Episode: “The Living Room” season 1
In smaller, open-concept homes you don’t usually have the luxury of having both a main floor family room and formal living room, so one space has to do it all. It needs to be tailored and pretty for entertaining, yet relaxed and comfortable for daily life. There’s no need for style and sophistication to take a backseat.
Here’s how I tackle the most important space for living and lounging:
Bring your Walls to Life
Small rooms can’t handle the high impact of all four walls dressed in a bold wallpaper, but one wall creates a fun and funky backdrop. It’s neither a big commitment nor a hefty investment since you’ll only need a few rolls of paper to cover one wall and it will only take a paper hanger a few hours to transform your wall from bland to breathtaking. Should you grow tired of the punchy pattern in years to come, it’s easy to strip it off, wash the wall and go back to a plain painted surface.
I never used to be a fan of wallpaper, but that’s simply because the patterns available looked like a posy plucked from Aunt Myrtle’s garden. Now you can find bright, bold, overscaled contemporary prints that leave the English Country aesthetic in the dust.
Living and Lounging Pieces
My goal with any living room is to see how many people I can squeeze in for a party configuration. I’m not one to host a dinner for six (12-30 is more my style), and I like to be sure everyone has a place to perch when cocktails are being served. This is why I love using a daybed in a living room. On lazy weekend afternoons it offers the best place to stretch out and read the paper, but in the midst of the party it’s deep enough for guests to sit on either side and can accommodate up to six people. Add to the mix the fact that it breaks up the classic sofa/loveseat/chair combo and you’ll know why daybeds are a key component in my living room schemes.
Keep it Naturally Neutral
Outfitting a room in an au-courant colour scheme means you’ll be at the height of fashion, but like all things runway-inspired every colour palette has a lifespan. The trendier the scheme, the shorter the lifespan. Since living rooms aren’t cheap to decorate I always recommend choosing timeless neutrals for all the big pieces (since they are the most expensive). If and when you should become disenchanted with your fashion-forward fabrics it’s easy to change your pillows and accessories and breathe new life into your living room.
Set the Tone With Silk
There are plenty of choices when it comes to selecting fabric for your drapes. Linen has a breezy feel, cotton prints are cheery and bright, wool is understated and sleek, but silk has the magic touch — its lustrous sheen and rich colours introduce an air of elegance to any room. When sewn by a professional and hung with dazzling hardware silk drapes add polish and panache to your windows. Even though this is the stuff ball gowns are made of, dupioni silk (which is perfect for window coverings if properly lined) doesn’t cost a king’s ransom (it’s actually priced at $15 per yard and up).
Mix Wood Tones
I’m often asked if it’s okay to mix different wood tones together in a room, and my rules are pretty simple. You can definitely have a diverse collection of wood tones, but follow two simple rules: First, you need to have repetition of each one (preferably three pieces in a similar stain tone). Second, all the pieces in the room need to be the same level of formality. In other words you can’t mix county pine with French-polished mahogany unless you want the room to look like “granny goes to the flea market”. If any of the pieces have metal accents, I’d recommend that you keep them all cool (brushed nickel, aluminum, etc), or warm (brass, copper, gold leaf).
Get a Vintage Vibe
The best rooms have a combination of old and new. No one wants their living room to look like it was the showroom special and selecting vintage pieces ensures that your living room will not look like all the others on your street. I found an incredible bar cart, funky faux bamboo chairs, sleek rosewood coffee table, fab 60’s candelabra and cool Scandinavian light fixture for less than I’d have to pay if they were new, and as an added bonus these finds will retain their value (or appreciate) as the years go by! To keep your rooms from looking like they were lifted off the pages of period film I recommend a balance of old and new. Small accent pieces and side tables are often better with age, but I tend to prefer new when it comes to large upholstered pieces. My number one criteria for vintage is that it be in good, usable condition — if it needs restoring, re-gluing, refinishing or revamping it’s not a deal, and it’s likely more trouble than it’s worth.
Go For a Fabulous Fireplace
For the home I fixed up for Sarah’s House, my original plan was to have one fireplace in the front entry, one in the master bedroom, and one in the basement. But that was before I had a chat with my fireplace man and got some words of wisdom. He suggested that I blow my entire budget and focus on making one fireplace fabulous instead of cheaping out and doing three lacklustre installations. Smart guy! Instead of a faux log set sitting on faux embers against a faux brick wall, I’ve got a dynamite rock collection sitting on a stainless steel panel with a cool contemporary row of flames dancing in my dramatic double-sided opening. I’m not one for “focal points” but I have to admit, a fireplace like this really sets the mood and catches the eye.
Bring on The Buttons
It may seem an insignificant detail to many within the context of a whole home renovation, but the little finishing details are of paramount importance to me. Once all the drywall dust has settled and the trades have disappeared, all the structural elements will merely become background and the decorative flourishes will shine. Bakelite, pearls, crystal and lucite buttons add glitter and sparkle and a little something unexpected. And on my darkest renovation day when everything is taking twice as long and costing twice as much as it’s supposed to, a quick trip to the button boutique gets my creative juices flowing.
Make your Rug Right
I’ve seen one too many undersized carpets that look like postage stamps to not mention my rug rules. Finding the right size of rug is really very easy. Simply make sure at least the front legs of all your upholstered furnishings sit on the carpet by at least six inches. If in doubt, my general rule is that an 8- by 10-foot carpet is the smallest size you should consider for a living room, and a 9- by 12-foot is likely what you need. If you are tackling an empty room and starting from the ground up, I recommend showing a 14-inch band of hardwood around the perimeter of the room.