22 Ways to Overhaul a Ho-Hum Living Room

22 Ways to Overhaul a Ho-Hum Living Room

Photo: istockphoto.com

The living room is one of the most versatile areas of your home. It’s a space for game nights, watching TV, napping, entertaining, studying, and more. If yours feels a little dated or uninspiring, take a cue from some decorating ideas that can truly transform the look and feel of a living room.

We asked New York City designers and renovators Jordan Slocum and Barry Bordelon, also known as the Brownstone Boys, for their expertise about how to decorate a living room. The duo provided many living room design ideas and tips to inspire your next design project.

1. Measure your living room space.

Woman holding measuring tape.Woman holding measuring tape.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Before jumping into a living room overhaul, take care of the basics:

  • Assess the fixed elements of the space.
  • Take measurements and create a sketch of the room, either by hand or digitally using home design software.
  • Consider flooring, wall treatments, fireplaces, windows, and doorways to determine whether any renovations are necessary before the project begins. Doing this will help you plan for the amount of materials you will need for these projects.

This is also the time to evaluate furnishings you already own—like furniture, window treatments, and accessories—and decide whether they have a place in your updated design.

RELATED: 11 Retro Living Room Ideas We Almost Forgot About

2. Find inspiration in unexpected places.

Living room with many framed pieces of art.Living room with many framed pieces of art.

Photo: istockphoto.com

The Brownstone Boys create living room designs that are personalized to the homeowner, and they take inspiration from hobbies, style, art, and more—even the local bodega. Their living room designs start with things that bring personal happiness, and then they build the aesthetic from there.

When asked how they come up with decorating ideas for a living room, Slocum says, “A major inspiration for us is New York City, so we look at things we can bring into our projects or our client projects that are inspired by New York—whether it’s the architecture or New York vintage.”

While planning your aesthetic, assemble a collection of images that capture your preferred colors, patterns, furniture styles, and sources of inspiration. Use these images as a guide for your space and share them with experts to convey your vision.

3. Add a wall of photos with custom wallpaper.

Wall of black and white photos.Wall of black and white photos.

Photo: Haley Lubas

Wallpaper is a wonderful way to add pattern and texture to a living room and develop a design motif for a space. In a recent client project in New York, the Brownstone Boys took this decorating staple to a new level by incorporating meaningful artwork into bespoke wallpaper by Eazywallz that features black-and-white photos. This is an idea that could work in any room of the house.

4. Use oversize elements in a small living room.

Small living room with large sofa.Small living room with large sofa.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Are you trying to figure out how to decorate a small living room? One good solution is to embrace oversize features to create an illusion of spaciousness and grandeur. Large furniture pieces and bold decorative elements can add character and enhance a small room’s visual appeal and functionality.

Although you must consider scale in your living room design, feel free to size up your couch, tables, or other pieces. Slocum contends, “You don’t necessarily have to play into the size of your space. You obviously want to make sure that everything functions and works to your liking, but don’t let sizing intimidate you.”

5. Install a showpiece pendant light above a coffee table.

Neutral colored living room with stylish light.Neutral colored living room with stylish light.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Create a warm and inviting atmosphere and a stunning aesthetic by adding a stylish pendant light above the coffee table as a focal point. You can lower the height of the light fixture to add drama to your living room design, though if you plan to move your furniture around, mount the light at a height that allows for ample head space.

Upgrading to dimmer switches or smart light bulbs will give you more control over light levels so you can create as cozy an environment as you want.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Pendant Lights

6. Add texture to the wall with limewash.

Modern living room with light beige limewashed walls and modern art on the wall.Modern living room with light beige limewashed walls and modern art on the wall.

Photo: James Alexander Limewash

“Limewash is having its moment again, which is really great since it’s such an old artist’s practice and craft,” says Slocum. Limewash on the walls gives your living room an aged patina, and its soft matte texture adds dimension and visual appeal. This technique helps homeowners infuse subtle color variations that can create a serene and inviting atmosphere, and enhance a room’s style.

7. Add art, small accessories, and plants to complete your design.

Man adding small potted plant to shelf.Man adding small potted plant to shelf.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys

If you’re a fan of maximalist living room design, Slocum and Bordelon recommend using art to inform your furniture choices instead of seeking out artwork that complements the furniture. The Brownstone Boys feature the work of local artists in their designs, so the spaces always reflect the communities they love.

Another affordable way to make a living room feel complete is to introduce small elements that add texture and color—things like cabinet hardware, throw blankets, live plants, and other little details that give the space extra style.

8. Position window treatments above the window casings.

Long gold curtain hung above window.Long gold curtain hung above window.

Photo: Wayfair

One of the Brownstone Boys’ design tricks is to position curtains and other window treatments above, as opposed to inside or level with, the window casings. Especially in a small living room, this makes a space appear larger by drawing the eye upward, creating the illusion of higher ceilings and visually elongated walls.

In homes with neutral walls, the Brownstone Boys suggest that DIY designers use window treatments as an opportunity to add color to a living room.

RELATED: 15 Living Room Curtain Ideas for Style and Privacy

9. Add slipcovers to your furniture.

Beige loveseat with slipcover in a room with peach-colored walls and a vase.Beige loveseat with slipcover in a room with peach-colored walls and a vase.

Photo: sixpenny.com

Slipcovers are protective, removable fabric covers that can be placed over sofas and chairs. In living room interior design, they not only protect furniture, but they also offer an inexpensive, versatile way to update pieces, allowing for easy color and style changes while preserving the underlying upholstery.

When asked if they see slipcovers becoming a mainstream trend, Bordelon notes that they’ve seen great pieces that have a slipcover look. Sixpenny slipcovers, for instance, have some nice lines. Still, he expects that this would be a more limited trend.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Slipcovers

10. Choose elements that have storage, or can be used in more than one way.

Coffee table with open cabinets.Coffee table with open cabinets.

Photo: walmart.com

Every square foot counts, particularly in small living room design, where space constraints require creativity in decor and furniture selection. For those trying to figure out how to decorate a small living room, Bordelon suggests taking opportunities to make your living room design more practical. When possible, choose multipurpose furniture, such as ottomans with storage. Also, capitalize on vertical space, or even consider building niches into walls to carve out storage or display space. Finally, work on eliminating clutter, which makes any room look smaller, and don’t forget to deal with messy electrical cords and wires.

“Anytime you can have multiple-use spaces and pieces of furniture,” do it. “It’s super important to also have things that have storage in them.”
— Barry Bordelon, designer/renovator for The Brownstone Boys

Man sitting on couch looking at photo gallery wall.Man sitting on couch looking at photo gallery wall.

Photo Credit: The Brownstone Boys

At the end of a long day spent designing or renovating, the Brownstone Boys are like so many of us—they like to relax in front of the television.

Some living room designs embrace the TV (or other electronics) as part of the decor, while others hide it behind a sliding cover or media cabinet. Slocum suggests a flat screen TV like the Samsung Frame TV, which can double as artwork or as part of a gallery wall. When you’re not binging Netflix, the Frame TV can display photos or artwork, blending seamlessly into a room’s decor.

RELATED: 11 Ways to Keep Your Electronics From Taking Over the Living Room

12. Mix and match your upholstery.

Living room with green velvet couch on patterned rug.Living room with green velvet couch on patterned rug.

Photo Credit: The Brownstone Boys

The Brownstone Boys agree that mix-and-match upholstery is the way to go. Using a variety of colors and patterns can create a more personalized aesthetic, make a living room design feel more cohesive, and tell a more interesting story. Slocum points out that buying several beautiful individual pieces might cost less than a complete furniture set and that you might be more satisfied with the result. Bordelon adds that matching upholstery doesn’t seem well thought out and can make a living room seem like “a hotel room or staged space. When you have things that are mismatched, or even mix in some vintage pieces, the space looks more collected and thoughtful.”

RELATED: How to Reupholster a Couch Like a Pro

13. Use pops of black to create contrast in neutral spaces.

Living room with gray couch.Living room with gray couch.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys | Photographer: Carbon Stories

Neutral tones provide a flexible base for living room interior design, but other design elements should offset the quiet backdrop. Using too many unrelieved neutrals in interior design can create a monotonous space that may come across as visually uninteresting.

While working on a project where trees and other obstructions posed challenges for natural light, Bordelon recalls how the team lightened up the interior with neutrals. “We contrasted it with some pops of black throughout the house just to make those neutrals and those light tones even lighter.”

14. Frame your child’s art.

Parent and child inserting art in frame.Parent and child inserting art in frame.

Photo: tinyframes.in

The hallmark of a Brownstone Boys design is the way the duo incorporates touches that make a space personal to the homeowner. For instance, on one of their projects, they noticed kids’ art held up by magnets on the fridge. Slocum and Bordelon had the kids’ creations framed and used them as family room decor.

Slocum says of their inspiration to use the child’s art, “It’s really special and it’s something that is timeless as the kids grow.”

15. Layer your books and accessories.

Books layered on shelf.Books layered on shelf.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys | Photographer: Carbon Stories

Layering items on a shelf or table by thoughtful positioning or stacking adds depth and dimension to the display. A little layering can create a visually engaging and well-balanced arrangement and artfully organize your items.

Arranging books presents both challenges and opportunities. “We think about different directions that a book lays in, maybe putting a candle on top of a set of books, or laying them down so we have different heights to work off,” says Slocum.

16. Let a unique feature guide the living room configuration.

Living room with wall of records.Living room with wall of records.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys | Photographer: Nick Glimenakis

The Brownstone Boys aim to create spaces and ambience that their clients love. For a client who enjoyed listening to records, reimagined a parlor living room as a listening space. A gorgeous record shelf and record player became significant design features of the room. With the addition of an oversize couch, positioned toward the fireplace, the room was transformed into a warm and welcoming environment for enjoying music.

17. Place fresh flowers on the coffee table.

A large potted plant in the foreground of a minimalist, modern living room.A large potted plant in the foreground of a minimalist, modern living room.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Along with (not surprisingly) coffee table books, coffee tables are often laden with coasters, trays, or small sculptural art pieces. Bordelon points out that while you only want a couple of items on your coffee table, you should consider adding fresh flowers to your display.

Flowers add natural beauty, instantly invigorating and brightening a room. Unlike some other decorative accessories, fresh flowers are easy to change out regularly, introducing different colors and seasonal touches to a living room design. Not into flowers? Houseplants look great and freshen the indoor air too.

RELATED: How to Arrange Flowers Like a Floral Designer

18. Make the ceiling a focal point.

Black drop ceiling design.Black drop ceiling design.

Photo: amazon.com

Slocum and Bordelon, whose work has taken them to classic brownstones in Brooklyn and beyond, have probably seen more than their share of beautiful ceilings with vintage details. While the delights of a well-preserved ceiling with original molding are obvious, more run-of-the-mill ceilings offer design possibilities that are often overlooked.

In homes that don’t have crown molding, coffered ceilings, or medallions, paint or wallpaper create opportunities for decorative enhancement of the ceiling. Best of all, there aren’t any rules for painting the ceiling. “You can go darker. You can go lighter. You can even bring that color down a little lower onto the wall, and that will give you a little bit of architectural detail,” Bordelon says.

19. Throw pillows add a finishing touch.

Living room with large mirror and white loveseat with jewel-toned pillows.Living room with large mirror and white loveseat with jewel-toned pillows.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys | Photographer: Nick Glimenakis

Want to know how to decorate a living room when budget is an issue? It’s all about the throw pillows. Choose fabrics in standout tones or with interesting design features to bring beauty, texture, color, and visual interest to the space. Bordelon recommends opting for a mix of pillows, and incorporating those with tassels or other pronounced ornamentation sparingly.

20. Stick to paints in warm tones.

Brown chair in living room.Brown chair in living room.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys

Choosing the right living room paint color and furniture tones is essential in setting the mood of the space. Colors evoke emotion. Generally speaking, cool-toned hues like blue, gray, and purple tend to be more relaxing, while warm-toned shades like cream, yellow, and red are more invigorating. The color you pick should fit with the aesthetic you’ve chosen.

What’s popular today? Slocum says, “I’m seeing a lot of velvet and warm tones—dark reds, burgundy, purples, browns. I think that’s having a really nice moment right now.”

21. Add a fireplace surround.

Carved stone fireplace with large painting on mantel.Carved stone fireplace with large painting on mantel.

Photo: The Brownstone Boys | Photographer: Nick Glimenakis

A fireplace surround helps establish a living room’s aesthetic and adds style to the interior design. It can be a focal point, setting the tone and anchoring the entire space.

The Brownstone Boys use fireplace surrounds to inject character into both vintage and modern homes. There are many ways to update a fireplace, including entirely replacing it or redesigning it by adding marble slabs, tile, slats, and more.

RELATED: So You Want to…Reface Your Fireplace

22. Layer your rugs.

Layered rugs under leather chair.Layered rugs under leather chair.

Photo: wayfair.com

Rugs provide warmth, style, and underfoot comfort to the living room and other spaces, and they’re a great way to add a pop of color or pattern to an otherwise neutral backdrop. Rugs can act as a grounding presence in a room, or they can set visual boundaries, helping to define seating areas or separate dining from living areas.

Layering rugs on top of each other is a trend worth trying. To pull this technique off with beautiful results, the Brownstone Boys recommend:

  • Using rugs of two different materials or textures.
  • Choosing complementary patterns or colors that aren’t too similar; if they’re too close, it may look like you tried to match them unsuccessfully.
  • Selecting rugs that enable you to see enough of the floor around them. It’s easier to style rugs that are smaller than oversize rugs.

Final Thoughts

Two male designers holding wallpaper and paint roller.Two male designers holding wallpaper and paint roller.

Photo Credit: The Brownstone Boys

Learning how to decorate a living room is a creative and rewarding endeavor that allows you to make your space unique and beautiful. These living room design ideas from the Brownstone Boys will help you get the most out of this space, transforming it into a comfortable, visually appealing, and functional haven.

Interested in adding a little workspace to your living room? Get some ideas for places in your home where you can create a small office setup.