March 26, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2017 issue
Rooms for living
Words Kristine Bonnici – Interior designer
The living room should be the place where we feel totally at ease. It is the one room in the house that needs to fulfil a variety of functions. We prepare food in the kitchen, we eat in the dining room, we sleep in the bedroom and we wash in the bathroom. These rooms have a clear function. But what is living – relaxing with a book, sprawling in front of the television, playing computer games, thinking, dreaming, talking, playing with the kids? All these activities need to be defined and expressed within the four walls of your living room. A successful living room is one in which you feel comfortable. If you retreat to the bedroom or the kitchen instead, then something has gone badly wrong.
Most people opt for open plan areas, where the living room forms part of a larger space, often incorporating the kitchen and dining room. The open plan area needs to be designed as one space, with a cohesive concept that brings it all together. It is possible to define each space with carpets, different flooring or lighting, but it all needs to work well together. Our living rooms often play a dual role – that of the family living room and also as our main area of entertainment when we have guests. Therefore, spending time choosing the best sofa and armchairs for our requirements takes on far greater importance. Furniture not only needs to be practical and comfortable enough to withstand the rigours of family life, but it needs to look good when we are entertaining.
Comfort needs to be the base point. Style needs to evolve naturally from what you feel comfortable with. A living room is not just an assembly of objects. It needs some sort of foundation. Look at the space you have, think carefully about the existing architecture and work with it instead of trying to superimpose a style that will not sit well with the interior. Take inspiration from books, magazines, other people’s houses, but ultimately, you need to make the space yours.
Making comfort a priority is not as simple as it might appear. Comfort is not just a physical sensation; it has a much wider definition, which takes on a range of sensory satisfactions. It involves convenience, leisure, ease, pleasure, domesticity, intimacy and privacy – all of which contribute to the experience. It is unwise to over-analyse what makes us feel comfortable – sometimes, we know what we like without knowing why. We recognise comfort as we experience it. Unfortunately, some modern furniture and fittings are only designed to look good and are not designed with comfort and function in mind. A well-designed piece of furniture must be both pleasing to the eye and a pleasure to use. The old maxim ‘form and function’ should be applied to all aspects of design.
The largest piece of furniture that is necessary for the living room is the sofa. It is possible to find sofas in virtually any size and shape. Don’t just put the sofa in the first, obvious place. Think laterally and experiment with different layouts. Do not overcrowd your space. When in doubt, remember, less is always more. Think outside the box and don’t just opt for the usual combination of a three-seater sofa and two armchairs. When drawing up your plan, think about the main focal point of the room and use the layout of the furniture to enhance the concept of the interior. Some rooms benefit from a symmetrical arrangement of sofas, while sometimes, a more casual look might make better use of the available space.
Once you have decided on the layout of the furniture, think about the proportions. Modern, low profile furniture enhances a room with a lower than average floor to ceiling height, and is useful in a room where high pieces of furniture might dwarf the proportions of the room. On the other hand, a stunning contrast could be created by placing stark modern furniture in an elegant, high-ceilinged room. However, the same could not be said for large pieces of furniture crowded into a low-ceilinged interior.
The style of the sofas is another important consideration. Armrests are available in a variety of widths. Legs are often interchangeable and a choice exists between timber, steel, visible or invisible supports. Remember also that the choice of leg will affect the height of the sofa, while the choice of armrest will affect its width. Check the overall dimensions carefully before making your final decision.
The filling of most sofas is either foam or feathers. Foam is firmer than feathers and comes in a variety of different densities. Feather cushions wrap themselves around you and let you sink comfortably into their depths. A combination of foam and feather is a popular choice. The only way to decide which is the best sofa for you is to try it out. Don’t be embarrassed to sit on all the displays in the showroom. While sitting down, look at the depth of the cushions. The back of your knee should sit comfortably on the edge of the cushion. Many low, deep modern designs aren’t made for the vertically challenged Maltese homeowner!
Think about the colour and fabric of the sofas. Leather and other wipe-clean surfaces are practical if you tend to eat meals in the living room and if you have children who lounge about with their feet on the sofa. Leather is not a good idea if you have pets. Cats will probably use the back of the sofa as a glorified scratching post and claw marks do not add to the lived in look! Leather is also cold in winter and sticky in summer. Many stain resistant (not stain proof) fabrics are available and are fairly easy to wipe clean. More expensive, delicate fabrics are also available, but should be reserved for formal sitting rooms and for pieces of furniture that will not have to withstand the daily abuse of family life.
Choose colours with care. The sofas and armchairs will probably be the largest block of colour in the living room and the overall look of the interior needs to be considered carefully before making your final decision. It is possible to mix colours, and to add contrasting throws and cushions. Make sure the overall look is cohesive and that the tones and colours complement one another.
Particular attention must be given to the lighting. Interior light should cater for all the functions performed in the living room. Ambient light is the light that is all around us, providing light that illuminates the interior. Use dimmers to create soft pools of light and to add versatility to the lighting scheme. The effect of ambient light should be calming and neutral with no glare to distract the eye. Accent lighting adds interest, highlighting your accessories and draws attention to any focal points you may have in the room. Ambient lighting usually flattens a room, but accent lighting creates character and interest. Decorative lighting is provided by table lamps and any other striking light fixtures. Think about the lighting required at different times of day. Work to create interesting shadows and highlights throughout the room. Use task lighting to illuminate any area that is used for a specific purpose. If you have a favourite armchair where you sit and read the newspaper every evening, make sure there is enough light to perform this task comfortably. In the same way, if the children use the coffee table to play board games, add task lighting in that area.
Think about entertaining in the living room. The lighting scheme should be versatile enough to create a party atmosphere. Don’t be afraid of negative space. You don’t have to crowd your rooms or put something on all the surfaces. Sometimes, an empty space speaks volumes.
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