While you may already know how you want your kitchen and bathroom to look, the crucial space that is the living room can be more tricky to conceptualise. Interior designer Claire Rendall of Berkeley Place provides some styling tips
Living rooms are where we spend a large proportion of our leisure hours, so they’re important. They are the centre of the home, and getting the basics right is one of the joys of building and specifying a property yourself.
While in the planning stage, think about doors into spaces. Being mindful of load bearing walls, double doors – even if they take up most of a wall – can make a fabulous statement, and a grand entrance. They enhance the scale of any room. You might want to keep one side permanently locked, but the architectural intent is still there. They’re a brilliant way of joining one space to another without the ‘cold’ feel that open plan living can sometimes bring. An alternative is internal Crittall or glass doors. They’re very popular at the moment and can add a dash of industrial design into your home. This theme can be emphasised with the style of lighting and bare floorboards.
As the sitting room is most often used for relaxing or entertaining, be mindful of the lighting. Have a look at large pendants – there are some stunning designs available and they add a splash of style to any space. Try to avoid too many serried rows of downlights in a sitting room – the light they cast can be flat and unflattering. If you do have them, have a look at products with black ribbed interior baffles. The light they emit is more directional, and there’s also less glare from the side. Make them work for their money – have them illuminating pictures or sculptures. With a directional beam they can look amazing pinpointing a coffee or side table.
Where possible though, bring lighting off the ceiling with pools of light from floor standing and table lamps. A pair of table lamps in front of a mirror on a console table can throw a lot of light into a room. Lamps on console tables can also look fabulous behind a sofa, so make sure you’ve made provision for floor mounted sockets if necessary. Go for dedicated switching so they’re all operated from the main light switches and if it’s too late for that, check out the really good remote control plug-in devices available.
Add texture to the sitting room with timber floors. They also let you change rugs and the feel of a room easily. There’s an astonishing and subtle range of timbers available, from darkly smoked to soft pale bleached versions. Be aware of the width of the boards and how they affect the feel of the room – large rooms benefit from wider boards. Also beware of natural knots if you’re going for a clean, contemporary look. Engineered flooring will let you have the best of both worlds with a natural top finish and a stable base.
Too often these days, sitting rooms are dominated by massive televisions. When they’re on, they’re great – the image and sound quality are superb these days, and there’s nothing nicer than curling up on your own sofa without a stranger chomping popcorn in your ear. When they’re turned off however, they’re a huge black, blank, dead space that still dominates the room. There are some really neat solutions around, from TVs that emerge from furniture if you have the space, to screens that double up as really good mirrors or pictures. An option that’s often overlooked is to use shutters that can be designed in with faux panelling – this doesn’t have to be as onerous as it sounds and can look terrific with a contemporary twist. If the room has underfloor heating or no natural focal point, making a feature of this can really help balance it.
Traditionally rooms would have a fireplace as the main feature and this can really help anchor the space. If the room hasn’t got or doesn’t need a fireplace, think about an architectural accent to take its place. We often feel more comfortable with something to sit around, so try to make seating areas sociable, with coffee or side tables within reach. Also think about making charging points for tablets and computers easily accessible. While you’re thinking about sockets, don’t forget sound systems and speakers that need to be plugged in.
All of this leads to the point of deciding on a seating plan fairly early on. I always think a mixture of sofas and chairs, sometimes mixing styles up a bit, makes for a very stylish look that doesn’t look too corporate. I often start with a neutral base colour and then build in colours and textures to add an accent colour and extra zing. Keeping neutral on the biggest pieces of furniture also means it’s easier to chop and change accessories in the future if you want to without ditching your biggest investments in the space. Cushions and throws easily transform the feel of a room as can rugs and changing lampshades.
Above all, your sitting room is about comfort. It’s about putting your feet up after a busy day and relaxing, so make sure you have exactly what you need around you.
Claire Rendall is an interior designer who collaborates with developer Berkeley Place