Living Room Dilemmas: You Asked, Our Design Experts Answered

Time Several Hours

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WORDS BY Heather Goerzen

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Published on August 3, 2021

From Friday night movie night to weekend lounge (and sweatpants) time, hosting your monthly book club gathering to all the everyday moments in between, your living room is where the majority of home life happens. Well, that and the kitchen (cause snacking is our fave hobby). For many of us, the living room is one of those wears-all-the-hats kinds of spaces, serving ourselves, our families (pets, too), and our guests. Meaning it has to double down on the cozy feels, all while leveling up for entertaining moments. 

That’s a lot to ask of one room… So it’s not surprising that we often find this room in particular wields most of your design dilemmas. But here’s the good news, after designing countless living spaces, our designers have truly seen it all–and then some. Not only do they bring a keen eye for style, but they are also well versed in the practical fundamentals of layout, functionality, and even family dynamics. 

In our latest Instagram series, we asked you to ask us anything, living room edition. And our design team is here with the answers. From arranging pillows and mantle styling, to layout guidelines and rug sizing, read on for our styling advice on this all too important living space. ***insert: a collective deep sigh of relief***

What size rug to buy?

“We generally suggest a size that allows at least the front legs of any major furniture pieces in the room to fit comfortably on top (if not the whole piece). One of the most common design mistakes we see is rugs that are way too small for the space, leaving the room feeling haphazard and simply off. Think of the rug not just as a decorative accent, but as an anchor that’s necessary to bring unity and a sense of definition to your space.” –Vivian Torres, Lead Designer

Rug size

How to arrange pillows on a large sectional?

“Focus your pillow game on the corners. I recommend 2-3 pillows in various sizes (maybe even a lumbar) at each armrest, as well as in the connecting corner. Toss a throw blanket over one arm or the end of the chaise for a balanced, cozy, and effortless feel!” –Brady Burke, Lead Designer

Pillows on sectional

How to pair a sofa and chairs?

“There’s no magic formula for this one, but here are some basic guidelines (like all rules, these can be broken). You want a balance of creating contrast, while simultaneously achieving cohesion. Start with scale, making sure pieces feel proportional to each other. But everything else can be more freeform so long as they complement. Feel free to (as in please do!) mix and match colors, textures, forms, and even design eras (yes, a contemporary sofa can look amazing with a mid-mod accent chair). We tend to recommend diverse but harmonious fabrics rather than matchy-matchy sets (like a leather sofa with upholstered chairs, or even a linen and woven combo.) We also love to pair tailored and structured pieces with soft, rounded items for more of that visual contrast.” –Vivian Torres, Lead Designer

sectional and chairs

How to design for open living and family rooms?

“Try to create individual zones in each room so that each space has its own identity, while anchoring them with a similar color scheme and design style to feel cohesive. There are tons of family-friendly furniture and play options that are durable and function well (for those inevitable jumping on the sofa moments and accidental spills), as well as look real good, too. Utilize different types of furniture in each space so that they feel unique. Try a sectional, oversized ottoman, and a few poufs in one room, and a sofa with chairs and a coffee table in the other.” –Heather Goerzen, Design Editor

open floor plan

Where to place furniture in a long, thin living room?

“If you don’t have space to put two chairs opposite a sofa with a coffee table in between, move the chairs to the sides of the coffee table, facing each other. That can buy you 3-4 extra feet while still keeping a large seating area available for group chats and movie night!” –Melissa Wagner, Design Project Manager

living room layout ideas

How to style a mantle?

While you can always go for a clean and minimalist look with a singular, oversized artwork, we love when mantles feel more curated and personal. Focus on layering pieces to add depth and height, as well as mixing in sculptural items for dimension. We often start with a few pieces of art in various sizes, leaned against one another in the middle (a statement mirror works, too), alongside a stack of books topped by a vase (or 2) to one side, and perhaps a mix of tapered candles at various heights on the other. You can also add plants, florals or dried stems for a touch of life. Unless you have a really traditional space that warrants symmetry, I’d recommend more of a casual mix of elements. –Brady Burke, Lead Designer

decorative grate

Soft rug for family time, or firm rug for looks?

“Go with the lower maintenance option. Otherwise, whichever one is going to make you happier, do it. i.e., if cozy family time makes you happiest, get the soft rug. If a put together beautiful room makes you the happiest, get the firm rug. Both are valid options!” –Melissa Wagner, Design Project Manager

Family friendly rugs

What to do with the big empty wall that just has a TV?

“Build a gallery wall around it! I actually did this in my own home. It’s a great way to transform what can be a visual eyesore into a work of art.” –Shelby Girard, VP Creative & Design

What color to paint walls with a green sofa? Help!

When weaving in bold colored furniture, we like keeping the background crisp and clean, giving your sofa the spotlight. You can’t go wrong with bright white! If you’re looking for a little cooler contrast, try Clare Paint Fresh Kicks. Or for a more organic palette with warmth, I suggest Benjamin Moore Simply White.  And by all means, if you’re looking for a truly bold and eclectic vibe, maybe all in on a jewel toned palette, perhaps with Benjamin Moore Hale Navy walls, and crimson and fuschia textiles. –Heather Goerzen, Design Editor

green sofa

Do all of the metal finishes need to match?

Mixing metals is so hot right now! Just needs a little thought behind it so it feels deliberate, not random. I typically suggest sticking to a dominant metal, and then adding in 2-3 complementary metal finishes. Some combos we love: aged brass + matte black, antiqued bronze with unlacquered brass, polished chrome with brushed brass. Just make sure it’s a true mix throughout your living room. It will feel odd or out of place if you have everything in one metal tone and then one single item or fixture in something different, or if all your ‘mixed metals’ are grouped in one area.” –Brady Burke, Lead Designer

shiplap fireplace

How to choose artwork (without getting overwhelmed)?

“Find pieces that honor your uniqueness and don’t stress over it too much. If you don’t really love it or it doesn’t complement the design scheme in some other way via color, subject matter etc., then simply move on to the next option. Eventually something will catch your eye! Ideally, avoid cliche word art (live, laugh, love anyone?) and generic prints and choose something that has some meaning to you, or makes you smile (and if that’s word art, you do you).” –Vivian Torres, Lead Designer

Can I DIY refurbish my sofa set?

“I mean, you can, but do you really want to? If you do want to, then go for it! But be willing to invest in the tools necessary to really make it a nice piece of furniture. Otherwise, I think it’s worth the investment to have a professional do it. They have the proper tools and experience to ensure it’s done well and return a piece to you that will become an heirloom. Plus, a professional can do it lickity split which just means bonus time with your newly upholstered set.” –Melissa Wagner, Design Project Manager

How do I decorate walls with high, vaulted ceilings?

“Use a larger scale piece, or a series of frames in a grid, to help fit the scale of the space and play up the height of the room. You want to create a moment that draws the eye upward, all while anchoring the floor to the ceiling.” –Shelby Girard, Havenly VP Creative & Design

high ceilings

Have more design dilemmas and could use an expert POV? That’s our specialty. Take our style quiz and discover your new designer BFF.

Words by Heather Goerzen