Where to start?
- get a friend, neighbour or colleague to come in and quickly dot down what they notice about the room in an honest manner. (This may prove hard so ask someone that is allowed to hurt your feelings. Remember they're here to help you.)
- at the same time make a quick list about your own gripes and loves of the room. What have you wanted to do to it and why?
- Compare results
c) Think big: what feel/image would you like to create? How does this contrast with the existing scenario? Gather clippings from magazines to distinguish what you like.
d) Foremost: think practical: do you have kids? How many people in your household? Do you want that tv blaring while you have friends over? Is the kitchen close by? How 'easy maintenance' do you want the house to be? Do you have pets? Where is the scratching post to go if you have one? Where do the kids play? Is there access to the garden? Is there a deck outside? How about your privacy? You may be able to have sex on the couch and then again the retired couple next door might get offended. Lots to contemplate. Does the dog sleep here or in the wash house/garage? Yep, more to consider!
e) Flooring: we always start from the floor up, so: carpet, timber, tiles or other? Do your homework on benefits/maintenance and comfort.
Many New Zealanders love carpet whereas Europeans rip it out and love their timber floors. Having some rugs can be a happy medium. [Note: kiwis tend to take their shoes off at home walking barefoot or on socks so carpet makes more sense, Europeans tend to keep their shoes on so whatever flooring there is it will work. This is a taste and cultural choice.]
f) Walls: if you have kids, be aware of crayon drawings so wallpaper might be not so convenient unless your can be very strict (and still be surprised). Vinyl wallpapers could work.
What are the benefits of paint over wallpaper? With paint you can change a room quicker, (and paint over crayon) but wallpaper creates more of a statement. (Yes there is scrubable paint and wallpaper - yay) Personally I think wallpaper works well if your interior is more contemporary bland, but if the furniture and artworks are quite colorful and distinct then it makes perfect sense to stick to paint to balance. I think Designer Guild works only if you have more of a Zen approach to seating arrangements.
g) Now: drape. Golden rule: if it's NOT a hallway or bedroom we are working WITH the walls. Meaning: we pick on the colour of the wall and carry this through in the curtains. Why? This way the curtains do not visually brake up the walls but continue on which creates a calming effect and the room feels connected and 'incorporated'. Also the focus will now not be on the windows at night but on the interior, which I always think is a much better idea. [The vilest drapes I've seen are loud, cheap and have a gazillion colours. Please burn these as they break every rule in the sophisticated household. Really! Yes really.]
h) Now that we discussed the choice of flooring, walls and curtains we get to: furniture.
Corner units work in awkward areas and big rooms. I don't advise it if it takes up literally half the room. There are ways to work with smaller spaces. No coffee table maybe or one that changes into a dining table. Get creative. Big rooms: think what you need first and only THEN start filling in suggestions, not the other way round.
So! Buy what style you like and STOP MATCHING. The whole 'matchy thingy' has been done to death. Choose a settee/couch and different chairs, which is more interesting. And try not to make it look 'his and hers' either: choose well and choose design. Save and buy it over time if need be.
Tip: you can also use an ottoman as a coffee table or something else that is interesting compared to a square or rectangular box.
i) Lighting: we tend to forget this element yet it's vital in the living room. Get it right and the room feels warm and cozy, light and airy: whatever the flavor: create ambiance and personality. And please: don't use the centre ceiling light! That's a mistake, we only use a ceiling light when we get home in a daze on weekends and try to plunk the keys on the table when we're on the way to bathroom and bed. We do not use it for anything else. Just pretend you don't have any.
What to use: standing lamps, pendants and table lamps. Don't go completely nuts on trendy designs: let one light be a feature, let the rest work in as a soft background noise. Try different shapes and heights to see what effect they have. You can even use them as you would a standing art work.
think cohesive: designs that work like a charm are those that work together and do not fight over attention. Also I will let out an interior design secret here:
if you start with using only 3 colours for the whole room you will create balance, use four and you're in trouble as that is much harder to get right. There's a talent to bringing rooms together and in my styling days in Auckland I learned that whatever I did, if I stuck to the 3 colour rule it'd usually work. Tested and tried. Of course if you're going for a monotone that's different and typically done in bedrooms, not in living rooms as that is the cozy vibrant area.
Material choice: Leather over fabric? Both have advantages and disadvantages, some people say leather is easier to maintain: it depends on the quality and finish. Leather is like skin: it fades or cracks if not maintained! Fabric nowadays comes in UV resistant swatches that work extremely well for the downunder market. The more man-made generally the better wearing but look for the Martindale rub tests etc that will tell you a lot about how long it will wear. Also: Hemptech sells hemp and linen that will take an 8 out of 9 in the fading tests. Brilliant. Leather in winter can be cold, fabric is cozy.
Conclusion: use a plan and think before you buy. Do your homework. Go with what you like and play around with ideas.