living room: designing for traffic flow and conversation

Over a year ago, I told you that I planned to redo our living room. In the five years we’ve lived here, that room has never felt exactly right, and I wanted to make it shine. Plus, our house is small, so we need all of our spaces to be cozy and functional. Because that room never quite worked and was usually pretty dark, we almost never used it.

When we bought the house, the room was painted sage green. The previous owners’ long sofa was against the wall, facing the fireplace, and two chairs flanked the fireplace. (For reference, the person taking the photo above was probably sitting on the previous owners’ sofa.)

When we moved in, we painted the walls and re-did the fireplace, but we kept the same layout. We set our blue sofa against the wall, facing two chairs that flanked the fireplace. But it was awkward because the chairs and sofa were too far apart for conversation, and we couldn’t move them closer because we needed a pathway through the middle of the room to get to the sunporch (the glass doors on the back right of the photos below lead to the sunporch). Plus, because the house is old, there was no overhead lighting. The room was very bright during the middle of the day but dark and dreary at all other times.

One other problem was that the room felt imbalanced. One end of the room has a window, a window seat, and glass doors leading to a sunporch, but the other side of the room has no natural light, just an opening that leads to the center hallway and the staircase.

But I was happy with other parts of the room. We bought this antique radio from our neighbor, and I LOVE it! The window seat is fantastic, too, and the fireplace (after our DIY makeover) makes the room feel so cozy.

After thinking about it for a long time and taking about 100 measurements, we decided to keep and enhance the elements we loved while making it easier to use the room for conversation or reading. We gave away the old blue couch and treated ourselves to the Article couch pictured below. We bought this coffee table and two of these chairs from Target. I loved our old rug, so that stayed in the room.

We placed the new couch perpendicular to the fireplace, with the coffee table in front of the fireplace and the two chairs facing the couch.

current living room, still in progress

This arrangement has worked so much better for us already! We don’t have to raise our voices to hold a conversation, even when there’s noise elsewhere in the house. And we have an unobstructed pathway to the sunporch doors. The window seat is a little more closed off, and I plan to take advantage of that by installing some reading sconces and encouraging the kids to sit there and read. And during the holidays we have plenty of space for a Christmas tree in front of the window (we’ll move the antique radio to make room for the tree).

The gray paint (Popular Gray by Sherwin Williams) was a little too dark for the room in the afternoon and evening, so we painted the walls Snowbound by Sherwin Williams instead. The room instantly felt so much brighter and happier! And I saved time by painting the crown moulding and baseboards the same color. (That way we didn’t have to worry about cutting in except where the crown moulding meets the ceiling, and we plan to eventually paint the ceiling Snowbound, too.) We also asked our favorite electrician to install some can lights, which made a huge difference — I don’t know why we didn’t add ceiling lights sooner.

We still have a bunch of work to do in the room, but it’s coming together! I’ve been adding some finishing touches to a chandelier that we want to hang in the middle of the room, and I want to get a reading light for one of the chairs and two sconces for the window seat. John has been installing board and batten, and his amazing father has been making us built-in bookcases!

I’ll show you each detail as it’s finished. I can’t wait to have friends over and enjoy our new living room!

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