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How to decorate a living room

Follow these 5 steps to update your living room decor

by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
living room with blue couch and gray coffee table

When you have guests for your next dinner party, family gathering or impromptu movie night, chances are they’ll spend most of their time in your living room. Since it’s the center of all the fun, it makes sense that the living room is one of the most popular rooms in the house to update.

Trends come and go, but if you want to keep your living room fresh, think about space and how you plan to use it. Will you be hosting parties? Do you mostly use your living room for intimate gatherings? Do you have children who need a space to play?

Whatever your situation, you can transform your living room without a lot of effort. The following tips will help you update these features to make your living room the pride of your home.

living room with gray walls and blue wing backed arm chair

1. Decide on a color palette

If you want your living room update to include a new splash of color, you have numerous options. Paint colors and paneling can help create certain moods and make your living room feel spacious and breezy or cozy and intimate. Learn about how to choose the perfect interior paint color, then buy your paint and try these trends to update your walls:

  • Lighter colors make rooms spacious: If your living room is on the smaller side (less than 200 square feet) paint your walls light colors. Light colors can make the room feel bigger, especially if your living room has a lot of natural light. Choose a color like white, light gray, pale blue or pale yellow.
  • Dark colors for more intimate settings: A dark color on your walls can make your living room feel smaller or cozier. Especially popular in large living rooms of about 350-400 square feet or more, dark colors set an intimate mood. Dark reds, blues and greens can do the trick.
  • Wood paneling: Wood paneling makes a bold choice for living room walls. Dark stains like reds, browns and grays create intimate, cozy moods, while light grays and honey-colored stains can keep your room bright. You can choose anything from sleek, modern vertical slats to wide, rustic horizontal beams. Wood paneling can complement most floors and plays especially well with concrete and tile floors.
  • Textured accent wall: If you’re looking for a way to add a flourish to your room, consider a textured accent wall. An accent wall with subway tile or wood paneling can give your room personality. You can even add unexpected touches like mosaics of different colored tiles, staggered wooden blocks to create shelf space or large marble panels to give your room a modern touch.
living room with hard wood flooring and light gray colored couch

2. Choose the best flooring for your lifestyle

The best flooring for a living room depends on how you use it. If you’re looking for a floor that’s easy to clean, long-lasting or timeless, hard flooring might be the best flooring option for you. If you would rather have a soft, economic or safe floor, carpeting might be the best option for you. When you’re thinking of redoing your living room flooring, consider putting in one of these surfaces:

  • Hardwood floors: If you have the money for them, hardwood floors will last longer than almost any other option. With hardwood, you get to choose the type of wood and color of the stain. Dark stains can make a room more intimate, and lighter stains can brighten a room and make it feel bigger. While wood floors provide a classic look, they’re susceptible to scratches from furniture, and they don’t hide dust and dirt as well as carpet does.
  • Bamboo floors: If you don’t want hardwood, bamboo is a good choice for your living room floor. Bamboo floors can be just as hard as hardwood, and they come in various colors and styles to fit all kinds of interiors. Bamboo is also one of the most environmentally-friendly substances you can choose.
  • Cork floors: Cork is also a good alternative to hardwood. Cork floors are a bit softer than hardwood, making it more comfortable to walk on than most hard floors. Cork is cheaper than bamboo, but it’s susceptible to damage from moisture. It also fades if it’s exposed to too much sun.
  • Luxury vinyl floors: Vinyl flooring has come a long way from the sticky, plastic-looking floors that were popular decades ago. You can buy luxury vinyl that looks just like hardwood at a lower price. It’s more resistant to moisture and scratches than hardwood, cork or bamboo.
  • Ceramic tile and concrete floors: Ceramic tile and concrete flooring are the hardest substances you can put in your living room floor, and they’re also the most durable. Concrete and tile floors resist scratches and stains. They’re expensive, but they will last longer than any other flooring options out there.
  • Carpet: Cut-and-loop carpet, named for the technique of cutting the carpet yarn and looping it to create patterns, is the most popular alternative to shag carpet and fits most anyone’s decor. Other carpets like cable or plush are great for their comfort and formal appearance.
blue couch in an exposed brick living room

3. Update your living room furniture

Buying new furniture is a relatively easy way to revitalize your living room and change how it looks and feels. Here are a few tips to remember when you’re updating your living room furniture:

  • Choose furniture to maximize space: When it comes to choosing furniture, your first concern should be about the available space. Oversized couches and chairs can overwhelm a living room, and chunky furniture that sits low to the ground tends to make your room feel smaller. Decorate your room with tables, chairs and sofas that sit higher off the ground so you can see under them. Furniture with higher floor clearance can make living rooms seem larger and more open. As an added plus, they are far easier to clean under than furniture that sits low to the floor.
  • Leave room for overlooked pieces: Your first instinct may be to fill every corner of your living room with furniture, but it’s an instinct you should resist. There is always something your room will need that you’ll overlook. It’s a good rule of thumb to choose furniture one or two pieces at a time, set them up and then reassess your room. Decorating a room can take a while, so there’s no need to rush into a furniture or fixture purchase that you’ll regret.
light blue living room with three pictures hung above a gray couch

4. Select wall decor that fits your style

After you choose the right wall color for your space, it’s time to decorate the walls. This is when you can really make the space personal. Use your own style to make your living room feel like yours by trying one of these ideas:

  • Art: Living rooms are the perfect place to showcase your art. Try hanging a few different pieces in a gallery wall. Or you can hang one singular piece or two related pieces to create a statement.
  • Mirrors: A living room mirror not only creates the illusion of a bigger space but makes your space sophisticated and unique. You can also put a mirror across from a window to make the most of natural lighting.
  • Family photos: Try displaying your family photos in a gallery style. This gives your space a personal touch without sacrificing style. Photo galleries come in many styles and sizes, just make sure yours is symmetrical and cohesive. A gallery with photo prints from your most recent family photo shoot is perfect.
living room with natural lighting and cream couches

5. Pick lighting to compliment the natural light

Living room lighting is an easy and affordable way to update your living room. When picking out lighting, keep these tips in mind:

  • Light in layers: Think of your room’s lighting structure as a series of layers. Table lamps give light to the lower areas, tall lamps bring light to eye level and overhead lights can light up the entire room. If you choose lighting fixtures with this scheme in mind, you can create different moods. Low light can make a living room feel cozy, while high lights can make it feel open and airy.
  • Make the most of natural light: If you have wide windows or skylights, you won’t have to work hard to create a welcoming room. Living rooms that use natural light tend to feel more spacious and open.

Bottom line

When you’re updating your living room, think about your long-term goals. Take careful stock of where you see yourself in the next few years and how you plan to use the room. You don’t want to invest the time and money it takes to refresh your room only to do it again later when you realize you don’t like it. Take your time and evaluate your space.

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by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.