A rose by any other name...
When the powers that be told me we were doing a feature 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!! At John Charles Interiors 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, because as we lived in a flat 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.
Although there is an ever-growing movement towards open plan kitchen / diner / family area living spaces, in most homes the living room is usually still 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 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 style, your way of living.
The calm, classic look that has been in vogue for many years now is usually created by painted walls in soft neutral colours such as stone, mole or French grey and a wood floor with rug, or a simple loop or velvet pile carpet (my personal preference), 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. The paint itself is of vastly superior quality to other designer paints available (perhaps beginning with an F and a B), and a great favourite with the decorators, as it goes on really well and covers superbly. It’s a bit more expensive than your Dulux type brands, but as it contains up to 40% more pigment, it can actually end up saving you money by needing less coats. As for the colours, they really are superb. The main range is wide and eclectic, while their Colour Scales is an excellent collection of very useful paints, comprising a dozen of their best neutrals enhanced by adding lighter and darker tones to each shade, with such evocative names as Slaked Lime, Welcome and Rolling Fog. And for fans of the ubiquitous grey, they even have a separate Grey colour card containing no less than 28 different shades, ranging from the crisp, almost white Loft White, to the rich moody Toad.
When it comes to a 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 deep hand pinch pleated heading and hung from a substantial pole, or a wave heading under 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. 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 style, balance and substance to the room, as opposed to just looking like something that’s there to merely cover the window.
Although the neutral look is still popular, there is so much wonderful product out there at the moment that simply oozes style using colour, pattern and texture. Fabulous wallcoverings, gorgeous printed fabrics, amazing carpets and rugs. If you already have a neutral room but fancy moving it forward, think about adding a one-off quirky chair, covered in something show-stopping.
By all means do 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 may appeal, and will no doubt look amazing, but ask yourself if you’ll love it as much in a couple of years’ time.
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.
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 - June 2018