Living Room Design:

Classic Living Room Design

A classic living room has an air of effortless style and comfort, as though all the contents have been cherished and handed down over the centuries. Soft, gentle color schemes give an impression of space and light, while period architectural details, such as a marble fireplace or decorative cornicing, add to the look of a well-established home.

Deeply upholstered sofas and armchairs are surrounded by antique-style furnishings - a sparkling glass chandelier, an old brass-handled chest used as a coffee table, and richly draped curtains all reflect an earlier era of gracious living. Small details are important too, such as dainty tassels that finish a tablecloth corner or dangle from a window shade. Complete the effect with formal groupings of pictures, lavish flower arrangements, and precious-looking china, glass, and silver.

Creating the Look

Choose easy, gentle shades for walls, keeping to pale shades if the room isn't large. Creamy yellows, shades of rose, off-white, or beige make good backgrounds for stronger accent colors, and contrast well with rich, polished woods. Plain latex or interesting paint effects are suitable, with detail added in the form of plaster moldings, paneling, or wainscoting. Pick out any details in a delicately contrasting color, or rub them lightly with gilt wax for a faded sheen.

A period fireplace makes an important focal point; an Regency-style plaster surround has a graceful effect, while marble looks imposing - you can imitate this successfully with paint. Carved and polished wood has the right look too. A number of firms specialize in original fireplaces - check out architectural salvage companies before buying an expensive imitation.

Wallpaper designs are traditional - smart stripes, scrolled designs, or stylized flower and leaf prints all flatter the look, but patterns should be fairly subtle. Keep woodwork pale - white gloss looks fresh and crisp - or strip back to the wood, then stain and polish to an aged mahogany or oak effect. Make sure details such as door handles and fingerplates are all in period style - opt for gleaming brass or crystal rather than chrome.


Pale/matte: plain pale latex; decorative paint effects - ragging, marbling, or dragging; symmetrically paneled areas with plaster beading, or wainscoting; white, pale gloss, or stained and polished woodwork. Wallpapers: formal stripes, subtle florals, or small traditional motifs such as wreaths or classical urns; ornamental borders or trompe l'oeil effects of classical moldings.


Elaborate: full-length lined curtains on imposing wood or brass rod; elegant swags and tails; formal pleated valances or shaped cornices; fringes, tassels and braids.

Shutters/blinds: folding shutters; simple roller shades in plain cream with tassels.


Traditional: polished wood or parquet; fitted carpet in subtle neutrals or small all-over scrolling designs.

Rugs: traditional Persian and Turkish-style in rich, toning colors; tapestry rugs in gentle browns, pinks, and blues.


Rich/traditional: gleaming damasks, silks, glazed chintz, woven stripes; small woven motifs or velvets for chairs; tapestry or needlepoint cushions.


Period style: comfortable sofa and armchairs; upholstered ottoman, stool, chairs; polished wood or Chinese lacquer occasional tables; small antique-style desk; fitted glass-fronted cupboards or shelving.


Grand: central chandelier in gilt and cut glass; period-style wall sconces; brass or wooden floor lamp with large pleated silk shade; table lamps; candles in silver candlesticks.


Antiques, objets d'art: delicate porcelain and china; silver; gilt-framed pictures and mirrors; leather-bound books.

Flowers: large formal displays of seasonal blooms with trailing greenery; small flowers in tiny jugs; bowls of dried flowers or potpourri.


Elegance and comfort are essential elements of the classic style living room. Choose a boxy-shaped sofa with comfortable, soft cushions covered in a longwearing woven stripe or damask. Team it with a selection of different seating styles, covered in toning but different fabrics. This looks more natural than a matching suite, and you can pick up bargains to revamp. A chesterfield or chaise longue adds an authentic touch.

Glass-fronted cupboards are perfect for displaying favorite china or old books. Chests and trunks with upholstered tops - or draped with a shawl or throw - provide a useful surface, and hidden storage space, too. Modern items such as the TV and stereo are best tucked away in built-in storage systems.

Look for small decorative tables to hold lamps and collections of silver-framed photos; or buy inexpensive particleboard tables and disguise them with matching floor-length circular cloths trimmed with deep fringing.

Create a soft, atmospheric glow with careful lighting. If you have a central chandelier, fit a dimmer switch so you can create a candle-like glimmer. Wall lights, table lamps, and floor lamps, or candles set around the room, create pools of warm light. Large Chinese-style vases in blue and white or green provide good lampbases; wood stained to a mahogany or ebony finish on brass bases are also ideal. Fit them with a simple parchment or pleated silk shade.

Large, gilt-framed landscapes or portraits look suitably imposing, together with a large framed mirror over the fireplace. Architectural engravings or botanical prints in narrow black frames add a sophisticated touch. Hang them in groups, perhaps linked with a picture bow or stick-on, printed classical swags and borders.

Choose ornaments carefully, avoiding a cluttered look; a single big plaster bust - some museums sell copies of original antiquities - placed on a side table or in the hearth, has real impact. Symmetry is an important element - matching stylized china dogs or cats either side of the hearth is a typical classic look; or place matching china figurines on the mantelpiece.


Small touches can create the impression of graceful living that typifies classic style. Flowers are always important; create a big, splashy formal display of greenery and twigs, and supplement it with fresh flowers in season. Place bowls of scented dried flower heads or potpourri on tables for a drift of perfumed air.

Handworked items, such as tapestry cushions, old silver, and leather-bound books, create a sense of the past. Group objects together carefully to complement each other.

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