living room design: secrets to designing with intention and strategy
When we moved last year, I was dying to change our living room design in a big way. Something in me just knew I needed a fresh start.
I’ve wanted to do this update for the longest time but postponed it because we planned to invest in better quality pieces and needed to save up money. Also, I had no idea what direction we wanted to go design-wise because I’m attracted to many different styles.
Over the last year, I’ve been diving into design books, researching the proper order of planning a room, and honing my design knowledge.
One of the biggest takeaways was discovering that it’s best to go slow and love everything you select for a space rather than making a quick decision just to “get it done”.
Starting a design project can be overwhelming, but utilizing these design secrets allowed us to develop a strategy for our project and gave us the confidence to make intentional design decisions!
Secret #1: Defining the function of the living room:
I don’t know about you, but we do everything in our living room, eat, nap, work, study, play games, watch TV, video games…everything! So recognizing how the space needed to function was the first step in our design process. The simplest way to evaluate this was by asking a few reflective questions:
- What activities will take place here? Morning coffee, reading, video games, lounging, hosting, movie nights, eating dinner on the couch, playing board games, baby playtime, nursing baby, and afternoon napping.
- How many people should it comfortably seat? 4-6 people with a mix of furniture, ottomans, and floor seating.
- What kind of lighting is needed? Lamp, natural, candle, reading. Curtains are needed to filter direct sunlight.
- What storage is needed? Closed storage for TV accessories—no open storage in the living room.
Although I’m a lover of beautiful decor, I realized that life needs to happen here. So, while I would love a separate gaming room, the fact is that this is our only living space, and it has to work for our whole family.
I was lucky that Jordan didn’t have a lot of opinions about the aesthetics, but I still asked him what he needed.
I also took into account that Avah would arrive soon so it was important to have comfortable furniture for nursing and a cozy rug for playtime.
Having a lovely room doesn’t do anything for me if we all can’t live comfortably in it.
Secret #2: Starting from scratch.
It may seem extreme, but we removed all the decorations, wall hangings, and rugs from the living room. We left our large furniture pieces in the room. Myquillyn Smith, one of my favorite designers, calls this technique “quieting.”
Quieting a room reveals what it needs to function efficiently. As you live with the room in a “barebones” state, you realize what it needs to function comfortably. Maybe you realize it’s annoying to reach for drinks on the coffee table, so extra side tables are needed, or perhaps you realize you need better lighting for reading. You get the point!
Quieting also enables you to make focused design decisions because there are no “bossy” elements influencing your choices as you layer things back in. We actually kept our living room in this state for a few months, and it was so enlightening. It forced us to rethink furniture arrangement, rug placement, and design elements.
Here’s what we learned about what we needed:
- A furniture arrangement that encourages conversation
- More variety in seating options (combination of couch, chairs, and ottomans)
- Ability to seat 4-6 people
- Comfortable furniture that works for our hobbies, the baby, and entertaining
- Decrease visual clutter
- A plush rug to lounge on and for baby playtime
- A calming atmosphere
- More natural light
- A round coffee table
- Extra side tables for drinks
Secret #3: Discovering our living room design style.
For the longest time, I bought into the myth that I needed to find my signature style. As though putting a cutesy name to my style would make decorating my home so much easier. However, once I let go of this idea, it was easier than I thought to create what I loved and feel confident in my choices. To narrow our living room design style, we did three simple exercises.
1. What feelings should the room elicit?
We started by asking ourselves: How do we want to feel when we walk into the living room? Calm, peaceful, restful, casual, relaxed, airy, inspired sanctuary.
I narrowed my list down to a few overarching words to tell our story: Calm, Bright, Fresh, and Comfortable.
2. Create a Pinterest board: Living room design inspo.
Next, I created a new Pinterest board dedicated to our living room refresh. I started pinning everything that caught my eye. Once I had about 30-50 pins, I studied each pin and identified what elements attracted me to the image. Was it natural light? Natural materials? Colorful or neutral? Moody or calming?
3. Identify elements you love from pins.
Based on my Pinterest board, we learned we were attracted to Natural light, neutral colors, large plants, minimal decor, primitive rustic wood accents, and lots of natural textures: linen, leather, wool, and sheepskin. White walls, comfortable deep furniture, architectural details.
After this exercise, I selected about 3-5 of my top favorite pins to reference more frequently for ideas.
Doing these three preliminary exercises helped guide us through the living room design process. We didn’t have to consider if something we chose fit into the “signature style”. We made choices based on the Pinterest board, elements we loved, and how we wanted to feel in the space.
Secret #4: Use placeholders.
As an Enneagram 9, decision-making gives me all the anxiety, especially when it’s an expensive decision! So before buying anything, I played around with what we had at home. For example, I took our L-shaped sectional apart and tested how a single sofa with an ottoman would work for us. While this was a short-term placeholder, other placeholders are long-term.
For example, eventually, I want a different coffee table, but until I find the right piece, our current coffee table will work fine. Style-wise it fits the space, it’s usable, and I like it. So instead of rushing to replace it, I’ll save money for the right piece. Placeholders aid the decision-making process and help purchase with intention.
While we are still working on completing the living room design project, we are off to a great start, and it already feels so much more like “us”. Starting a design project can be overwhelming because it’s hard to know where to start. However, these design secrets eliminate guesswork and give you confidence to take on your next design project with intention and strategy!