By Hebe Hatton published
As the name suggests, our living rooms are where we do the majority of our, well... living. And as a result, our living room furniture is what we doing the majority of our living on. Sofas, coffee tables, rugs; they are some of the most hard-working pieces in our homes, and for that reason picking modern living room furniture that's comfortable, practical, and of course stylish is so important. So we've pulled together a practical guide and inspiring gallery of ideas that will help you design and fill a modern living room with pieces that work perfectly for you and your lifestyle.
1. Start with the sofa
So if you are starting completely from scratch, the best place to start when buying modern living room furniture is with the sofa. It's likely to be the largest and most used piece in the room, so getting it right is key.
The size of your space is probably going to be what dictates the size and style of sofa you opt for, so decide on some rough measurements first before you start your search.
'To measure for your new sofa, it’s always a good idea to note the dimensions of the existing furniture. You’ll want to make sure your new sofa fits in the space without overcrowding - or underwhelming. Another way to get a real sense of the size is to choose a style you like and map out its dimensions on the floor by laying out cardboard or taping an outline with masking tape. Play around with the different options: try sizing up or down until you find the perfect sofa that fits your home and style.' advises Dani Burroughs, Head Of Product of Snug Sofa.
Think about the design too, if you have a small living room, you don't want a sofa style that's going to add lots of visual bulk. You want it to still allow light to flow around it, so that will mean tall legs and a slimline frame, think Mid-century modern style, or go something low-slung and casual like the smallest of Ligne Roset's Togo Sofa.
Also, think about your room's layout. Where are you most likely to want to sit on your sofa? Looking out of the window? At the TV? And do you want the room to feel formal and symmetric with the sofa mirrored by two armchairs and a coffee table in between? Or a relaxed layout that has a more natural flow? Deciding on where your sofa will sit in the room will help you have a clear idea on the size and shape you should be looking out for.
For more ideas, our shopping guide to the best sofas of the year has plenty of stylish and comfortable options that we think are well worth considering.
2. Balance a sofa with statement chairs
Long gone are the days of the three-piece suite, who wants all their furniture to match anymore? So once you've got your dream sofa in mind, you want to think about what secondary seating you want to bring into your space. And by secondary seating we mean, armchairs, stools, ottomans, day beds, maybe even a window seat if your room allows.
Let your living room layout come into play again here, because where your armchairs or ottoman, will be in relation to your sofa could help you decide on colors, patterns and styles.
If you are after a cohesive look because your chairs and sofa will sit opposite each other, almost mirroring one another, opt for a statement patterned chair (or two) that contains the color of your sofa. However, if you are after a single stand-out piece that you really want to be the focus, pick an accent chair in a bold, contrasting color. Take note from this fabulous bright orange chair that's mixed with the deep greens and vivid blues of the rest of the furniture.
3. Use a rug to ground modern living room furniture
A rule we live by when designing any room, but it applies especially to living rooms – area rugs go under furniture, preferable all of the furniture if your space will allow for it. A rug is what stops furniture from looking like it's just floating in a sea of floor, it grounds the furniture, defines the space and can make a room feel bigger too.
So when picking a living room rug, go as big as your space can handle. You want only a few inches of flooring exposed around the edge, and all the furniture should have at least two legs sat on top.
'A rug can anchor a room.' says Noemie Deed, Founder of Cosy Coco. 'It is one of the main pieces used to create a cohesive and stylish space and should therefore be considered at the same stage as choosing your upholstered furniture. When designing a contemporary scheme, you’ll want a rug to set the tone as the key accessory piece. Choose a minimalist design that still acts as a piece that adds visual interest to a room. You want your rug to draw the eye without overpowering, as it’ll be key in tying together your sofa, coffee table and other smaller accessory pieces. Modern decor is all about effortlessly sleek, clean and subtle design./
4. Invest in key pieces
As we've said, living room furniture works hard and we spend a lot of time in these spaces, so really investing in a few pieces that are going to work for you for years to come is always worth it.
Of course, we'd always advise spending as much as your budget will allow on the pieces that will see the most use, like sofas and maybe armchairs, but investment pieces don't always have to be purely practical either. If a piece of furniture, be it a stunning marble coffee table or a vintage gold bar cart, is really going to make the space feel like a reflection of your style and add a quirky centerpiece it's worth investing in.
5. Don't always buy new
The key to creating interesting, unique, modern living rooms is to buy pieces second-hand. Filling a room with all brand new furniture can leave space feeling a bit flat and void of any personality, texture, or excitement. So get scouring eBay, thrift stores, and antique shops for those really special one-off pieces that will bring life into your living room.
Occasion chairs, rugs and mirrors are all great pieces to look out of when shopping for second-hand living room furniture. We will say, unless you plan to have it upholstered, avoid buying an older sofa as you may find the filling in knackered and so will sag or the color has faded, looking more shabby than chic.
6. Mix and match style for an eclectic look
And it's mixing these second-hand pieces in with a more contemporary style, that makes a living more intriguing. Rather than sticking to a single style, mix and match different looks, taking your favorite pieces from different eras and bringing them together in your living room.
See how in this living room, an Eames Chair, meets a very minimalist slubby white sofa. The textures are different, the lines are different, the styles are totally different – Mid-century modern and modern rustic? Sounds like it shouldn't work but it totally does. Even the ottoman and the rug throw in a more traditional style too.
Really there are no rules when it comes to mixing different living room furniture styles, just test it out using mood boards so you can ensure it's going to work in your space. And do be mindful of the overall style of your home and the era it was built, as this may dictate what style of furniture would work best.
7. Pick the right color palette
When it comes to choosing colors for your upholstered modern living room furniture, stick to a fairly small color range, say a palette of just two or three colors depending on how many pieces of furniture you have. You want these bigger pieces of furniture to have longevity and adapt to whatever other colors and patterns you throw at them.
Remember you can always add more colors to your scheme using rugs, drapes and textiles but for sofas and armchairs either keep them all the same or similar shades or combine a couple of colors that really work well together. That's not to say you can't go bold with the colors, just be sure that they are colors you really love and can live with for a long time.
8. Have fun with shapes
Loving the bold curves going on in this living room, and how they are reflected in the artwork and the fabric of the stool. As Jen and Mar, founders of new interior design studio, Interior Fox, told us, 'popular in the 60’s, curves are having a resurgence and they’re here to stay. We are moving away from harsh lines in favor of soft, sumptuous curves as a way of embracing a more relaxed feel. Seen across furniture, rugs and lighting, rounded curves work well contrasted against materials such as brass or even concrete.'
'Adding curves into your living room whether big or small helps soften the feel of the place and it doesn’t just stop at décor. Using arches in the doors, windows, or even the ceiling can elevate a room’s architectural impact.'
And note how in this living room the softness and playfulness of the curves in juxtaposed with the cleaner lines of the ottoman and the glass side table. Even the straight edges of the very simple rug are noticeable. This contrast just gives the room a more formal, elegant, grown-up edge despite all the fun shapes and colors – definitely a modern living room furniture idea to pinch from this space.
9. Contrast materials in a modern living room
This modern grey living room is a master class in mixing different materials to create a space that feels welcoming and cozy but also elegant and contemporary.
The key is that mix of soft, unshapely forms of the upholstery and the hard surfaces and clean lines of the coffee table and side table. You want that contrast of hard and soft to break up the space but also to create balance and structure so your living room doesn't just become a collection of squishy seating.
10. Think about storage
Storage isn't always the most exciting piece of living room furniture, but if you want a room that's practical and clutter-free, it's an essential. Of course, going built-in means you can get all your storage out of the way on one wall and really customize it to your needs. But going for built-in storage doesn't suit all styles or budgets, so if you are searching for freestanding storage pieces choose furniture that has plenty of hidden storage and offers as much versatility as possible. Coffee tables with deep drawer of shelving, a TV unit that can hide away ugly boxes and wires, elegant console tables to provide both handy storage and an extra surface space for decor.
Don't just rely on shelving for storage. If anything you want to keep your living room shelving as clutter-free as possible and should be used more for decor than a place to cram your TV manual and the remotes.
What's trending in living room furniture?
Modern living room trends are certainly all about undulating shapes and curved forms for 2021. Bye-bye straight lines, in living rooms we want softness and waves and arcs. And that trend for softer spaces is reflected in fabric choice too – tactile fabrics like boucle, velvet, and linen add extra coziness. Even the color palettes are softer, more muted, and warmer, a shift away from the greys and whites that have dominated living room furniture trends for years.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum. Maximalism is also making a comeback, so really stand-out living room furniture is on-trend. Fringing, bold patterns, and vivid colors are all ways to incorporate this style into your living room. And remember when it comes to maximalism more if more so don't be afraid to really fill your space too, opting for more furniture, more pattern and more color.
Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.
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