When you hear the phrase “formal living room,” images of those adults-only rooms where parents or grandparents would socialize often come to mind. Uncomfortable sofas, fragile trinkets, and white upholstery that wasn’t to be touched all seem to be staples of a traditional formal living room.
Modern floor plans have taken the idea of a formal living room and turned them into spaces where we actually want to gather and all feel welcome. Post-pandemic behaviors have us hosting and entertaining more frequently than before. The more guests we have in our homes, the more we’re seeing the appeal of a welcoming living room that is separate from the space of our daily routine.
The best part of a modern formal living room is that it doesn’t have to be so formal. They can be elegant and stylish spaces while still being warm and welcoming. We’ve put together eight formal living room décor ideas to help design an area of your home where you will actually want to spend time.
Shades of cream, beige, and gray have traditionally worked well in a formal living room. Incorporating white tones in the walls, furniture, and accessories naturally creates a formal feel. For a more modern take, mix styles, textures, and pops of color to create visual interest and warmth.
Take advantage of a neutral color palette in the furniture, curtains, and rug. Then, add in some subtle, surprising accents with the accessories. The result will be a formal-feeling room with its minimalism but intentionally vibrant with the accent pieces.
Opting for a dark and moody space is a fresh take on formal living room décor. Use a rich paint color on the walls and trim for an ultra-dramatic look. Choose a high-gloss finish to allow light to reflect off the walls and help lighten the room. Continuing the deep, dark color in the upholstery and fabrics will create a cozy cocoon effect. Bring in some contrast so the space doesn’t feel flat. Lighter pops of color or sleek hardware bring in some shine and make your formal living room feel more glamorous.
The primary purpose of a formal living room is to gather friends and family for socializing. Your furniture should encourage conversation and be comfortable enough that everyone will want to sit and stay awhile. Arrange your furniture to promote interactions by facing two sofas together or four chairs around a coffee table or ottoman. Your formal living room fireplace is a timeless focal point that can often assist in guiding your layout.
Choose classic and elegant furniture if you want guests to know the purpose of the space immediately. Timeless pieces, like upright sofas, wingback chairs, and tufted ottomans, blended with more expensive materials, like leather, create an elevated and traditional look.
Furniture is crucial in a home’s design, but it’s often the materials that give a space personality. Introducing rich and elegant fabrics, like silk or velvet, adds texture to the room and enhances the formal appeal. Use these materials on statement curtains or accent pillows to keep the eye interested and tie the entire room together.
Hanging artwork or a large mirror on the walls adds visual interest and sophistication. Art can change the tone of any living space. It adds character and a sense of personality that materials and colors can’t achieve on their own. Choose pieces that complement the room's overall style and create a focal point.
Decorate the room with carefully selected accessories, like decorative vases, candle holders, or sculptures. Be mindful not to overcrowd the space and use accessories sparingly to maintain an uncluttered and sophisticated look. A formal living room is excellent for displaying your best or favorite trinkets. Incorporate open shelving to display treasured ornaments, artwork, and books.
Try to find pieces that have a story attached to them. Use items that are uniform in size, color, or arrangement for a neat and tidy look. If your décor doesn’t help showcase your style, your home will lack depth and connection.
A formal living room is one of the few spaces in your home where you can install a chandelier or elegant pendant without being “too much.” The key to great lighting is layering everything together; ambient, task, and accent lighting all need to be combined to create a cohesive and well-designed room.
Since the main task of a formal living room is cultivating meaningful conversations, task lighting isn’t required as much as in other rooms. This means different types of lighting, such as a big, bold accent light or soft candle-style sconces, can set the tone of the space instead.
The key to creating a modern formal living room, not the traditional one you remember from your grandparents’ house, is infusing contemporary pieces. Family antiques or inherited pieces give character to your home and, when balanced with modern accents, create a room full of depth, personality, and soul.
Pay attention to the window treatments you use in your formal living room. An elegant solution is a floor-length curtain or drape in a luxurious fabric. Consider layering curtains with sheers or valances for a more formal and refined look. Doing this will give your room an air of privacy but also help your room feel less confined and stuffy.
A formal living room is a great way to welcome guests and encourage conversation. Using these contemporary décor ideas will elevate the space from something traditionally stuffy to an inviting room where your guests will want to stay and visit a while.
Check out the Brookfield Residential blog for design advice, homebuying insights, mortgage tips, and more, including The Complete Guide to Gallery Walls and Incorporating Feng Shui in Your Home Design. You can also explore where we build and connect with our sales team when you’re ready to learn more. We’ll be expecting you!