20 Formal Living Room Ideas That Are Far From Stuffy

Highlight Brown Furniture

Antiques and passed-down furniture are always welcome in a Southern home, especially in the living room. In this 1980s Nashville condo, designer Jeremy Clark repurposed an antique drop-leaf dining table as an stand-out side table to nod to the home's storied character in the refreshed room.

Angle Furniture to Facilitate Conversation

You shouldn't have to hurriedly try to reconfigure furniture every time company comes over. Consider the proximity of chairs and couches, as well as the style of your coffee table in order to ease the flow of conversation. In this pass-through living room, a round coffee table makes it easy to add a pair of chairs facing the sofas.

Weave a Single Pattern Throughout the Room

Find a pattern you love and use it in various ways within the room from wallpaper and window treatments to upholstery—or even as framed art. In designer Hannah Seabrook's living room, the antiques lover used a classic chintz pattern (Lee Jofa's Althea) for the curtains, the armchairs, and pillows.

Use Wallpaper

No matter how simple or ornate, wallpaper will always dress up any room. And while you don't want to overwhelm the room or clash with your existing furnishings, wall coverings are a great way to add more personality to an entertaining space like designer Lindsey Ellis Beatty's grasscloth choice did in her living room seen above.

Mix and Match Pillows

Take a hint from Erin and Ben Napier's living room and don't settle for matching throw pillows. To keep the space energetic and to complement the re-covered 1999 hand-me-down couch from Erin's mom, the couple opted for a hodgepodge of pillows where no two are the same. A similar color palette keeps the space cohesive.

Tuck in a Built-In Bar

Give your living room a laid-back bar set-up to make entertaining easy. While you might dedicate a paneled cabinet for a full wet bar like in the 2018 Idea House, a repurposed bookcase shelf or old hutch as seen here in Molly William's home also makes for a tasteful and elevated bar set up.

Design With Symmetry

In the primary living space in the 2022 Idea House, designer Charlotte Lucas balanced comfort and formality for a room that can cater to day-to-day living and formal entertaining. A pair of plush couches and swivel chairs, plus a chaise longue, provide plenty of seating while fanciful touches like millwork, custom bordered bookcases, and historic blue-and-white ceramic tiles on the fireplace surround elevate.

Make Existing Pieces Work

While some things call for a fresh coat of paint or reupholstery, others like antique wood pieces feel more elegant in their natural state. In this living room, designer Allison Allen re-covered the passed-down sofa and wrapped a couple of ottomans in a cheeky animal print to add a hint of youthfulness while layering in antiques to elevate the room.

Anchor it With Bookshelves

To ground this open-plan living room, designer Caroline Gidiere leaned on built-ins filled with old and new books, while various shades of blue and white patterned textiles give the space a fresh grand millennial feel.

Have Moveable Side Tables

When you have plenty of seating, don't forget to also provide ample tabletop space for guests to place a tea cup or wine glass. While it's not always feasible to have a side table next to every seat, consider small, easily moveable perches that can be tucked under a larger console when not in use. In the 2019 Idea House, designer Heather Chadduck Hillegas incorporated multi-purpose garden stools.

Repurpose Dining Chairs

“I splurged on this space. I wanted it to be a little fancy," says designer and homeowner Laura Kay, who created three different seating groups within the room. Sprinkled throughout the room, former dining chairs upholstered in Lee Jofa’s Althea Linen print add a lively flair to the formal space.

Play With Pattern

Keep formal spaces from feeling stuffy by filling them with ample personality as designer Barrie Benson did in this mountain house. In the cozy yet elevated living room, she combined countless textiles and prints. "I'm not shy about mixing patterns, as long as the scale is significantly different," she says.

Lean into Neutrals

Sometimes it doesn't take much to elevate a room. Let the exterior inform the space and keep the scheme neutral as seen in this expansive living room. "The surrounding scenery is incredible, so I didn't want any upholstery to distract from that," says designer Rachel Halvorson, who centered plenty of plush seating around the fireplace paired with a functional coffee table and side tables.

Designate Multiple Seating Areas

Break up large spaces with various furniture groupings. In designer Allison Allen's home, the 13-foot ceiling room felt overly grand, especially with antiques sprinkled throughout, so she created two distinct seating areas to play into the room's scale. To balance the traditional selections that elevate the room, she used white paint to tone down an ornate gold mirror.

Bring in a Wingback Chair

Tall furniture and incorporating pieces of varying heights will immediately add elegance to a space. In the 2021 Idea House, designer Sarah Bartholomew leaned on neutrals, adding a pop of blue with an eye catching wingback chair that adds interest to the light palette. The plush furniture softens the room's grandeur.

Take a Moody Approach

While we've seen a trend towards brighter living spaces, designer Hannah Maple leaned into her home's natural character for a moodier and more unique space. She coated the living room’s ceiling in Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty (2128-10) to match the trim and paired it with gold-hued wallpaper and window treatments to lighten it up.

Hang an Oversized Light Fixture

Even if your main living room is open-concept, that doesn't mean it can't feel like its own distinct space. In her personal home, designer Ellen Kavanaugh opted for an attention grabbing color palette and woven chandelier that anchors the room. "I wanted the area to just seem collected with no specific style," she says.

Vary Furniture Styles

"Finding the perfect balance of old and new helps the look feel current yet traditional," says designer Ashley Gilbreath. In this living room, she used a creative layout with different types of furnishings (pairing antique pieces with modern art) to help conversation flow in the large space.

Thoughtfully Incorporate Artwork

Artwork in the just-right frame can completely transform a wall from ho-hum to something special. In the living room of her mountain cabin, designer Whitney McGregor maintained the natural feel with wormy chestnut walls and a stone fireplace while using art to add a level of formality to the cozy space.

Upgrade the Ceiling

Take any average living room and give it extra character by giving the ceiling a creative treatment that provides subtle formality. Play with millwork like homeowner Courtland Stevens did in her lowcountry home with latticework on the ceiling or turn to fun paint colors and finishes.

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