How do I make a living room look modern? The trends designers say to follow are not what you'd expect

It's not just about filling your living room with the latest looks - find out the colors, shapes and combinations that work

Project by SpaceShack - grey sofa in modern living room
(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

When wondering how to make a living room look modern, you'd be forgiven for just filling it with the latest trends. But don't! It's more complicated than that. For starters, 'modern' can encompass a range of styles, anything from maximalism to minimalism - or even trends such as 'Coastal Grandmother', which sounds distinctly un-modern. 

So firstly, hone in on the modern living room styles you actually like rather than being swayed by the latest looks. Of course, incorporating interior design trends will work towards making your living room look modern. But slavishly following fads is a surefire way to create a home that's devoid of character and likely to date quickly. 

'We use vintage pieces to add soul into a modern scheme,' says Cat Dal, founder of Cat Dal Interiors. 'A bit of history and a slightly worn look adds charm and a relaxed feeling to the space. If everything is too modern and new a room can feel a little cold.' 

'My take is that modern interiors are those which don’t rely on much adornment,' says New York based interior designer, Sara Story, founder of Sara Story Design. 

'A modern living room can have finishes that highlight the existing architectural elements such as plaster work, metal screens, terrazzo or stone floors. The materials should be timeless, have clean lines, and scaled for a modern space.'

10 ways to make a living room look modern

1. Look to warm sun-baked hues

neutral modern living room project by Elicyon

(Image credit: Project: Elicyon)

For those who prefer a pared-back scheme of neutral tones, consider stepping away from cold greys and the more traditional cream shades. Opt for warm stone hues and earthy paprika shades which bring calm and comfort.

'In terms of color palettes, over the last year or so we’ve seen the move away from dark and moody color choices for living room walls and a move towards rich sun-baked hues. Particularly yellows, terracottas and burnt orange to bring warmth and character to rooms,' says Charu Ghandi, founder, Elicyon.  It just so happens that these shade are huge in living room color trends right now.

'These golden hues and warm stone options work well with layered textural elements, which help to tie the scheme together. It's a personalised and inviting look that’s easy to update with soft furnishings, textures and decorative objects so it looks fresh year round.' 

Faded Terracotta modern emulsion from the California Collection by Kelly Wearstler for Farrow and Ball
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<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Faded Terracotta modern emulsion from the California Collection by Kelly Wearstler for Farrow and Ball

The winner of this year's Livingetc Style Award for Color of the Year, Faded Terracotta is the perfect sunbaked paint. 'It's really warm, but almost a neutral too,' says our editor Pip Rich. 'It's beautiful.'

2. Make modern art a focal point

neutral modern living room by Elicyon

(Image credit: Elicyon)

A living room needs a focal point, and this can often serve as the foundation or starting point for the scheme.

'Designing a living room from scratch can be a daunting prospect, especially as it’s one of the rooms you’re likely to be spending the most amount of time in,' says Charu Ghandi at Elicyon. Are lives outside living room trends, as it tends to be an investment you keep forever. Though how to display it can vary according the to the moods of the year.

'I always start with the art and use this as the core theme from which I can plan the rest of the scheme around,' Charu says. 'Alternatively if you don’t have any pieces to hang, decorating with mirrors creates the same effect and will instantly bring a room to life. Mirrors are perfect for adding drama but also maximising the light in a room while giving the illusion of more space.'

Soft Shapes art print, Society6
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<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Soft Shapes art print, Society6

Home of some very affordable modern art prints, Society6 is ideal if you're looking for a piece to buy quickly to get up now. Pretty, fun and very modern.

3. Include curved, low slung seating

cream and green living room - project by Gunter & Co

(Image credit: Future /)

Curves are keeping their top spot where interior design trends for 2023 are concerned. These cocooning shapes are popular on sofas and chairs as they not only look super stylish, they offer comfortable contours to recline on too.

'For a modern look, include softer forms such as a curved, chunky sofa, that's relatively low to the floor and don’t go too high on the backrest.' says Gemma Tucker of Balance Interior Design, neatly explaining current sofa trends. 'Pair with some more angular pieces for contrast, for example a steel table or a mid century style occasional chair.'

Saban 2 piece curved sofa, Lulu and Georgia
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<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Saban 2 piece curved sofa, Lulu and Georgia

The arching curve of this couch is just what a modern living room needs. And as it's a sectional, it can be broken in two with each part placed opposite the other for a social seating hub.

4. Paint walls and woodwork in the same color

dark blue living room with dark blue sofa

(Image credit: Project: Forbes Rix Design / Photography: Natalie Dinham)

A relatively simple way to make a living room look modern focuses on paint ideas.  Paint the woodwork, such as window frames, skirting boards and door architraves, in the same color as the walls. This looks particularly effective if you've opted for dark moody tones. 

'Color palette is key, as it creates the mood for keeping a room up to date. In this room, Farrow & Ball Railings was used on the skirting, windows and walls, while keeping it fresh by introducing a white wooden floor and ceiling,' says Natalie Forbes, cofounder of Forbes Rix Design

'In addition, black and white artwork grouped together prevents the wall from being a solid block of color and the cushions add a layer of texture. A bright pop of green from the plant provides an injection of colour without losing the monochrome feel.'

Railings modern emulsion, Farrow and Ball
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<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Railings modern emulsion, Farrow and Ball

A classic paint color choice, Railings is beloved because, as a black, you really can't go wrong with it. It's soft, and has blue undertones, so in certain lights it really shimmers. 

5. Avoid matchy matchy styles

grey living room with houndstooth Togo sofa

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

Of course a room scheme needs furniture and fittings to coordinate and work well together, but be mindful of matching too many pieces from one furniture collection. Mixing different pieces is key to a modern living room scheme.

'Avoid matchy- matchy styles such as a 3-piece suite set up as this is bland and dated,' says Gemma Tucker of Balance Interior Design. 'Instead opt for accent chairs in a contrasting colour and form to the sofa. And don’t be afraid to embrace fabrics such as boucle or velvet armchairs with a linen sofa, this adds texture and interest.'

6. Mix classic pieces with modern

neutral modern living room project by Balance Interior Design

(Image credit: Balance Interior Design)

When we think of 'modern', it can conjour images of the developer 'show home' look. Somewhere filled with the latest expensive items, yet devoid of personality and too perfect to feel comfortable in. To prevent your modern living room feeling like this include some pieces from other eras, whether family heirlooms or junk shop finds. Mid century modern living rooms are a key inspiration here.

'To avoid a modern living room from dating too quickly, opt for a balance of modern and more classical styles and avoid going 'full bleed' on the look of the moment or a pastiche to looks of the past,' says Gemma Tucker, founder, Balance Interior Design.

'Curate existing or older pieces with more modern items for a personalised and balanced look but don’t worry overtly about a look dating. The litmus test is if you love an object of furniture, lighting or art, you are likely to feel the same in years to come.'

7. Go for a statement rug

Eclipse by Kelly Behun, The Rug Company

(Image credit: Eclipse by Kelly Behun for The Rug Company/Lannoo Publishers)

With esteemed designers such as Kelly Wearstler for The Rug Company, Jaime Hayon for Nani Marquina and Camille Walala for Floor Story, bold area rugs are big news in modern homes. 

Rug trends are focusing on colorful, eye-catching designs and irregular shapes. A large statement rug will bring modernity to your living room. Just make sure it's large enough and in proportion for the space. 

'I love sculptural rugs that evoke a topography map— different pile heights, tones etc,' says interior designer Sara Story. 'To me, the most successful modern interiors are inviting and approachable, even while utilizing more tailored elements.'

In their recent book Carpets & Rugs by Lannoo Publishers, authors Karolien van Cauwelaert and Karin van Opstal state, 'From being a neutral and unobtrusive background or even absent, rugs are now being pushed to the forefront again and sometimes even considered the foundation on which further interior decoration of the space will be based. 

'Color and movement have made their entrée again; designs are becoming bolder, and crazy shapes are making an appearance. Today, carpets and rugs proudly define the room they are in, instead of providing the background picture.'

These 8 rugs are the best to buy now, handpicked by the Livingetc team.

8. Commission a giant wall mural

an open plan living room with a colorful wall mural

(Image credit: Prue Ruscoe. Design: YSG Studio)

Dedicating an entire wall to a huge mural is a fabulous modern look for a living room. Made easier - and less expensive - due to advances in technology, a bespoke wall mural is a design trend that allows you to be creative. 

With an inexhaustible selection of images to choose from, whatever you select, whether classical or contemporary, it becomes instantly impactful and thoroughly modern when blown up large scale across one wall.

'With the trend for dark, maximalist interiors, we’ve seen an increase in the popularity of dark floral wall art. Dark colours and papers command such drama, it’s easy to create a warm and inviting space to relax and unwind in,' says Michael Ayerst, founder, Surface View.

'However, when choosing a wall mural, it's important to choose a print you love. If it's for the wall behind the sofa, consider a panel-printed mural style wallpaper with a large scale pattern or trompe-l'oeil scene to create drama. 

'Gather samples of two-three of your favorite designs, stick them to the wall and live with them for a few weeks, before deciding which one.'

9. Soften the mood with wall lamps

wall lights on a pink patterned wall

(Image credit: Stephan Julliard)

Once the preserve of fusty, traditional homes, wall lamps are now a must in a modern living room. Thanks to a plethora of modish designs in recent years, not to mention the flattering light they cast, wall lamps are no longer languishing in the design doldrums but are an integral part of a modern interior scheme.

'An installation of wall sconces looks modern and leads to a fantastic atmosphere,' says Sara Story, founder, Sara Story Design.'.

'If budget allows, I always advise to set the lighting controls to work independently of each other based on their task, as well as installing dimmer switches,' says Marketa Rypacek, managing director, Industville. 'Separate controls for each source can allow for a wide variety of moods as well as adding depth to a room.'

These 7 wall lights are the best to buy now, as handpicked by the Livingetc team.

10. Embrace biophilia

white living room with modern armchairs and red sofa

(Image credit: Future)

Embrace what you may say? Biophilic design incorporates nature at its essence, rather than as an after thought. It's a hot topic in architecture and design as the UN predicts that by 2050 almost 70% of the world's population will live in cities. This means designers are including natural elements in the built environment, as nature has a positive impact on our wellbeing. 

Ways to embrace biophilic design in a modern living room may vary from installing larger windows that let in more natural light, to natural textures, such as lime wash walls and cork flooring - or just a generous smattering of plants. Choose monstera, bird of paradise, banana plants - or install a living wall for a modern look that will last.

American Plant Exchange Split Leaf Philodendron Monstera Deliciosa, Amazon
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<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">American Plant Exchange Split Leaf Philodendron Monstera Deliciosa, Amazon

The perfect way to kick off a biophilic living room is with the Monstera plant which needs minimal looking after. And it will grow and grow!

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.