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Learn about decorating small spaces:

Small House, Big Style

Eclectic Living Room

In this eclectic living room, everything goes, from the abstract framed art over the mantle, to the unmatched upholstery and oriental rug.

Arrrange your furniture

  • Conversation. If you tend to throw large parties, divide and conquer. Rather than a single, close-knit conversation grouping, scatter little groups around the room. Place occasional chairs near at hand so guests can rearrange them to chat. Even one large grouping, two sofas facing each other with a single chair at either end, will allow for up to four conversation groups at one time.
  • Symmetry. Formal living rooms tend to be symmetrical. One large painting centered above the sofa will anchor the space. Matching upholstery and wood tones will harmonize your setting. Casual or contemporary living rooms look good with off-center, asymmetrical furniture arrangements.
  • Comfort. Each sitting area should have a table nearby for beverages and snacks. A sofa table placed behind the sofa's back makes a convenient place for several guests to rest their plates.
  • Flexibility. When you furnish your living room, keep in mind furnishings that are either multi-purpose or can be moved about. Large upholstered ottomans work as movable seating, footrests and tables.

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  • Moldings. If your living room is a little bland, consider adding moldings for a low-cost refined look. You can add ceiling, baseboard, chair rail moldings-even building up a plain casement window will add a custom look for a low price tag.
  • Fabrics. Fabrics with a bit of sheen are at home in a traditional living room, such as silk, damask, or glazed chintz. Casual fabrics are the same as casual clothing—denim, khaki, flannels… think comfort. Contemporary fabrics can include the unusual or the textured—leather, linen, velvet.

Be Flexible: Most of us want our living rooms to be two rooms in one-a comfortable family area and a room for entertaining. With smart planning and the right basics, your living room can shift from daytime into evening with ease. Start with the right basics—classic furniture and simple backdrops. Add a few accessories and… voila… you're ready for showtime.

What to look for: Dual-purpose furniture, an armoire that doubles as an entertainment center, a cedar chest for a coffee table. Invest in furniture that will help clean up your act for the evening's events.

Keep the backgrounds neutral: White or neutral walls, ceilings, curtains and woodwork make a perfect backdrop for both dramatic evenings and comfortable days.

Add light: Firelight creates a dramatic ambiance. Use candles liberally when entertaining. If you have a fireplace, let it glow. Even accent lighting can add drama to your evening. Turn on the picture light over your favorite painting or use an up-light to highlight your houseplants.

Invest in big pieces: Your sofa must be comfortable and long-wearing. Buy a good one and choose a durable upholstery fabric, no matter what your decorating style. Buy something big for drama and to anchor the furniture. If you don't have a hearth to center your living room, consider a fabulous armoire. Spend less on movable accessories, like pillows, throws, rugs and framed art prints. You will want to change your accessories and create new looks and not have to spend a fortune to redecorate.

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Traditional Living Rooms

Your formal living room can be one of the most welcoming spaces in your home. When you're decorating, your goal will be to achieve graciousness and ease. You will create a place that makes you and your guests feel special and pampered.

  • Symmetry: Classical decorating styles are most often symmetrical. Flank your fireplace with two armchairs. Center your sofa against the wall. Unusual furniture placements are not your style. Think in threes—one large piece, flanked by two smaller ones. For example, one large piece of framed artwork or a mirror over the fireplace can be flanked by two wall sconces.
  • Illuminate: Lighting will be important to set the mood in your living room. Consider adding rheostats to your light switches to get just the right ambiance.
  • Fabrics can glow: Tailored sofa skirts and exposed legs give your living room a traditional feel. Look for upholstery fabrics and slipcovers in chintzes, jacquards, anything with a sheen.
  • Match woods: You don't have to buy a set of furniture in order to match the wood. You will naturally be drawn to the elegant woods that match your traditional style—cherry and mahogany. When you buy furniture for your living room, try to keep all the finishes the same.

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Country Living Room

In this country living room, comfort and friendliness greet the guest. The repeated, but non-matching gingham upholstery, the quilt thrown over the back of the sofa and the off-center furniture arrangement are all hallmarks of a casual/country style.

Casual/Country Living Rooms

Your living room is a cozy retreat where your family and guests feel pampered and comfortable. You express yourself in very personal touches and a bit of whimsy can be seen in your accessories. You can adapt pieces from both the traditional and the contemporary style. Just use a few softening touches to lighten the mood.

  • Mix it up: Matched grouping sets are not for you. Mix them up with a wooden rocker or a wing-chair in a different upholstery.
  • Relax: Add a dining area to a formal living room and you invite homework and late night snacks. Add a bookcase near the table and you have a snug library look.
  • Use fabrics to soften: Ruffled sofa skirts and table runners give your living room a friendly feel. Look for quilts and cozy throws to toss over the backs of too-formal sofas.
  • Combine woods: Vary the wood finishes and you relax your room. Use a pine rocker next to a mahogany buffet. Add a cherry-framed mirror over the mantelpiece. Throw in a painted, or distressed chair for an informal look.

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Contemporary Living Rooms

Your living room is a serene showcase. You express yourself in a sophisticated editing of your surroundings. Most important to you is the drama that you can achieve—by eliminating clutter, you can lead the eye to the main event, whether that be a dramatically-lit sculpture, a fabulous rug or a fantastic piece of art.

  • Store it: Your carefully-planned look can be ruined by a messy stack of unread mail. Look critically at where you'll need storage and think creatively. Do you always drop the mail on the coffee table after you walk in the door? Perhaps you need a sleek console table in the entryway with a large ebony box to stash the mail in before you mess up the living room.
  • Focus: Don't detract from what's most important. If you have a dynamite view, maybe you don't want to spoil it with any window treatment. If you have a gorgeous piece of art, spend a little on a contemporary light to add drama and give the art breathing room on the wall.
  • Fabrics: Sophisticated leathers and nubby textures add interest to a contemporary living room.
  • Match metals: If your coffee table is brushed stainless steel, don't buy brass lamps. When your incidentals are harmonious, the eye will be drawn to the drama that you create.

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Eclectic Living Rooms

Your living room, like the rest of your home, is uniquely yours. Your style is like no one else's and not only that, but ... you're a lucky decorator. Like many professional decorators, you find that the things you like tend to all look good together when you get home.

  • Color: Become aware of the colors you're attracted to and that you use often in your decorating. Keep a stash of paint on hand so you can refinish that garage sale find into an eclectic treasure.
  • Be bold: You know what you like. Don't chicken out and give in to your mother-in-law's suggestions. Do what you like, then take it a step further. You may find that, in your living room as in your life, you like the attention you get just being yourself.
  • Fabrics: From leathers to homespun to velvet—your living room is a treasury of rich abundance.
  • Space: You're making a statement with whatever you do. If you have a collection, say vegetable salt-and-pepper shakers, it has more impact if you display it all in one place, not scattered around the room. Conversely, if you have one dynamite piece of art, give it space on the wall, don't clutter it among too many other distractions. Space in your home is like rhythmn in music, it's most interesting when you vary the tempo.

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Small spaces live large

Is your living room too small? You may be starting with an asset. Small square footage can create an intimate living space.

Where to begin?
Add architectural details: In small spaces, built-in cabinets and bookshelves are great for storage and they can make the room seem larger by accenting the vertical and horizontal lines. If you build floor-to-ceiling shelves you can add a focal point to the room.

  • Think out of the box: Try arranging your furniture on a room-widening angle. Instead of another chair, add an oversize ottoman. When not used as seating, it makes a grand and comfortable statement.
  • Keep it simple: Especially in colors and window treatments. These elements can overpower a small space. Lighter colors will expand the space. Unfussy windows will draw attention to the expansive view, not the lack of space. Light fabrics will melt into the walls.
  • Expand: Is one wall wide? Play it up with a horizontal chair rail that lets the eye carry further. Use the same principle by hanging art, framed the same, in a series across the wall. Is your ceiling high? A tall secretary or bookshelf will draw attention to the space.

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Large rooms with intimate comfort

Is your living room too large? Can't hear your friends when they're sitting across from you at a party? Don't make the common mistake of trying to create a single conversation grouping in your large room. Often, very large rooms function best if you create areas of furniture groupings.

Where to begin?
Examine the features of the room and decide how you like to use them. For example, a fireplace is a natural gathering nook. Two armchairs on either side with a low bench in front will be flexible and cozy.

  • Windows: Pick the window with the best view and place a desk in front of it, a chair to the side, or even a chaise to lounge on.
  • Use your furniture to create mini-rooms: Let two sofas turn their backs on each other and you can create two sitting areas. Place comfy chairs in front of each and you've created two smaller rooms. Occasional chairs placed around the room can be moved up as needed. An unused corner can host a tea table or a secretary.
  • Pull it all together: Repeat colors and patterns throughout the room. Strong window treatments and wall colors will work well in a large space. The same carpet or floor covering used throughout will create unity.

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