How to design a formal living space that doesn’t feel dated

How to design a formal living space that doesn’t feel dated

Formal living rooms can bring back memories of our youth. You often find much upholstery in the intimidating “adults-only” rooms that belonged to our grandparents or parents. These fancy living areas could have been more comfortable and fun for anyone. This may be why a recent study revealed that formal living rooms are one of the most neglected spaces in a home. Most respondents reported spending very little time there compared to other rooms.

Avoid “Matchy, Matchy” Decor

Ella Hall, Stitchroom points out that matchy-matchy furniture is a hallmark design feature of formal living rooms in previous generations. The look is familiar: a room full of matching sofas, coffee tables, and chairs that appear to have been purchased together. She encourages people to refrain from following the rule that everything must match. Mix textures and styles to create variety.

Reupholster vintage finds with fresh fabric

Modernizing a formal living space doesn’t require you to buy new furniture. Hall recommends starting with what you already have and reupholstering old pieces with a new fabric. This can be a great way to save money starting from scratch. You can find unique details that need some love for a fraction of the price.

Keep your art current.

The right art can change the mood of any space. Hall suggests you use your formal living space as a showcase for “impactful art that can be interchangeable from season to season.” If your furniture is more traditional, contemporary art can give it a fresh look.

Get cozy

A second design element in many formal old-school living rooms is discomfort. Katie Stix, IIDA (Partner Design Director, LEED Green Associate) at Anderson Design Studio, says, “Our parents had uncomfortable sofas with far too formal a fabric!” You can think of many things: hard, elegant sofas, stiff sitting chairs, pillows that are not cozy, and pillows that are anything other than comfortable. Lauren O’Donnell,’s interior designer, says, “We no longer have such formal spaces which make us wonder if it is okay even to enter the room.”

Mix and match textures

The formal living rooms of our parents were always upholstered from head to toe. O’Donnell suggests mixing materials like woven or leather chairs is a great option to avoid the stale look.

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