Dark doesn’t always mean cozy. In fact, in this space it meant downright drab. But that didn’t deter Jenn Macdonald of DWK Interiors. “A young, fashion-forward couple lives here and the space needed to reflect their style,” she says. “It had to be energetic and bright but, keeping the seasonal changes of Calgary in mind, still cozy and inviting.” A challenging problem indeed. Grab a pumpkin latte and settle in to see how this design expert found the solution with natural textures, complementary tones and savvy furniture placement.
Originally published September 10, 2018. Updated September 13, 2022.
Double Up on Furnishings
In terms of space, bigger is generally considered better, yet larger rooms can pose certain design challenges. “It’s no secret that this living room is massive,” says Jenn. “But when I first saw it, all the items in it, including a teeny area rug, were way too small.” To remedy that she relied on furniture and accessories with enough scale to make an impact. “The charcoal sofa is the perfect size and has a traditional look thanks to the tufted back. There are no square or round coffee tables large enough to fill this space the way I needed to, so two rectangular coffee tables did the trick, and add visual interest.” They are complemented by two armchairs and another sofa. “It’s a classic look with a modern twist.”
Colour Code Your Art
“This art was chosen specifically for its neutral palette as I didn’t want the focus of the space to be the artwork,” says Jenn. “I wanted your eye to move around the room with ease, ultimately creating a focal point at the beautiful stone fireplace (wait till you see it!). If you’re someone who prefers a bit of colour in your art, I would suggest repeating those hues in a few pillows and accessories for flow.” This beauty is made in Canada and features differing widths of wood slats and metal finishes, which Jenn nicely played up in the cushions and coffee table accessories.
When it comes to creating coziness in any space, Jenn says it boils down to three things: the scale of furniture, its upholstery and its placement. “In a big room like this, choose big pieces. Opt for neutral fabrics for larger items and use light tones for pillows and accessories. You can always layer in more neutrals with differing textures that will transition from season to season. Finally, symmetrical furniture placement makes any space calm and cozy.”
“I always choose cushions that have similarities with other furnishings, whether in colour or pattern,” Jenn says. “Here, I kept the look neutral but not boring and played off the area rug.” The designer sourced toss cushions with a similar geometric pattern to the rug (seen on the charcoal sofa). “On the ivory sofa, I needed the pale pillows to pop, so I added black cushions behind them.” More than thoughtfully chosen accessories, the cushions are welcoming additions that invite guests to sit down and make themselves at home.
Choose Practical Materials
Any cozy space needs to be both inviting and functional, and Jenn’s choice of a handsome yet easy-to-clean leather sofa ticks both of those boxes. “This beautifully tufted piece has wow factor, but it’s also very livable. This is where the homeowners entertain friends, relax and read or just watch TV. It really is multi-functional, and the warm charcoal colour adds coziness.”
Consider Custom Drapery
Just because window coverings are in place doesn’t mean the job is done. Jenn says, “I like to layer in custom drapery because it imparts texture, finishes off a space and adds instant elevation. Not having them is like putting your makeup on but not the mascara – something is missing!” As for budgetary concerns, she vows it’s worth it. “If you’re going to splurge on anything, opt for custom drapery. I suggest a solid fabric rather than a printed one for more longevity.”
Style with Trays
As anyone who’s spent hours rearranging their coffee-table top knows, it ain’t easy. Stylists manage to create effortless vignettes that are neither skimpy nor overloaded, and Jenn knows their secret: “Trays! Pick out a tray and then look for interesting objects to place inside. Stack a few books beside it and flowers or greenery inside to add life.” She also advises having a shopping game plan and taking measurements of the tables you want to accessorize. Then, buy more accessories than you think you’ll need to experiment with placement, and return whichever items you don’t need. “It’s a bit more work this way, but you’ll be happier with the end result!” she says.
Jenn’s advice to add flowers and greenery extends beyond their pop of freshness. Her choice of simple white hydrangea blooms, complete with leaves, and a terrarium echoes the living room’s neutral tones. The effect is subtle and layered, and one that couldn’t be the same with brighter colours like red or yellow, which would seem jarring here.
Frame a Big Screen TV
A common design conundrum is how to marry a gorgeous fireplace focal point with the TV. Here, Jenn solves it with style. “My clients really like having a TV in this room as it’s right next to the kitchen, so I worked with that while trying to draw attention away from it,” she says. “Originally, the TV was sitting in the corner on a media unit blocking one of the doors, so we relocated it. It’s more symmetrical now, again adding that overall balanced and cozy feel.”
When Jenn mentioned layering in cushions and accessories to suit the season, she wasn’t kidding. “These faux-fur throws and caramel pillows not only incorporate more of the colours from the stone fireplace, they embody comfort. When you look at them, all you can think about is sipping a pumpkin spice latte and curling up with a good book.” She suggests only using fur during the colder seasons, since it doesn’t really translate to spring and summer.
Introduce Stylish Storage
Jenn is happy to share another one of her secret design weapons: baskets! “They are my go-to for fantastic storage. I can find function for them in every room, and love how they introduce another layer of texture,” says the designer. “In living rooms, I always put extra pillows and blankets in them.” Perfect for cool fall nights.
Focus on Finishes
These graphic vases, like everything else in the living room, encapsulate Jenn’s approach to crafting a calm and cozy space. As she put them in place beside the fireplace, she explained, “That cozy feel comes from natural textures and elements,” she says. “The finish on most of the items, like these vases, is also quite matte. If I’d used something shiny, like chrome or brass, the room wouldn’t have the same calming feel.”