Design the heart of your home with intention, they say.

Decorating a living room, which is arguably the most-utilized space in your home, can be a challenge, and that's true whether you are starting from scratch or planning a redesign. To simplify this high-payoff task (a curated, intentional living room can do wonders for the overall aesthetic of your house), we tapped two interior designers, who shared a step-by-step guide to dressing up this area.

It's important to start with a thoughtful plan and view your space with fresh eyes, says Kelsey Haywood, who helms haywoodmade interiors. This even means completely moving all existing furniture out of the room so you can see its potential. "Once the room is empty, put some painters tape down on the ground to play with dimensions and layout. You will be surprised by what a difference this step makes," she says.

Ahead, more salient advice about decorating your own living room.

Hancock Park Home Tour living room
Credit: Tessa Neustadt

Determine Your Budget

You can't execute your living room design vision without first determining your budget, explains Haywood. "Identify where you want to save and where you want to splurge," she suggests, noting that it's equally important to take stock of what you already have to limit excess spending. This involves stepping outside the living room and combing through your home; mine your house for items, which might feel lackluster or forgotten in a guest bedroom, that can be repurposed inside of this space.

montauk home tour brown velvet couch
Credit: Thomas Richter of The White Arrow

Start Big

"You really can start with any piece, be it something you have and love or something you've been coveting and are ready to purchase," says Michelle Gage, the founder and CEO of Michelle Gage Interior Design. "For ease, it's helpful to start with a large one—like a sofa. That lays the foundation and helps to inform the furniture layout."

In addition to this item's scale and shape, you also should consider the color and material of its fabric. "Use these elements as a jumping off point on where to go next!" Gage says. It is also helpful, notes Haywood, to determine which retailers you feel drawn to—something you will likely discover early on, especially when you shop for high-ticket items.

Always Measure

Whatever your aesthetic and however you ultimately decide to design and arrange your living room, there is one step you should never skip, say our experts: "Be sure to measure your space before purchasing the large stuff, like a sofa or a rug. Those are two pricier items that difficult to rehome if ordered incorrectly," says Gage.

Living room with metal coffee table, couch, and chairs
Credit: John Merkl

Shop Smart When Selecting a Rug

If you're starting with the sofa, choose the rug next, advises Gage. "Make sure you measure the room and order the proper size," she shares, noting to also consider the general wear of the room when making this purchase. "For most people, their living room is a high-traffic area, housing children, pets, and guests. Wool is going to be a durable option for that reason."

And when it's time to consider the rug's color, think back to your couch selection. "If you chose a bright sofa, perhaps you want a neutral rug with some pattern. If you picked a gray linen sectional, opt for a rug that will add a pop of color to your space," Gage says.

colorful blue pink and orange living room in pittsburgh house
Credit: William Abranowicz

Purchase Multi-Functional Pieces

Stock up on stylish-meets-utilitarian pieces that serve multiple purposes, advises Haywood. "Upholstered coffee tables can work as an ottoman. A sofa sleeper allows the space to double as a guest room, when necessary," she explains. "When you're purchasing investment pieces, it's good to get all of the use out of them that you can!"

Define Your Layout

From there, the recipe is simple: Determine the center of the space. "Place your rug, then your sofa and coffee table. Create balance with one or two side chairs," Haywood shares, noting that she's also fond of adding swivel seats with a side table in-between. "It instantly adds function and a bit of fun. Work in ambient lighting on the floor or a side table next to the sofa, a basket for rolled throws, and voila!"

modern art sketches above blue couch in living room
Credit: William Abranowicz

Get Creative With Art, Objects, and Technology

"Of all of the rooms in your home, this commonly-used space should reflect you the most," says Gage. "Be sure to show off your style and flair in fun ways. This doesn't mean you need to line your walls with family photos—it can simply mean that the art displayed is from international travels or a favorite local artist." She's partial to paper mâché busts, which can be installed on the wall, for an artful, three-dimensional moment, or window treatments, like drapes, to help define the room.

Position Your Television

If you have a television in your home, you will want to position it a certain distance away from your couch, says Hy Haddad, the owner of HDH Tech Corp, a New York-based automation company. "The equation the professionals use is to take the distance from the screen to the best seat in the house in inches, then divide that by three," he says, which will give you the optimal screen height. "So, at 10 feet, that's 40 inches." 

Design Flat Surfaces

As for how to decorate your flat surfaces, from bookshelves and consoles to coffee tables? Treat the former two as treasure troves, says Haywood, who likes to line shelving with trinkets and objects she collects over time (they should be in a constant state of evolution, she adds) and balance out consoles with a pair of table lamps or houseplants. And for the latter, "coffee table books, a candle, and a brass vintage object always finish off this surface nicely!" Gage says.


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