniture and the attention you pay to the finishing touches all combine to create a ‘feel’. Ideally, it should all come across as a happy accident - only you will know that it is down to clever techniques and careful planning on your part. Here's our advice on how to decorate and living room and get it right.

How to decorate a living room

How to decorate a living room. Image by BHS.

Quick tricks

  • When you’re designing a room, think about the big picture. This will help you create a room that’s balanced with furnishings that work together not against each other.
  • For beautiful windows that soften the light as it comes in, try white wooden blinds with thin curtains layered over the top.
  • If you’re laying a rug, always leave four inches of space around the edges to show it off.
  • Adding a picture rail, dado rail or skirting board can have an instant effect on the perceived shape and dimensions of the room.
  • A little bit of pattern goes a long way – a few cushions, a throw or even just one strip of patterned wallpaper on a wall can have a big impact and create a real feature

How to choose a theme
For a great looking room, first choose your living room colour scheme and theme and work everything else around it. Once you know what your theme should be, it’s much easier to paint walls, add new features, choose lighting and decide on fabrics for sofas, chairs and curtains or blinds. If you’re concerned a theme may date quickly, focus on accessories like throws, cushions and screens that you can change easily.
Make sure you settle on a theme that reflects your taste and personality.

A great way of choosing design theme is to make your own a mood board – simply rip out images you like from magazines, or fabric samples or colour charts and stick them on a board together to build up a picture of the things you like and if you can make them work together. Inspiration can come from many places – it could be a painting, a film, a traditional design style such as Art Deco or just a memory of a time and place when you were happy – a time spent by the sea or out in the countryside. If these themes appeals to you, take look at our metallic art deco living room, coastal living room and eclectic country living room design ideas.

Making a small room feel larger
Colours like white, cream, lemon, light blue and lilac make a room lighter so you could consider a neutral living room colour scheme , but for maximum impact paint your skirting boards and picture rails a lighter shade than the walls. Paint shelves and fittings such as radiators the same colour as walls to make them less intrusive.

Vertical striped wallpaper can make ceilings seem higher and well-positioned mirrors are perfect for creating the impression of more space. You could place a large mirror along one wall at eye level, or position one near a window to reflect the light from outside – the same trick works with a lamp in the evenings.

When it comes to furniture, choose sofas and chairs with exposed legs so you can just see part of the floor underneath, this enable you to see further back to the wall giving the room more depth. Finally, choose accessories carefully, avoid overpowering patterns, styles or textures and keep the room free from clutter by decluttering the room. For more advice, read our article how to small room feel bigger, plus see our inspirational gallery how to save space in a small room.

Making a large room feel smaller
Sometimes a living room can be too big to feel really homely. High ceilings can make a space seem bright and airy during the day, but cold and empty in the evening. A good trick is to paint your ceiling a slightly darker colour than your walls, or divide your walls in half by putting up a dado rail and use a darker paint on the lower section. Pay close attention to flooring too – if you’re stuck with light wood flooring or a pale carpet, add a large, darker coloured rug. Lighting is also crucial. In a large room concentrate light into the centre rather than round the edges. For loads more advice, read how to make a large room feel cosier.

Creating a cosy living room
For an informal, relaxing atmosphere, assemble furniture of varying sizes, and combine with a range of different textures, fabrics and patterns. You can then enhance the whole effect with the right mood lighting . Layer your lighting, providing as many ways as possible to light your room. Uplighters and table lamps, which create a softer, warmer glow are a great investment, as are dimmer lights.

The darker the colours, the smaller and cosier the room will feel – creating a living room feature wall is a way of introducing a rich, deep shade – go for orange or red undertones. If you don’t want to repaint the walls or you’re not confident enough to go for a high-impact all-over colour, use accent colour accessories such as rugs, throws, cushions and lampshades to bring those warmer tones into the room.

Finishing touches
By paying attention to the smaller details, you’ll create a living room that is both coordinated and contemporary. Lampshades are commonly overlooked but they can set the tone of a room – don’t just go for neutral colours because it’s easy – do something different with modern styles and contemporary colours that tie in with your theme. Our stunning statement lighting gallery shows you how to make an impact with pendants, lamps and chandeliers.

If your living room contains a lot of family photographs, why not change them all at once rather than now and then? Update with more recent photos or dig out a few long-forgotten gems for an instant living room facelift.

For more advice on designing your living room, you may find these articles helpful:
How to layout your living room
Decorating a living room on a budget
Living room colour schemes
12 small living room design ideas