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Living Room Basics The Beginner’s Guide To Decorating

Living Room Basics The Beginner’s Guide To Decorating Living Room Basics The Beginner’s Guide To Decorating

Learn the basics of home decorating, including design principles, decorating styles, and answers to decorating challenges.

Lighting is a somewhat complex element of any room. In living rooms, it’s less so than in more utilitarian rooms like kitchens, but there are still some important considerations that should not be ignored. Most importantly, there needs to be a sampling of each of the three main types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent. Then after that, they need to be placed at different levels throughout the room. Consider overhead lighting, table and floor lamps, and wall sconces.

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Of course, if you are too strapped to invest in anything major at the moment, there is another option: “Buy cheap, modest furniture (Ikea is excellent) that fits the space you are living in and your style of life,” Mr. Conran suggested. “As you move up the property ladder and get a bit more money in your pocket, then you can think about furniture that will last a lifetime.”

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INVEST IN THE ESSENTIALS “I always tell people who are decorating their first apartments that it is important to spend money on the bigger-ticket items, like sofas, beds and dining tables,” said the interior designer Sheila Bridges. “You can always accessorize with inexpensive things like toss pillows, bedding and lighting to pull everything together.” Investment pieces — like that little black dress or the perfect-fitting blazer in your wardrobe — will act as a foundation you can build on.

Mixing patterns in home decor is one of the more advanced parts of interior design. Patterns don’t have to match, but they need to complement and coordinate with each other. This is done by considering color, size, and scale.

He continued: “Obviously you need the basics in place to live there, but by buying one or two pieces at a time, I think you have a better chance of creating a first apartment that works well and reflects your personality, which can only make you happier.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page RE12 of the New York edition with the headline: Sensible Decorating (No Splurging Allowed). Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Empty walls are a sign of an incomplete room. This doesn’t mean you need to fill every inch, but decorating the walls with art is important. (Note that it is important, but it does not need to be expensive). What one person considers art can vary drastically from another’s so it’s important to follow your instincts when it comes to what you like and what will go in your room. That said, there are a lot of rules that are worth following if you want your room to look its best. 

An interior decorator does not have that formal training and focuses on the aesthetics and the surface appearance of a space. Who you would hire depends on whether you have any structural work or space planning to be done or you need someone to plan the decor only.

And as Maxwell Ryan, the founder of Apartment Therapy, noted, it’s not just about saving money: Vintage pieces add character to your space. Mr. Ryan said he recently visited the home of a friend that was decorated — and not cheaply — with all new furnishings, and “the whole house felt so impersonal and so lifeless, even though it was pretty.” If you want a home that’s warm, cozy and inviting, he said, a good rule of thumb is to “always have at least 25 percent used, vintage or hand-me-down furniture.”

While you could have a different style and color scheme in each room, often you will want to tie the whole dwelling together. You’ll want to consider the right colors for a small room, as well as the right colors and patterns for a large room.

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No matter what part of the room you’re working on, be it the rugs, window treatments, or furniture arrangements, make sure you know the ideal measurements at which they should be placed. No one has it all memorized and nothing is set in stone, but make sure you’ve got a handy guide nearby so you can consult it when necessary. Remember, rules should be taken with a grain of salt. Ultimately you need to do what works best for you in your space but the rules exist as a guideline to help you…MORE figure out what is most pleasing to the eye.

Area rugs can be a huge trouble spot. There are a number of reasons why it’s important to use them, but before buying something simply because you like it, make sure you know all the area rug rules of thumb. The most important consideration with any area rug is size. When an area rug is too small it can make the entire room look disjointed so make sure you know the best size for your room and the way your furniture is arranged. All the furniture should be sitting on top of the rug and ideally,…MORE there should be approximately 10″- 20″ of bare floor between the edges of the area rug and the walls of the room.

GO VINTAGE Sites like Chairish, Craigslist and eBay are a great source of reasonably priced antique and vintage coffee tables, dining tables and chairs, said Ms. Opel of Laurel & Wolf, who found an expandable Henredon table and six cane chairs on Craigslist for $500. The search might take a little more time and effort — Ms. Opel looked for months — but “the payoff is big when you find quality items at a steal,” she said.

Contrast and variety add visual interest to a room. Keep rhythm in mind with repeating elements of the same color, texture, or pattern, and a progression of sizes or colors.

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When it comes to glasses and dinnerware, Mr. Ryan advised keeping it simple. “I’m a big fan of stemless wine glasses,” he said, because they can be used for all kinds of drinks, so you don’t have to waste space or money on different types of glasses. His suggestion for a good splurge? Buy three quality knives and a few really good pots and pans that you can keep forever. If that’s not an option, you can pick up most kitchen basics at a restaurant supply store like those found on the Bowery for a couple hundred dollars.

Balance is another principle, distributing the visual weight in a room. You can do it symmetrically, as is common in traditional interiors, or with asymmetrical balance as seen in casual interiors.

Decorating do’s and don’ts can be fun to browse so you avoid common mistakes for each room and get started down the right path.

UPGRADE YOUR LIGHTING It might not occur to most people to swap out existing light fixtures. But as Ms. Winthrop pointed out: “Changing the lighting is much easier than you think and can make a big impact. It is also very easy to swap back out when the time comes for you to move out.”

You’ve finally decided it’s time to get a real sofa and stop eating off paper plates. Maybe you’re just starting out, with a new job and a new apartment — or maybe you’re not. Either way, like many people, you may be on a tight budget, with little left over for decorating.

PASS ON PRICEY ACCESSORIES Don’t blow your budget on throw pillows, blankets or towels — or anything else that you know you’ll have to replace on a regular basis. Apart from the wear-and-tear aspect, Ms. Winthrop said, “our taste in home décor can sometimes change as often as our taste or trends in fashion.” And changing small things like these is an easy way to refresh to your space.

Invest in the essentials, like a good sofa, and things you can take with you, like artwork.CreditTrevor Tondro for The New York Times

Now you are ready to concentrate on the room or rooms you need to decorate. From the entry to the family room to the home office, you’ll find decorating help for every room in your home. Explore the basics of setting up a room and the finishing touches to make your space a reflection of your personality and good taste.

Choosing a paint color is something a lot of people struggle with, and if there’s one thing that most people do wrong, it’s choosing the paint color first. Painting is relatively easy (painting can be a pain, but it’s not difficult), and it’s inexpensive, so choose your more expensive pieces first and then choose a color based on them.

Interior design and interior decorating are often mistaken for being the same thing, but the terms are not completely interchangeable. Interior design is a profession that requires specific schooling and formal training, including space planning, furniture design, and architecture.

MAKE SURE YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU If this is your first place, “it is likely that you will move in the next few years,” Ms. Bridges said. A well-made sofa or bed can go with you, but you’re not going to take the wallpaper. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to splurge on custom curtains that won’t fit the windows in your next home.

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ABOVE ALL, RESTRAIN YOURSELF “In the excitement of moving into their first apartment, people are all too often in a rush to do everything all at once and fill the space immediately with one exhilarating shopping trip,” said Terence Conran, the British design guru, retailer and restaurateur. “I have always thought it much better to live with your home first and understand the space before gradually furnishing it and adding color.”

But it doesn’t have to cost a lot. “Custom framing can take any hand-me-down or thrift-store find from trash to treasure,” said Kimberly Winthrop, a senior designer at Laurel & Wolf, who recommends Framebridge.com for “affordable and quick custom framing.”

Choosing a color palette is an essential part of interior design.

In a living room, it could be the fireplace or a piece of art. It sets itself apart by scale, color, or texture.

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DON’T FORGET THE KITCHEN You can do a lot with everyday objects to jazz up the kitchen, said Mr. Ryan, who likes to pick up beautifully packaged foods like cookies from Lazzaroni Amaretti that come in bright, distinctive tins he can leave on display. A couple of strategically placed bottles of wine, a basket of fruit or a good cutting board, he said, will add color and warmth to any counter as well. “I also like to save corks and put them in a bowl.”

Furnishings are a key part of decorating, but they can also be an investment and a large part of the budget. You need to know which items you should save or splurge on.

Your first step should be to select a style for your home interior. This will promote the design principle of unity and harmony, thinking of the entire home with a unifying theme. It can be as simple as choosing casual instead of formal, traditional instead of contemporary. From there, you can refine it to a more specific style, such as French country, Tuscan, modern Victorian, or shabby chic.

This article is part of a series aimed at helping you navigate life’s opportunities and challenges. What else should we write about? Contact us: [email protected]

Art, on the other hand, “will make a huge impact on your space and can be brought with you from apartment to apartment,” said Megan Opel, an interior designer at Laurel & Wolf, an online design service. “I advise splurging on original paintings from your favorite artists, because nothing will make a space feel more like you than personally curated art.”

Investing in one thing at a time will also allow you to save up for higher-quality pieces. Start with essential furnishings for where you will sleep, eat and sit; side tables, credenzas and curtains can all come later.

A common problem people have is not knowing how to arrange their living room furniture. More often than not people push a sofa against one wall, a couple of chairs against another and that’s it. But arranging furniture is something that requires a little more planning. There are important considerations like choosing a focal point, creating conversation areas and considering traffic flow. If you lack confidence in these areas or you’re looking for more detailed advice check out these 10 rules…MORE for arranging furniture.

To help you get started, several design professionals offered tips on how to make your place look like a grown-up lives there without spending a fortune.

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