How to Begin a Living Room Remodel

Do your research and think about what you'll need before starting your living room project.


Photo courtesy of FLOR

Photo courtesy of FLOR

By: Susan Kleinman
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Renovating your living room: It's exciting, but it can be a bit overwhelming, too. Where should you start? How much can you afford to spend? How do you know whether that contractor with the impressive portfolio will really show up when he's supposed to? And what if the sofa that looks so gorgeous on the showroom floor makes your own house resemble a bordello? Relax. We're here to make it simpler for you. Follow our step-by-step guide to renovation, and get ready to kick back in a new living room that suits your needs, your style and your budget.

Research and Plan

One of the keys to a successful renovation is plenty of forethought, knowledge and information — especially if you're making structural changes, or working with several professionals and a big budget. Take your time to plan before you begin, so that you are less likely to have regrets when you are finished. "Designing a room or a remodeling project is a journey or a process," says interior designer Karen Soojian, ASID, "and it takes time to develop ideas and do things right. In other words, you need to know your destination and how you plan to get there."

Living Rooms That Pop With Color

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Pink, fuchsia, red and green are grounded by the honeyed tones of hardwoods and a caramel sofa. Designer Andrea Brooks says she prefers to wrap the room in one color and bring in bursts of punchy accents through art and accessories. "This look can translate in both modern and traditional spaces," she says. Photography by Nancy Nolan Photography

In a tailored chocolate-brown room, a futuristic light fixture lightens the bold tones and solid lines. "I like using bold color all over in small spaces," says designer Ann Lowengart, "with high-gloss walls and trim and the same color repeated in the upholstery. Then layer in a couple more complementary colors, but keep your focus on the main hue," she advises. Photography by David Duncan Livingston

Evoking a fern glade or a woodland retreat, a room rich in greens takes its cues from a fresh green velvet sofa. "I love a comfy sofa to sink into, so that's my go-to living room piece," says designer Lauren Liess. "I start planning the room by selecting the major upholstered pieces and then add in vintage and one-of-a-kind smaller pieces, like lighting and end tables." Photography by Helen Norman

Photo By: Helen Norman

Balance, texture and proportion play a large role in making a small space work. For a cozy room that includes seating for 10, careful consideration was given to selecting the just-right sofas. Pillows and draperies bring in punches of color. It's a sophisticated palette that could be changed on a whim. Design by Ann Lowengart; photography by David Duncan Livingston

Teal and yellow accents bring a lighthearted vibe to a room where deep, dark browns and burgundies anchor the space. Design by Ann Lowengart; photography by David Duncan Livingston

For a small room with narrow proportions, designer Lisa Teague painted the ceiling, trim and walls one shade of white while adding a midtone color to the wall behind the sofa. "It brings the wall a bit closer, making the room look less narrow," she says. "The circular architectural detail visually helps to push the side walls out.” The paint colors, Sea Glass and Whisper, are from her collection of colors. Photography by James Salomon

Never underestimate the impact of fabric. A space defined by green and blue — given depth by the clusters of deep, dark floral arrangements — is anchored in soft, weathered tones on walls, wood and stone. Design by Ann Lowengart; photography by David Duncan Livingston

Photo By: Dacian Groza

Cobalt blue and acid green bring interest to a room otherwise outfitted in white, gray and black designed by Jennifer Reynolds. "I chose this particular style of window treatments to elongate the very small, odd windows," she says. "The drapery panel color was chosen as the accent color in the room to add the most impact."

Balance — not only in the arrangement of furnishings, but also in the use of dark and light tones and patterns — makes a space by designer Rachel Cannon Lewis of Sohaus Interior Design work. "Knowing where to position color and pattern in order to get the most drama requires planning," she says, "but will yield the most alluring result." Lime green, brown and white bring color to the forefront without exhausting the eye. Photography by Rachel Cannon Lewis

Simple, elegant and serene: Neutral walls, ceiling and floors provide the backdrop for a charcoal velvet sofa, dusty mauve chairs and a punchy raspberry bench. “We add color with smaller accents such as upholstered benches or ottomans and custom accent pillows,” says designer Jennifer Jones. A glass coffee table keeps the small space airy and light. Design by Jennifer Jones, Niche Interiors

Consider Your Lifestyle

"To start," says interior designer Andrew Suvalsky, "try to envision how you see yourself and your family getting the most use out of the space. Will the space be used for parties? Intimate gatherings? Do you want or need one large seating area or several different seating groups?"

Think long-term. Remember to plan not only for this stage of your life, but for the next phases, as well. If you're newlyweds planning to have children in a few years, take those future kids into account when planning your renovation, so that you don't have to redo everything. Ask people who already have kids what works in real life and what doesn't; what they wish they had in their living rooms; what has caused safety issues or got broken so many times it had to be thrown away.

On the other hand, if you have older parents (or are a senior yourself), be sure to design your space so that it is safe and comfortable for yourself and your guests as the years go by.

Planning Guide: Living Rooms

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Consult the Pros

Once you have a sense of what functions you want your new living room to serve, gather lots of information. Check out the valuable information on "Hiring a Pro for Your Living Room" and search the Web for other reliable, accurate information on trade-group websites such as ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), NARI (National Association for the Remodeling Industry) and NAHB (National Association of Home Builders).

Top Living Room Design Styles

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Traditional Elegance

A traditional living room should be graceful as well as timeless. For this luxe living room, key pieces from Baker's Stately Homes Collection, including the elaborately detailed Queen Anne Bureau Cabinet and a rare Irish rococo carved mahogany Puca Table, add character to the room. The Guinness Settee with tight back, tailored seat cushions and round tapered legs provides stylish seating. Photo courtesy of Baker

Clean and Contemporary

For this New York City high-rise condo with beautiful water views, eco-friendly designer Robin Wilson created a contemporary living room by using bamboo floors, a curved steel-frame sofa with cotton upholstery and a coffee table made from a single piece of recycled ship steel. LED light shadow boxes on the wall with ocean images continue the water theme. Photo courtesy of Robin Wilson Home

Photo By: Vanessa Lenz

In Transition

For this inviting San Francisco Bay-area home, designer Marysia Rybock of ScavulloDesign Interiors created a transitional living room that feels light and airy. Colors in an antique area rug inspired the room's palette, while a large custom chandelier above casts a pleasing glow at night. An all-bronze coffee table adds contemporary flair to the space. Photography by Doug Dun

Rustic Cottage

On a budget of $18,000, designer Anisa Darnell completely transformed a dated living room into a cottage-inspired family space. Cozy furnishings were combined with country-inspired accents for a comfortable family room.

Midcentury Simplicity

The sprawling layout and large windows of midcentury-modern homes are often complemented by clean details and simple furnishings. This welcoming living room with furniture and accessories from Room & Board features a button-tufted sofa with stretcher base, a classic round cocktail table and a large neutral area rug. Photo courtesy of Room & Board

Craftsman Design

Craftsman living rooms follow a design philosophy based on simplicity and practicality. Interior details are warm and inviting, showcasing dark wood elements and craftsmanship.

Mix of Modern and Contemporary

To complement the dramatic double-height window wall in this Menlo Park, Calif., townhouse, designer Marysia Rybock of ScavulloDesign Interiors created a stunning contemporary living room that combines the owner's existing curved midcentury sofa and European artwork with soft furniture pieces and a large silk area rug with a modern design that adds movement to the space. Photography by Matthew Millman

Photo By: Matthew Millman

Classic Coastal

Nautical art, salvaged fixtures and a rich color palette bring this seafaring living area to life in Maine. Design by Tyler Karu


And don't forget to talk to real people. Ask your friends and neighbors to recommend local professionals, and be sure to inquire as to whether there are any local pros you should steer clear of. Find out what other people are glad they included in their renovations, and what wasn't worth the money.

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