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Do This If You Feel Stuck Decorating Your Open Concept Living Room

Tips for Decorating Your Open Concept Living Room

I recently asked my friends on my email list: “What is your biggest design issue?”  

One reader sent back this response: 

My biggest challenge has come with our ‘open concept home’- I get so stuck trying to create individual spaces that then need to flow together.  It’s like I get a plan for one room and then spiral trying to ensure it works with everything else and end up paralyzed moving forward.”

Sound familiar?

With all-in-one living spaces becoming the norm, a lot of homeowners find themselves feeling stuck when decorating an open concept living room.  

Here are 10 actionable steps to help you get un-stuck.

1. | Treat Your Space As One Room

When I was a kid, I had a friend whose Grandma’s house had a different theme in every room.  There was the “blue room” and the “pink room”.  It was fun and apparently pretty memorable since I find myself writing about it 30 years later.  

But this would be a bad approach for decorating an open concept living room.  If you live in a home with few dividing walls, you can’t think of your dining room, kitchen, living room and entry as separate spaces.  

Instead, you have to think of them as one giant room.  

2. | Choose A Color Palette and Stick To It

Before you start purchasing anything new for your space, consider what you already have.  Is there a dominant color palette already established?  If so you will probably need to continue that color palette as you add additional furnishings. 

For example, I purchased a blue rug a few years ago and I decided I wanted to use it in our living room.  This meant as I decorated and furnished our kitchen I was on the lookout for a few details that matched that color.  I found art that had similar blues, some bowls, a hot pad… I tried to pull that color through the living room and into the adjoining kitchen.  Then I took a second look at the rug and saw that it had some rust accents, so I sprinkled some copper decor and terra cotta pots across the surfaces in all three spaces as well. 

Now the rooms have multiple elements with matching colors and feel more balanced as a result.

Our Open Concept Living Room Color Palette

3. | Repeat Materials

This is the quickest tip to pull separate spaces together quickly.  Maybe you have a fabric that you are using to create some custom decor.  You could pull it through the spaces by upholstering a bench in the dining room and then tossing some throw pillows on the sofa that were made with the same pattern.

Or maybe you have a jute rug under your living room furniture. You can set your dining table using jute placemats. 

Perhaps the brass light fixture over your island echoes the brass base of your coffee table?

For each noticeable texture you introduce to your space, try to repeat it at least twice (in some form) in each zone of your open space living area.  This will go a long way toward relating each part back to the whole.

4. | Paint It One Color

This isn’t a hard and fast rule:  I have seen many designers incorporate multiple colors or wallpapers into open concept spaces and do it well.  

Still, for the average homeowner looking to decorate an open concept floor plan, a fresh coat of white paint on everything can work wonders.  This is especially the case if you’re remodeling or updating an older home.

If you’re looking for a go-to white shade, check out my top white paint shades here.

5. | Pay Attention to Sight Lines

Take a few minutes to sit back and objectively consider your space from a variety of angles.

  • Stand in the kitchen and look into your living room.
  • Stand at the entrance to the space and look at the space as a whole.
  • Sit at your table and scan the room as though you were a dinner guest.
  • Walk into the room from every entrance/exit point.

At each angle, ask yourself: 

  • Is color evenly distributed throughout the space from this viewpoint?
  • Does any furniture stand out/not seem to flow?
  • Can I see any “blank” spaces that need a touch of decor or a little color/texture?

6. | Echo Furniture Styles

I’m a huge proponent of thrifting and shopping vintage for your home for so many reasons.  Older pieces add character and depth to spaces.  But if everything is pieced together this way with no rhyme or reason, things can get chaotic quickly.

For every unique or interesting piece of furniture you incorporate into a space, try to make sure to have at least one other element that shares something in common with it across the spaces.

If you bring in a vintage console that has a deep wood tone, for example, your room will look better if you can pull in one or two other elements that echo the same finish.  Maybe you bring in a footstool in a similar stain and place a coordinating bowl on the counter in the kitchen, for example. 

Similarly, if you have a room full of traditional furniture but want to bring in a midcentury modern coffee table you got from your great aunt… do it!  Maybe you can bring in a bar cart from a similar era to tuck into a corner and add some cool shelf decor that echos the funky modern style to carry the look through your space.

7. | Define Zones

Clear visual definition of each space can help your open concept living room, dining room, and kitchen play nicely together. There are a few ways to define specific zones while you are decorating your open concept living room.  Here are my 2 favorites:

Put Down A Rug

The quickest and easiest way to visually separate a space from the “whole” of your giant open concept living room is to put down a large area rug.  Generally speaking, you want to choose a rug large enough to fit all of your furniture (at the very minimum, the front legs of each piece should be on the rug).  This rule applies to the living room, any nooks, and the dining area.

My go-to large area rug is a neutral colored jute or sisal area rug that spans the entire area of the living room minus 2-3 feet of open space around the perimeter.  If I want more color, I’ll add a smaller (8’ x 10’ or so) patterned rug on top in my chosen color palette.

If you’re choosing a dining room rug, consider an indoor/outdoor style rug for durability if you have a family.  They hold up well and they are affordable!

Large pendants define the space over the kitchen island.

Use Lighting

Another way to define a space visually when you’re decorating an open concept living room, kitchen, and dining room would be to pay attention to your lights.

A large scale dining room light, for example, clearly defines where your dining zone would be.  Island pendants define your kitchen space.  Perhaps a cozy corner reading area calls for an adjustable swing arm sconce for reading light?  

Get creative!  If your space lacks prewired overhead lighting opportunities, you can always bring in a mix of floor lamps, table lamps, or plug in sconces to add layers of light and decorate your open concept living room with light.

8. | Get Creative With Furniture Layout

How do you want to use your space?  How do you want to live in it?

It seems simple, but most people don’t actually take the time to ask themselves these questions.  They just throw sofas and chairs in the living room area, a table and chairs in the dining area and call it good.

But there’s so much more you can do!

For example, I have a small bistro-sized table and 2 chairs that I constantly move around our house.  Recently, I moved it into our living room while I was cleaning out another room.  It was supposed to be temporary, but I quickly realized that the kids LOVED having this surface in the living room to use for homework, casual meals, and just hanging out.

So now we have a whole new functional zone in our open concept living room! It’s not your typical 2 couch, 2 chairs layout but we love it and it works well for us!

A small table adds additional function in an open concept living room.

Some creative furniture layout ideas to consider:

  • Place 2 matching couches back to back in a large room to create 2 seating areas.
  • Add a small game table in the corner.
  • Replace a sofa with a backless bench or daybed to keep things feeling open while providing more seating.
  • Invest in a set of 2-3 cubes or stools to serve as flexible seating or footstools.  These look great in front of a fireplace when not in use.
  • Reimagine the dining area if you don’t use it and make a lounge by placing 4 comfy chairs around a round coffee table.
  • Add a pair of chairs in the kitchen or dining room if you have extra space.
  • A bar cart can be tucked into almost any corner of any room in an open concept space.
  • Place a desk or even a small dining table behind a sofa to create a desk/dining space in the living area if you’re decorating an open concept living room that’s on the smaller side.
  • Place a pair of swivel chairs between the living room and kitchen so guests can choose to face either space.
  • Choose a mix of heavy and light furniture (a pair of open, airy chairs paired with more solid upholstered sofas, for example).

9.  | Consider Flow

You may have heard people talk about “flow” before, but what does that really mean?

To me it means two things.  1.) There’s the visual flow, which I’ve addressed above.  2.) There is the physical flow, which means thinking about the way people will want to move in a space and making sure that nothing is in the way of a path they might want to take.

Here are some things to consider for optimal physical flow:

  • Generally, a 36” walkway between spaces is the guideline to keep in mind, although rules are made to be broken and it’s your house so… play around with it!  I prefer something closer to 48” between living room group and adjoining dining or kitchen area since that’s a heavy traffic area.
  • Exits and entrances are important here.  Make sure to leave plenty of room for people to navigate around furniture to get to doors that lead outside or to other rooms.
  • Leave enough space between couches and chairs and your coffee table for leg room.  Plan on roughly 16-18”.
  • In a dining space, make sure to float your seating group far enough away from the wall for guests to easily get in and out of their chairs at mealtime!  Plan for at least 24” between chair and the back of the wall.
Plenty of open space creates a clear path for traffic flow in this open concept living space.

10. | Play With It

My best suggestion for getting out of your head is to physically get in there and just start playing around with arranging what you have in your space.  

Before you purchase anything, take some time to arrange, and rearrange the furnishings you already own, implementing suggestions mentioned above.

For many of us, there is no substitute for SEEING how something will actually look in your space.

Some suggestions:

  • Rearrange your living room furniture 3 different ways.  Take pictures of each arrangement from different angles.  Consider the function of each arrangement.  THEN pick the best one.
  • Bring in furnishings from other rooms of the house.  You can do this to “test” the general size and shape of an item you are considering purchasing.  Or you can just experiment with adding a different function to your space (i..e. If you’re wondering “what would 2 chairs look like here?” You might temporarily bring in 2 dining chairs to get an idea).
  • If you want to test the dimensions of a large piece of potential furniture, create a 2-d outline in the right dimensions using cardboard boxes to see how it would fit.  Or simply tape off a potential rug or furniture piece using blue painter’s tape on the floor.

Remember to have fun!  Don’t worry too much about the rules.  The most important thing is decorating your open concept living space in a way that feels good to you and functions well for your family.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas to help you get started. If you find yourself still stuck and need a little boost, send me an email and we can chat about how I can help!

Thanks for checking out my blog. I’m happy you’re here.


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