Create the Perfect Living Room

Modernly furnished flat with rug, laptop, mounted television, and couch.

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Do you have a perfect living room? Is it too perfect to live in? One of the mysteries of life is why people spend so much time and money decorating a living room and so little time actually living in it. It becomes a "company" room and, in my opinion, a waste of space and resources. You can make a living room that both your guests and your family will not only admire but actually enjoy. Follow these guidelines to decorate your dream living room.

1. Clip, clip, clip. Assemble a clipping collection of your favorite rooms from magazines. Don't worry about the expense; just allow yourself to dream. Colors, luxury furniture, chandeliers, and French doors—whatever sparks your imagination. There are ways to create the same look for much less.

2. Focal Point. Decide on a layout for your room, creating conversation areas and a focal point. The focal point can be an architectural detail, fireplace, big screen TV, or a work of art. Arrange the furniture around the focal point and conversation.

3. Declutter. Decide what you can keep in the room. To make your room look its best, pare down the furnishings. Clutter takes away from the perceived space and elegance of a room.

4. Step away from the wall. Don't move all the furniture against the wall. This is not a police lineup. This is a living room, and the furniture placement should allow guests to sit close enough to talk to one another.

5. Have a seat. Strive to sit at least six people even in a small room. If the room is larger, divide it into areas that sit various groups of people from two to six.

6. Area defined. Define conversation and seating areas with area rugs. Whether plain or patterned, area rugs add visual definition to a space and can be an accent as well.

7. Details, details. Use architectural details, as well as furnishings, to delineate a space. Room dividers, columns, and floor elevations can all serve to define a room.

8. The color of drapes. In general, curtains or drapes look best in the color or dominant color of the largest piece of furniture. This helps bring the room together and provide a background for the design.

9. Look out below. In general, the floors should be a little darker than the walls. This grounds the room design and provides a pleasing balance to the space.

10. On the diagonal. Placing furniture on a diagonal can provide interest and vitality to your design. Try it.

11. On display. Place art opposite the seating arrangement so that your guests can see it, not behind it so that the art is rarely enjoyed. Avoid the large, long painting behind the sofa. You know the kind—the ones that come from "starving artists."

12. Looking back at you. Don't place mirrors where your guests constantly see themselves. It's very distracting and makes everyone uncomfortable—except for a select few that will find the sight fascinating.

13. Pull out a seat. For extra seating without taking up space, place low ottomans under tables or desks and bring them out when you need them.

14. Shedding light on the subject. Vary the types of lighting in the room. There should be lighting for reading, TV watching, and parties. Avoid the single light fixture overhead.

15. It's alive. Bring in some live plants to give a feeling of nature in the room. While silk plants have a "real" look, there is nothing like the real thing.

16. The maze. Provide enough empty space between furnishings to make walking paths free of obstacles. This is especially important when the lights go out.

17. Adding "stuff." Add striking accessories to your room. Smaller accessories look better in groups but avoid bringing in too much. There is a fine line between accessorizing and "clutter-izing" the room.

18. Here comes color. You can bring lots of color into your neutral room with pillows, accessories, or art.

19. Reuse, recycle, repurpose. Use as many of your old furnishings as possible. Try to rethink their use. A desk can be used as a sofa table, a table can be shortened for a coffee table, and an armoire can become a desk. Sofas can be slipcovered and chairs can be painted.

20. Don't keep 'em in the dark. Make certain every seat has access to light and a table. Every person can then read and have coffee in comfort.

These tips can help you focus on making your living room a true "living room." And that stiff and formal look? Save it for the funeral parlor.