Not all interiors style hang on a room looking expensive, but regardless of your style of decor, there are tricks to make your space feel elevated that for most people come with throwing money at their home. Getting this balance right is the ultimate interior design hack that will elevate your living room to another level. When designing a living room, certain elements are crucial in helping the design come together to help it feel high-end and luxurious, but it needn't mean the furniture and decor has to be expensive.
'The living room is the space that is seen when you entertain and quite frankly it’s these spaces that you tend to spend most of your time in,' says Catherine Finkernagel of Finkernagel Ross. 'If a home is indeed meant to be aspirational (as we feel it should be) then these spaces should be the epitome of that. Quality furnishings and materials, considered artwork, and warm lighting all help to create a space which is luxurious, sophisticated, and expensive in feel whilst being warm and approachable at the same time.'
We asked designers for the living room ideas they think makes a room feel expensive, and have suggested our own ideas for how to get this million-dollar look on a budget.
Oonagh is an experienced homes and interiors writer and editor. For this particular piece, she asked designers for the key elements to create a luxurious look, while suggesting how you can embrace these ideas whatever your budget.
How do I make my living room look expensive?
To find out what makes your living room look and feel expensive, you have to first define a luxurious interior style. We see it as a look that prioritizes style and aesthetics, sometimes over function. It's about the finer details that only add charm and beauty to a living room. A dramatic light fixture, an historical architectural feature, a unique art collection, these will all add an air of opulence to the room.
'It’s all in the details,' says Amanda Gunawan, the founding partner of boutique LA-based architecture and design firm, OWIU (opens in new tab). 'Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean well-made and vice versa. In this era of mass production, there are so many options for the same piece.' Here are our suggestions for how to create a luxury look without breaking the bank.
1. Introduce natural materials in small doses
Using natural hard materials and doing away with any synthetic hard materials is a surefire way of making your room look and feel sophisticated and high-end. Swap out vinyl, plastic laminate, and engineered wood for the real thing, using natural woods, metals and stone to really lift the space and transform it into a luxurious living room.
For this project in South Kensington from Finkernagel Ross (opens in new tab), the brief from the client was elegance and serene simplicity. 'This was going to be the way forward,' says Catherine Finkernagel.
'Natural materials such as oak, marble, limestone, and brushed brass contribute to the feeling of wellness while the clean lines are evidence of the Scandinavian influence. The consistent use of materials throughout the house means that the house is calm, not busy and the perfect retreat.'
The coffee table in this home by Catherine Finkernagel is from the Italian brand, Flexform (opens in new tab), featuring a marble top that exudes luxury in the living room with its characteristic veined surface. Introducing smaller elements of hard natural materials is a way to bring this vibe without spending a fortune, just in smaller more budget-friendly doses. if you can't go all out with the coffee table, think about a marble tray for the surface of your coffee table, where you can place your coffee table books or display your plants, or perhaps a smaller side table with a marble top for half the price.
2. Consider sheer curtains for an ethereal look
Sheer living room curtains are quite the trend, and have a knack of looking high-end when they can be super cheap, far cheaper than thick curtains that work hard to block out the light. What's more, nothing makes a room feel more radient than some golden hour sun through a sheer window curtain, casting a golden glow onto the whole room.
In this beautiful living room by Husband Wife (opens in new tab), the choice of thickness of the curtain is crucial for adding a luxury feel to the space, and is something that can be replicated at home without breaking the bank. 'We wanted to create an almost ethereal, dream-like, quality of light,' says Justin Capuco, co-founder and principal.
'We chose a sheer curtain with a tone similar to the walls to avoid contrast and soften the environment. Despite this tonal softness, we chose a fabric (Dedar Omega) with subtle presence - a gridded structure that balances with the built-in architecture of the room.'
3. Create the illusion of a large statement rug
A living room rug is a key piece of furniture that can really exude luxury and sophistication. 'If you invest in a high-end rug you will keep it forever,' says the French textile designer, Pierre Frey (opens in new tab). 'It's like a painting, it's an interior design accessory. A high-end rug has beauty in it in that you can travel with it, move house and it can be passed down and given to kids.'
The larger living room rugs are costly, however, but don't skimp on the material. Think about the fabric, urges Pierre. 'You can tell instantly that it's wool or natural fiber or silk - it's more durable when it's wool or linen. Buying cheap you'll begin to see stains and bubbles of wool and if it's made the right way you're getting the quality.'
Instead of cheapening your material, buy smaller rugs, which will be cheaper, and layer them to cover the floor space of your living room. 'You can definitely layer your rugs to make the look of one larger rug,' says Pierre. 'And we sell more and more rugs that are round or that have a geometric shape or organic shape. There could be a trick here instead of going for the larger rugs.'
4. Replicate the curved sofa look
The focal point of your living room and a place for unwinding at the end of the day, your sofa is a staple piece of furniture that gets frequently used. ‘When you find a sofa you love, it creates a showstopper and the rest of the design follows,’ says interior designer, Natalia Miyar (opens in new tab), who designed this scheme, ‘and comfort, proportions, material, and texture are all important.’ There are certain styles that give an expensive look, like a curved sofa, which really exemplifies elegance and refinement in your interiors.
‘A curved sofa is a really beautiful piece that can help to define an area and will work in open-plan spaces as the back of the sofa is a design feature in itself,’ says Natalia. A curved sofa gives an impression of airiness and should sit away from the wall, floating in the middle of the room, so that it can be admired from the front and back.
This example is from Natalia Miyar's Belgravia penthouse and the sofa is bespoke, covered in 'Soho Coast’ linen by Kirkby Design (opens in new tab) from Romo (opens in new tab).
If you want to replicate the curved sofa look at home, but a statement curved sofa is a bit out of your price range, go smaller and try to recreate the curve with other, smaller pieces of furniture like an armchair with a pleasing arched back or a boucle chair.
5. Embrace the crown molding
Crown molding is an architectural detail that adds an element of luxury to your living room. It is the perfect example of a decorative flourish that serves no real purpose, and its nod to the history and heritage of your home really turns it from a stylish living room to an expensive-looking and elegant living room.
Look up, you might find beautiful ornate cornice detail in your living room, but so often it's painted over and ignored, where it could be made into a decorative focal point. Whether it's a plain crown molding that just covers the junction between the wall and the ceiling, or a more embellished, decorative molding, make the most of it by painting it white where your walls are a different color, or painting it a darker color to really show them off. This will really highlight it to visitors and encourage them to take in the architecture of the room. Alternatively, add LED lighting to really show it off, just make sure the bulbs are concealed.
If you don't have crown molding, consider getting them installed as a simple way to add finesse and elegance to a room. ‘As soon as you put in an enriched molding, it is a stamp of an era’, says Miles Leigh, director of Cornice London (opens in new tab). So just be wary that each different period had its own favorite style and try and stick to it. Check crown molding period categories or refer to what interior architecture already exists – the skirting, dado rail, architrave or fireplace, for guidance. You can also add a crown rose to the center of the room where you might dangle a statement light or chandelier.
7. Add affordable art to the living room
Considered wall art can go far to really add a feeling of opulence to your living room, and it needn't be expensive. In fact, buying something lesser-known from a car boot sale or local flea market will give the living room a priceless quality, as it is a one-off. One of the late Robert Kime's favorite pieces on his walls was a rug he found at a charity shop, while this is the apartment of Kati Curtis of Kati Curtis Design (opens in new tab), filled with pieces she's collected over the years, all with meaning. 'Some are from artists whose studios I’ve visited, and others are pieces I’ve picked up through art dealer friends and antique stores,' she says. 'I chose my own art for diversity and what speaks to me aesthetically, not necessarily what’s going to match my décor, as that changes over time.'
Think about size and scale, as a larger piece can really make an impression, encourages Emily Mackie of Interior Impression (opens in new tab). 'They should be out of scale and large pieces of art. They should be themed pieces that highlight who you are as a person and what you enjoy, but a lack of art will make the space not look luxurious,' she says. Finally, don't forget the frame. Pick a unique style, looking at colors taken from the artwork itself.
7. Layer your living room lighting instead of one statement fixture
While a luxury living room often has a statement fixture at the center, good lighting isn't necessarily about one light source and an overly expensive chandelier in the center of the room. In fact, you can really create a cohesive, statement scheme by layering your lighting in the living room in clever ways. The result is a high-end feel in a living room that really works to add to the aesthetic of the space. It's about a combination of task, accent and central lighting, tying the space together for the kind of richness and depth associated with high-end interiors.
Really consider how many lights there should be in the living room. You want overhead lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. So consider a main pendant, wall sconces in the living room, and both table and floor lamps. Think about lighting an unloved corner of the living room, a coffee table, lighting that shines on wall art. Dotting lighting around the living room will highlight the thought gone into your living room design.
Take your inspiration from this scheme from Kasha Paris (opens in new tab), which features a main overhead lighting fixture plus a cute table lamp.
8. Reevaluate the placement of furniture in the room
Sometimes, it's just about where you put key items of furniture in the room that expresses this look of luxury. More often than not, your television is the center of the living room. It is a place where you come to relax and unwind, and often curl up on the sofa with a good film. But making your television the centerpiece of the living room can really cheapen the space. Instead, you want to make sure it is discreet and concealed, so it is not taking up space in an unsightly way when it is not in use.
This means thinking carefully about your television placement. 'Avoid the gigantic TV is prominently on display above the fireplace,' says Emily of Interior Impressions. 'You should have a beautiful stone or tile fireplace and it should not be covered up by a gigantic TV. A TV should be in a discreet area. Or you can frame the TV where it looks like artwork located in a place that doesn't hang over your beautiful fireplace.'
Instead, see your mantlepiece or the chimney breast as a place for artwork or a beautiful mirror.
How do you make a coffee table look expensive?
If you've found yourself a bargain coffee table and are wanting to make it look expensive, there are plenty of ways you can distract the eye to help the piece achieve its full potential. Often our coffee tables become a place for clutter to accumulate, so the first step is to really strip the space and remove all the bits and bobs that have ended up there. Think of the rule of three when putting your coffee table together - three of your favorite coffee table books. A nicely potted plant can add a bit of nature to the space, and a candle on a tray is always a good addition that reminds us to relax. Think about how you want to group items and how they come together. Consider the height and keep things at varied sizes to add interest to the space.
If you fancy a DIY job on a wooden table, why not sand down that chipped varnish to expose the grain of the wood, or get handy with a paintbrush and pick a beautiful dark shade?