Great Home Project: Refresh Your Living Room

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Does your living room have a case of the blahs? Whether you’re looking for quick furniture-arranging help or a complete overhaul, read on for the need-to-know info on making your living room live up to its full potential. We caught up with interior designer Mollie Openshaw to get the scoop on costs, time frames and picking the right pro for the job.

Midcentury Family Room by Brittany Stiles Design

Brittany Stiles Design

Project: Refresh your living room

Why: Whether your living room is a formal spot to gather with visitors or the main hangout hub of your house, it’s likely to take up a good chunk of real estate in your home — so it’s important that it functions well and expresses your style.

It’s a good project for you if: You are tired of the way your living room looks or are frustrated by the layout. Getting help — a little or a lot — from a pro can set you on the right track and help create a space that meshes with your style and your life.

Contemporary Living Room by Jennifer MIller Interiors

Jennifer MIller Interiors

Whom to hire: An interior designer or a decorator can help see your project through from start to finish — or provide you with a plan to follow through on your own. Here, we take a closer look at a range of options, from design consultations to design plans to full-service design.

Midcentury Living Room by Heidi Caillier Design

Heidi Caillier Design

Design consultation: A design consultation is just what it sounds like — a sit-down in your home with a designer to discuss your space and offer feedback and suggestions. In your initial phone conversation, you and your designer can agree upon a length of time for the consultation. Typically, these run two to three hours, with most designers being open to adding time if you feel you need more once you’ve gotten started (and if their schedule allows). This can be used as a stand-alone service, but it can also be a great way to see if you mesh well with a designer before diving into a project.

Design plan: If you would like more specific guidance, but don’t mind shopping and moving furniture on your own, a design plan can offer a happy medium between a consultation and a full-service design. Although the details of what you receive will vary depending on what you agree on with your designer, a typical design plan includes a design board that lays out the items suggested by the designer for purchasing, a color palette and a floor plan of the room indicating how to put it all together.

“With a design plan, the client can purchase items from the suggested plan, or we can help them with ordering,” says Openshaw, of Design Loves Detail.

Farmhouse Living Room by Brittany Stiles Design

Brittany Stiles Design

Full-service design: If you want a pro to handle your project from start to finish, full-service design is probably the right option for you. With full-service design, your interior designer or decorator can take care of everything, including creating a compelling vision for your space, finding furniture and hanging art.

Transitional Details by MARIANNE SIX


E-design or distance design: If you’ve fallen for a certain designer’s work but live outside his or her region, you may still be in luck if the pro offers e-design or distance-design services. In this model, you may communicate with your designer via email or Skype calls and receive a design plan through snail mail or digitally. The level of service can vary widely, with some designers offering a great deal of personal service (multiple phone calls and follow-up emails), and others offering less personalization but at a more affordable rate.

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Transitional Living Room by Alex Findlater Ltd

Alex Findlater Ltd

Cost range: How fees are handled varies from designer to designer, with some billing hourly no matter the project, and others offering flat rates for smaller projects (like design plans). Be sure to hash out the details before getting started, so you aren’t surprised when the bill comes. While individual rates can vary quite a bit, expect to pay roughly $350 and up for a design consultation, $2,500 and up for a design plan, and anywhere from $75 to $450 per hour (and up) for full-service design.

Transitional Living Room by Simply Home Decorating

Simply Home Decorating

Typical project length: Most designers will tell you that there isn’t really a “typical” length of time when it comes to design work. “A lot of it depends on the client’s time frame,” Openshaw says. “We have done full-service design projects in as little as two or three months.”

As the client, you can help things progress more quickly by being decisive and, ultimately, by trusting your designer to do his or her job. That said, Openshaw still recommends allowing several months for a single room project, to allow for the long lead times from some furniture companies.

Transitional Living Room by Akin Design Studio

Akin Design Studio

What to look for in a designer: “Select a designer that creates spaces that you want in your home,” Openshaw says. Simply put, even though good designers can tackle many styles, they have a personal one that they gravitate toward (and come back to again and again). So if you spot a designer whose portfolio tends to line up with your style, that’s a sign of a good match. “If you think about different actors and actresses in Hollywood, they typically play similar roles — designers are like that too.”

Of course, personalities matching up is just as important as styles matching up, Openshaw adds. “You might be spending a lot of time with your designer, so it is nice if you get along with them.”

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Transitional Family Room by Design Loves Detail

Design Loves Detail

When to DIY: Do you already have a good sense of your design style? Are you willing to invest more of your own time to research, shop and move furniture? If so, with determination and a wealth of information at your fingertips (hello, Houzz), you can refresh your living room yourself.

5 Quick Tips for a DIY Living Room Refresh

1. Make a list of the top three challenges in your living room.
Is the furniture arrangement working? Does the color scheme need tweaking? Where’s the problem?

2. Pare back. Simply removing clutter and excess can help you see your living room in a different light.

3. Take photos of your space. This can help give you some psychological distance, allowing you to identify what needs to change more easily.

4. Try out some design tools. Make a floor plan (on paper or online), put together a Houzz ideabook, or cut and paste your own design board. Seeing your ideas all at once can be a huge help.

5. Focus on textiles. Swapping out a rug, reupholstering a chair or getting new throw pillows for the couch (or all three!) can point your living room in a new style direction.

Midcentury Living Room by Design Milieu

Design Milieu

How to get started: Assess your living room. Consider how much help you need, your budget and your ultimate goals for this space. With your answers to these questions in mind, decide whether you are going to begin researching interior designers or get started on your own.