Furnish, light, decorate, and organize dark living room
September 13, 2013 in Design Dilemma
We just moved into a 1979 ranch house in a small neighborhood in wooded PA, bringing with us some beat-up, very replaceable furniture. I'm looking for ideas for how to furnish, light, decorate, and organize our rather dark living room. (See pics.)

The living room (20' x 15') doesn't get a lot of direct light other than some dappled sunlight in the morning. We're quite willing to replace all of the furniture in the room, buy new lighting and rugs, etc. We're even willing to repaint if that would help, but take note that we currently have white paint over wood paneling, so there are grooves between the panels. We have a separate playroom, so there is no need to house toys in this room.

Our budget is not set, but we would likely balk at going above $2K in total. I'm interested in a clean modern look with comfort and function in mind.

Here are my current thoughts for the room (see hand drawn floor plan):

Keep the layout because the open space in the middle of the room works for us. We often walk through this room to get to the kitchen, and it gives the kids space to run through without impaling themselves on coffee tables or having to weave around middle-of-the-room seating.

Bottom left: Hang the tv on the wall with an articulating arm. Get low shelving to go underneath it against the wall to hold things like game consoles. Get a bright and interesting floor lamp. (Will the light interfere with the tv? If so, where else could the floor lamp go?)

Right side: Get a new couch (3 seater or bench, following this Houzz ideabook Ideabook: Things You Need to Know About Buying a Sofa). Get a new arm chair with good back support for my husband who sits there every evening with a laptop on his lap and the tv on. Where the flooring changes to the entryway, get unit with shelves and doors for various papers/books/etc that my husband likes to keep close to the chair where he sits with his laptop. Get a table lamp to go on the shelving unit.

Top left: Keep the glider and ottoman because it's so comfortable. Get a side table for setting down a drink, phone, etc. Possibly get a table lamp (but that eats up space on the table) or a floor lamp (but where would it go?).

Not sure about rugs - whether to have them, what size, or where to put them!

I'd like to replace the bright brass fireplace facing.

I'm also not sure how to bring color into the room. Get a bright turquoise or red couch? Or get a neutral couch with a bright rug? Brightly colored arm chair? How else can you bring color into a room, especially if you leave the walls white? How do we coordinate with brick (which I don't love)?

All suggestions are VERY welcome! This is our first home, and these will be our first furnishings that aren't Ikea or hand-me-downs. We've always avoided decorating since we knew we would keep moving every 1 to 3 years, but now we're ready to make this house our own.

Thank you so much for
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First thoughts: if you did move your sofa (or new sofa) forward about three feet, I think the kids would see the c,ear passageway behind the sofa and take that route. It will also make the room feel more like a room. Second, the chair and ottoman look great - do not replace them. I'm thinking that just pulling everything a bit closer together, including hubby's chair and ottoman, will give you a very cozy space. The way to start on this is buy the rug, and because you have a long area to accommodate (starting about 2' feet in from wall adjacent to TV to about where the fireplace ends), I would suggest having a piece of broadloom cut and bound to get a custom fit. It is actually a very inexpensive approach to doing rugs. I would have the sofa mostly centred in front of the TV, and maybe hubby's chair in front of fireplace, toward the right side of it. Try to create an area of about 12 x 13 or 14' as your seating area, and the front legs of the furniture in this space would all be on the rug.

I need to study your pics some more for further tweaking. My first inclination with your walls is to leave them white, and I think white painted over board is tres chic!
September 13, 2013 at 9:53AM      Thanked by urbansparrow
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I am now wondering if it would be better to place your TV on that end wall on a low credenza. You would then have a tall bookcase on each side of the fireplace to help this area read as one "room". The sofa would then be a sectional, with the long end oriented toward the FP and the shorter end facing the TV. This would give you comfortable TV viewing for 2 for sure. Another option would be a sofa and two armchairs that are at a right angle to the sofa and facing the TV. I would align them exactly so that they almost look like a love seat. The only problem is where to put hubby's chair and ottoman? It could stay in that far corner as long as your TV is large enough for him to see it from there.

On a $2K budget, this is a tall order, especially since it looks like you definitely want better quality, for the sofa at least. For sofa fabrics, I highly recommend slipcovered. It's a great look and forgiving with kids since all parts are washable. I don't own white ones, but people who do rave about how great they are when you have kids because, not only can you wash them, but you can bleach if necessary. And the more I think about it, I think I'm preferring a sofa with 2 armchairs - they will offer more flexibility down the road if and when your needs change.

Have you looked at West Elm's website for selections? This would be the first place I'd try with your budget and your desire for a more modern look. I can totally picture white slipcovers, white board walls, some soft curtain panels on your French doors, a cozy rug and that floor lamp beside hubby's chair over near the window. For additional lighting, consider some picture lights hanging over the tops of the bookcases, as well as a modern task lamp on an end table between the sofa and armchairs.
September 13, 2013 at 10:15AM      Thanked by urbansparrow
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@karemore55, thanks so much for all of your input already! I think I'm going to have my husband help me move furniture around this weekend so I can get a feel for having furniture in the middle of the room. It's a look I've been resisting because I really like the open space in the middle of the room, and the large feel that it gives. What you're describing, if I understand you correctly, cuts right into that. However, as it is now, it is admittedly hard to see the tv. Moving the tv to the far wall is something we nixed when I said I didn't want a couch in the middle of the room, but I'm willing to revisit it. I'll take some pictures as we move things around.

Also, to clarify - the white glider chair and ottoman by the doors are for me and do not have to face the tv. (In fact, I like that it doesn't face the tv.) There is another armchair that my husband currently uses (it's to the side of the couch, almost entirely hidden from view in my photo). It this chair we want to replace and its replacement also needs to face the tv.

As for slipcovered couch (sorry this is really new for me), do you simply mean that all the upholstery can be removed and washed? All of it? Just the cushions?

To give you a sense of what's catching my eye, here are two examples of couches that I like:
http://www.wayfair.com/Retro-2-Modern-Sensei-Sofa-S748-3AS-RMOD1009.html http://www.wayfair.com/sofab-Muse-Sofa-SFAB1033.html

Those are just two examples based on appearance, not quality. I need to do my research on quality and actually go sit on some real couches.

I will also check out West Elm. Thanks for the suggestion!
September 13, 2013 at 10:40AM   
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Here is a better floorplan that meets all your requirements, I think. It will give you a better conversation area, and still maintain your focal points.

Replacing all your furniture for $2K might be tough, but I will give it a go and be back in a little bit. BTW, don't worry about your lighting till you see where everyone is going to sit. Lamps will be the last thing to pick up.
September 13, 2013 at 10:56AM        Thanked by urbansparrow
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One of your chosen sofas is very modern, the other transitional. Which do you prefer? Or are you eclectic?
September 13, 2013 at 10:59AM   
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@groveraxle, thanks!

Maybe don't worry too much about the $2K number for now. I pulled that out of the air. I just meant that my husband and I have had the grad student hand-me-down mentality for years, so it's going to be uncomfortable to suddenly spent a lot more, even if it is an investment. We haven't really set a budget for this - just trying to figure out what the end goal for this room is first and then figure out how to get there. (Assuming the end goal isn't gold plated furniture or something...)

As for style, I don't think I'm eclectic per se. More like undecided and overwhelmed by all the choice points. I just started by browsing and picking out ones I liked, and those two styles seemed to be my consistent picks.

And now a question for everyone about conversation areas. I see conversational areas all the time, and I'm sure it's because they work so much better than calling to each other from across a big empty room. (The previous owner also made a conversational area in front of the fire place.) However, I'm wishing there was still some way to maintain the open, spaciousness of the large room, without creating "dead" areas around the outside of the conversation area.
September 13, 2013 at 11:21AM   
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Well, you can have "dead" zones outside the conversation area (though they really aren't dead because they become passageways and walls for art or storage), or you can have a great big chasm in the middle. Aesthetically and functionally, most people find clustering the furniture to be more pleasing.

Indeed, go to a trendy restaurant that has a lounge. You'll notice that they form intimate groupings within the larger room. There's something intimidating about a space that's too large. Plus it's not desirable to sit against the wall watching TV while people pass in front of you. It completely disrupts the flow.
September 13, 2013 at 11:32AM   
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Indeed @groveraxle, I see your point. Already in our short time here I have noticed that I have been excusing myself every time I pass in front of my husband if he's watching tv or playing a game. I also see what you mean about the "great big chasm" as well. :) Thanks!
September 13, 2013 at 11:37AM   
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Nancy Walton
I think the second sofa would be the best pick as far as style and comfort. Style-wise, it is timeless. Comfort, well, that is obvious--deep cushions. Added plus, you will be able to find that style in a slipcover model.
September 13, 2013 at 11:42AM      Thanked by urbansparrow
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Actually, Ikea's Ektorp sofa gets good reviews on houzz for comfort and durability. And when you get tired of its slipcover, you can go to bemz.com and order something wild and crazy (though the slipcovers cost as much as the sofa).

I usually suggest people start with an inspiration--artwork, if they have it, or something special they would like the showcase, or a rug. To that end, I picked a rug (not exactly at random, but something simple and modern and not too pricey) and then went shopping for furniture to go with.

The sofa is from Thrive, the chair, art, and coffee table from Ikea, the red console from Target. It's meant as an example of how to start planning your room so everything coordinates. I suggest keeping your large, expensive pieces fairly neutral and popping your color in with pillows and art.

I apologize for just dumping the furniture in your room, but while my program can paint and remove furniture and do windows, it will not rotate a couch.
September 13, 2013 at 12:39PM      Thanked by urbansparrow
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Groveraxle, I wish I had that program! Just eyeballing the floor plan, it didn't look like they would get a good view of the TV with that arrangement. However, with the TV turned at an angle, it looks like it would be perfect.

Urban sparrow, I posted two examples of slipcovered sofas, both Pottery Barn. First is a more traditional rolled arm, and second is a square arm, which suggests more modern. And they have others, as does Crate and Barrel, all the big guys. The slipcover is one large piece that fits over the entire frame - arms, back and sides - which you tuck into all the crevices. It's literally a 5 minute job, and the cover pretty much stays in place - no wrinkling or sliding around. Then there will be a separate, zippered cover for each of the seat and back cushions. So, if you get a spill or things are looking dirty, you u zip only the pieces that need washing. Less often, you would pull off the whole slipcover so those arms can get washed. If you are going for something more comfortable and well-built, its worth the investment to buy your sofa from places like this, and yet they certainly aren't the most expensive sofas you can buy either. Generally, the best quality sofas are custom made and can really cost, depending on which fabric you pick. Most ready-made sofas, other than the ones I me toned, are a lower quality and will give you about 10 years (maybe less) before you start noticing the sagging, etc.

Using groveraxle's seating arrangement, you can definitely just buy an area rug in the standard 8 X10 or 11'. I also like how it "expands" the size of the space by placing long, low credenzas or similar on each side of the fireplace. So I don't think you will get that crowded feeling you are worried about.

Also, since the chair and ottoman is for you, and no TV requirements, you must, must, must create for yourself a lovely little spot in that corner by the French doors with the chair and ottoman, a fun little side table, maybe a ceramic drum stool for example, and the floor lamp - oh, and a beautiful down-filled cushion!
September 13, 2013 at 12:52PM      Thanked by urbansparrow
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After reading groveraxle's latest comment, I should contribute that I have an Ikea Ecktorp sofa (long story involving narrow basement stairway in my last house) and it is quite comfy, but I can definitely feel the difference between it and the Pottery Barn sofas. The seating on the Ecktorp is not as deep for one thing, so it doesn't feel as "loungey". At the moment, its getting very light use so will probably last us forever, but a lot of its construction is basically particle board. I definitely wouldn't want to see kids jumping on it! Of all the things you are about to spend money on, I would suggest you make the things you will sit on your spending priority. Even the consoles, or whatever you will put on each side of the FP, could come from Ikea. They will still look good, but will not be required to put up with a lot of wear and tear.
September 13, 2013 at 1:00PM        Thanked by urbansparrow
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Oh my goodness karemore55 and groveraxel, you are amazing. Thank you for your ideas and your time. I don't have time to respond much now, but I'm going to take some time this evening to think, imagine, and move furniture.
September 13, 2013 at 1:06PM     
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We didn't get a chance to move the furniture around this weekend, but this morning I did draw up a few layouts (see pics).

(I'm using http://www.homestyler.com. I tried to pick furniture that is either as close as possible to what we already have, or is in the general style of what I'd like.)

No matter how I lay out the room, I really still don't like the versions with the conversation area! To me they looks like we would be cramped right up against the tv and it leaves this weird space behind the couch. It doesn't seem inviting from the entryway.

Doesn't it look weird to you too? Or, am I just not doing it right? Or do I still need to see it in real life by actually moving the furniture around?

I'm interested in your feedback to these layouts, as well as advice about where to go from here. I didn't work too much on decor in these pictures since I'm not yet decided on what the big pieces should be and where they should go.
September 17, 2013 at 7:20AM   
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urban, your first layout looks just about perfect to me. Perhaps you do need to move the actual furniture to see how it works, but trust me, a more intimate area is much more inviting (and functional) than the last option which makes your conversation area into a passageway.

Try this: imagine yourself entertaining some adult friends, trying to have a cocktail and conversation...while the kids are running back and forth between you. Now, how inviting and comfortable is that?
September 17, 2013 at 7:32AM     
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