Designer Tips for Cozying Up Your Living Room

Whether you're working with a small space or just want to give your great room a more intimate vibe, a few of our favorite designers share inspiration (and practical design tips) for creating a cozy living room.
By: Amanda Lecky

Photo By: Elk Studios LLC

Photo By: Jenny Norris

Photo By: Justin Bordeaux

Photo By: Iran Watson

Photo By: Angela Raciti

Photo By: Chris Humphreys

Create a Conversational Grouping

As popular as open floorplans are today, they pose a challenge to designers trying to create a feeling of warmth and shelter within a large, flowing space. Designer Tineke Triggs shares her process for this cozy family room: "Proper layout was key in the design and the use of the space," she says. "Layering rich colors and textures adds warmth while the large, bold print on the carpet ties all the elements together, creating a comfortable and cohesive space." Of course, the fireplace doesn't hurt, either.

Play With Pattern

Richly patterned elements can make a space feel more intimate. In this eclectic den, Coddington Design covered one wall in a bold, graphic orange-and-grey wallpaper. "The custom grey velvet sofa, white coffee table, Moroccan-style area rug, and vintage, silver side tables compliment the overall look," say the designers. The result is modern, but warm.

Opt for Warm Woods

Maximizing light and ocean views is often a primary goal of waterfront architecture, and one that can come in the form of sacrificing coziness for cold angularity. But architect Joseph Tanney was careful to avoid this trap. He explains how he struck just the right balance in this project: "The long and linear coastline is captured within the proportions of the communal space, while the use of warm woods, fabrics and lighting create an intimate space in contrast to the expansive views of the ocean framed by floor-to-ceiling windows."

Go Crazy for Color

It may seem counter-intuitive, but deep, rich colors can actually be more effective choices in small spaces (or anywhere you want to create character and add atmosphere) than the pale, reflective colors most of us tend toward. "If the space is small, treat it like a jewel box,” says designer Ann Lowengart. "Paint the walls an impactful hue, use high-gloss for vibrancy, add pieces with varying textures and layer in a lot of accessories. That's all sure to add up to a dramatic, fun and cozy space."

Incorporate Art

Designer Amy Elbaum used rich color and texture — plus a show-stopping painting — to create warmth and richness in a small, architecturally undistinguished space. She says:  "In this small condo living room, we wanted to create a relaxing and intimate space for the client and their growing family. Plenty of comfortable seating upholstered in rich velvet and mohair combined with a patterned wool area rug give the room a warm, inviting feel. The built-in bookcases and multiple cocktail tables provide necessary storage and surface space to provide a functional yet cozy room."

Comfort Is Key

Combining elegance and comfort in the same space is key, particularly when square footage is at a premium. "I wanted to give the homeowners a chic space, but keep it youthful, so they'd feel completely comfortable hanging out and relaxing there," says designer Jenny J. Norris of this compact living room. She adds: "The midcentury modern-inspired sofa paired with the swing-arm light lends just a touch of vintage, while the brass stools add a dash of glam. The arctic landscape photograph hanging above the sofa is so tranquil in this small space, especially juxtaposed with the graphic rug."

Go Rustic

In a lodge-style living room, a mix of natural materials and rich colors creates the ultimate in rustic relaxation. But it's the focal-point fireplace, with its stacked stone facing and wood mantel, that gives the room its warmth, visually anchoring the gathering center and providing heat for the woodsy space as well. Design by Lands End Development.

Pile On the Patterns

Staging a house for sale is all about making the space seem accessible and inviting to prospective buyers. For this property in North Vancouver, Fluff Designs brought elements of softness and personality to a space that could feel overly cool and contemporary. Pillows in a range of colors and textures gave the minimalist sofa a lusher look; a geometric patterned rug helped ground the seating area within the sleek, open space; and an abstract artwork brought attention to the fireplace, accentuating the warm and cozy potential of the room.

Display Family Photos

Open expanses of wall space can make any room feel empty and cold. To solve this problem in a family room, designer Kelly Brown took a very personal approach. "Hidden in a computer file, my clients had these beautiful family portraits taken by a very talented photographer. They were having a hard time deciding which ones they wanted to print and display so instead of the dreaded task of picking and choosing, I suggested two gallery walls to fill up the empty spaces and showcase the warmth and love that was captured in them. Whether playing games on the huge dining-table-turned-coffee-table or sitting back on the oversized sectional to watch movies, it's a fun, bright, kid-friendly space they love sharing with family and friends."

Maximize Small Spaces

Compact spaces are naturally cozy, but the trick can be keeping them from feeling oppressively small. Here, designer Scott Sassoon converted a basic white box into a cozy den and display space for his client's collection of books and antiques, wrapping the room from floor to ceiling in cerused white oak paneling, for a look that's rich and warm but still light and modern. Custom cabinets and shelving with integrated LED light strips highlight the collection. "The custom built-in couch and upholstery provide design continuity and comfortable room usability," says Sassoon. 

Small Can Be Big

Instead of trying to make this tiny living room feel bigger, designer Anna Williams took the opposite tack, capitalizing instead on the diminutive proportions. "We used a warm grey on the walls to create an intimate space," she says. "Darker colors and luxurious fabrics on the furniture — such as the navy blue sofa and grey rug — emphasize the cozy atmosphere. We added white accent furniture to lend some freshness and keep the room from feeling too dark. Frosted French doors bring in additional light, while still allowing the area to feel private."

Add Impact With Window Treatments

Making an elegant impact in a small space requires a careful choice of materials and palette. Designer J. Allen explains how it's done: "By draping the windows with a graphic pattern up to the ceiling, we were able to add a bit of drama while creating the illusion of higher ceilings and more space. The monochromatic palette adds a cozy factor which also gives the living room a more spacious feel by allowing the eye to flow uninterrupted throughout the space. Glass tables and Lucite accents add interest without adding visual weight while layered patterns and textures like Mongolian fur, velvet and Ikat give the space a plush sophisticated feel. The end result is a big design for a little living room!"

From: J. Allen and J. Allen

Consider Flow in Open-Concept Spaces

Giving a combined space a sense of intimacy can pose a challenge, particularly when that space is as long and narrow as the one in this project. Designer Anna Braund began by creating a cohesive envelope for the entire space. "To give the rooms a seamless transition, and make them appear larger than they are, we opted for neutral, light furnishings and finishes in both the kitchen and living room, breaking the delineation between the spaces so they read as one large space," she says. Instead of choosing a high-contrast palette, or finishing each space in a different way which would make them feel more separate from one another." Next, she used a prized artwork as inspiration for the decor: "The painting held sentimental value for the owners, so I used it as a springboard for selecting textiles and determining the palette for the room," she says.

Play With Scale

To give a long, narrow room in a tiny apartment a sense of expansive presence, designer Angela Raciti took a surprising approach. "The trick to getting this space to work seems counterintuitive," she says. "I used key, larger scaled pieces that were multifunctional. The built-in functions as a media console while hiding wires and the cable box, and the acrylic coffee table serves its function while taking up no visual space. The muted color palette flows from room to room, and the panels on the French doors creating a welcoming entrance to the bedroom. Floor-to-ceiling panels on the bedroom windows accentuate the airy ceiling height and add another layer of softness."

Incorporate Character

How do you create character in a space you don't own? By layering textures and patterns, as Helen Nicholson did in this apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland. "The apartment has a breathtaking view of Edinburgh Castle," says Nicholson. "So we wanted to incorporate a lot of antique furniture alongside more modern pieces and lots of yummy textures. The chair between the windows is an original Charles II chair dated from around the 1660, and this sits opposite an original Harry Bertoia 'Diamond Chair' from the early 1950's. We love to mix it up."