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A rose by any other name...
When someone suggested that I should talk about lounges this month I was reminded of that well known quotation “Only hotels and airports have lounges”, but I couldn’t for the life of me think who said it - and Google was no help whatsoever!! We usually refer to it as the living room, although it has been called many and various things over the years, such as the sitting room (a fair description), the drawing room (nobody seems to do much drawing these days, apart from my son-in-law who’s a really good artist, and who also happens to be my curtain fitter – but I digress), and the parlour (possibly implying that it’s the best room in which to hold a conversation ??). When I was a lad my mum and dad used to just call it the front room, which always seemed a bit odd to me, for as I mentioned last month, we lived in a flat, so we didn’t actually have a back room. Ah well, whatever you care to call it it’s probably the most used, and certainly the most important room in the house.
The living room is usually the hub of the house; a space in which to relax, converse, watch TV and entertain friends. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a room to live in, and shouldn’t look or feel like a sterile showhome. Hopefully all but the most fanatically meticulous of us - and Virgos of course (I don’t pretend to know anything about astrology, but just about the only thing I do remember from reading Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs as a young buck in the Seventies anxious to drop something hip, deeply meaningful and hugely impressive into conversations with girls, is that Virgos are supposed to be over fussy about detail and tidiness) - have shaken off the heavy chains imposed on us by the minimalists, who told us that our living environments were to be uncluttered and clinical, and that a discarded magazine or newspaper was at the very least grounds for a trip to the Confessional.
More than any other room in the house, with the possible exception of the main bedroom, a living room should reflect your personality, your way of living.
For a calm classic look go for painted walls in soft neutral colours such as stone, mole or French grey and possibly a wood floor, (although I personally prefer the softer look and feel of a carpet), teamed up with sofas and chairs in plain textures or self patterned weaves. When it comes to good quality neutral paints, I believe the Little Greene Paint Company have got it pretty much sewn up with their Colour Scales, an excellent range of very useful paints, whereby they’ve taken a dozen of their best neutrals and enhanced them by adding lighter and darker tones to each shade, with such evocative names as Slaked Lime, Welcome and Rolling Fog. Mind you, the Paint & Paper Library have recently revamped and re-launched their paint range, introducing such new neutrals as Salt, Canvas and Felt. They are also experts in the grading of shades, offering up to five variations of many of their colours.
When it comes to window dressing to compliment this smart look Roman blinds can tick the box, but for me curtains are still king (or queen – no sexism here). A pair of simple elegant curtains, beautifully made, lined and interlined add a touch of opulence and style that blinds alone cannot equal. Whether finished with a hand pinch pleated heading and hung from a substantial pole, or surmounted by a crisp modern pelmet, they really do complete the look and add a touch of softness.
For a more flamboyant look add splashes of colour with fabulous cushions, lamps and accessories, or go for patterned curtains. As I’ve been highlighting over the last couple of months, this spring has seen the launch of many gorgeous fabrics. One more word about curtains: please, please, pretty please wherever you can (and I firmly believe you can in around ninety percent of cases) opt for full length curtains. They will add balance and substance to the room, as opposed to just looking like something that’s there to merely cover the window.
For out and out sumptuousness and luxury, use warm colours like nutmeg, cherry and olive, with a rich Berber or heavy loop pile carpet, and sofas big enough to curl up in, upholstered in a velvet or chenille. Think about adding a one-off quirky chair, covered in something show-stopping.
By all means give your living room the “Wow” factor, but be careful how you achieve this. Don’t be tempted to make it so cutting edge or impactful that you’ll get sick of it in twelve months. A strong vibrant feature paper looks great at first, but ask yourself if you’ll find it so appealing in a couple of year’s time. I keep banging on about how wallpaper in general has made a big resurgence, but with the emphasis more on paper for all four walls rather than just one. Bold patterns are still evident, but there are also plenty of beautifully sumptuous textures out there.
When planning the seating requirements for your living room by all means take into account the number of bums on seats needed, but only those bums that are regularly seated. I have sometimes been into houses and thought I had mistakenly walked into the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery, as there were so many and varied chairs and sofas crammed into one room. Keep it simple and not overcrowded, then have several occasional chairs that can be brought in for large family gatherings. These can be upholstered in relatively neutral fabrics so that they will happily sit in a bedroom or on a landing until needed. <
As I’ve mentioned before, for some time now furniture manufacturers have been creating ever larger sofas and chairs. Whether this is a reflection on the increasing size of our bottoms I can’t say, but please do check that the furniture you are proposing to buy will actually fit into your room – or through your door for that matter. The size of a sofa can be very deceptive when viewed in a large showroom.
Finally, and while we’re on the subject of size, let’s talk about the biggest bone of contention in any living room – the TV. Now I know that you lads are going to tell me that it’s absolutely essential to view everything from the Cup Final to CBeebies on a screen that wouldn’t look out of place in Trafalgar Square, but come on guys let’s be reasonable. Any TV is a designer’s nightmare, as it usually throws out the focal point of a room – traditionally the fireplace - and more often than not dictates the way the furniture is to be laid out, so let’s at least keep it in proportion to the size of your room.
As with all aspects of interior design, the key to a successful living room, or indeed any other room, is balance. Keep that in mind, use the right people for the right jobs, and you won’t go far wrong.
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - May 2013