Staging the Living Room
DIY Home Staging Tips
for a faster, more profitable home sale

Staging the living room before placing your home on the real estate market will help your home appeal to a greater pool of home buyers.

Living room interior design picturesLiving room furniture is arranged toward the focal point fireplace

The living room, (or family room) is where family and friends spend a lot of time together, relaxing, visiting and entertaining. At this time, prospective buyers are looking for a living room that is cozy, yet roomy enough for large gatherings.

If the carpet is dingy, walls soiled, lighting dim, and upholstered furniture frayed and worn, the only thing that home buyers will be thinking about is how much it will cost to replace and update everything. Then they will try to negotiate the price of your house down.

Staging the living room with proper furniture layouts, neutral paint colors and fun accessories will help you create the look that home buyers want. The end result should be warm and inviting with good use of space. See small living room ideas.

Before you begin staging the living room, make sure that you have properly decluttered, cleaned, repaired, and depersonalized before you move on. See declutter your living room.

Staging the living room

The shape and architecture of a room can guide you in successfully staging the living room. See space planning. When arranging furniture and accessorizing, you should be aware of function, flow and focal points.

Balancing the furniture in your living room is critical to a successful staging. For tips on creating good balance, see arranging furniture.

Keep traffic areas open for good flow. A traffic pattern is the natural flow of people traveling through a space, the paths in and out of a room and the areas where you walk the most. In carpeted rooms, you will often see a lot of wear in the carpet where the traffic patterns occur. With proper space planning, there should be enough room for people to travel comfortably in and around the furniture or through the room. 

It’s important to establish your traffic pattern before you begin staging the living room. Watch out for door swings and windows; you will need room for opening and closing them. You should have a comfortable 24” of space in which to maneuver in and around furniture.

Identify the focal points

Fireplace interior design picturesThe mirror over the fireplace immediately captures your attention

A focal point is a feature that captures the eye as you immediately walk into a room. 

Focal points should be highlighted in every room of your house when staging your home for sale.

Your goal is to enhance and draw attention to these special features so that home buyers will fall in love with your house.

Furniture and accessories should be arranged to draw attention to focal points. A bold or lovely focal point will also distract home buyers from seeing the flaws in your home.

Some living rooms will have more than one focal point. How do you decide which focal point to embrace? Where does your eye go first when you enter a room? Empty out the room that you are working on. 

You may be confused if you find more than one focal point in the same room. Look for the predominant one-- it may be the largest and most dramatic element in a room. If in doubt, ask a friend for help.

Living room interior design picturesThis living room has three focal points; a fireplace, TV, and a window view

Common focal points in living rooms:

• High ceilings, interesting details like a tray ceiling

• Angled walls and ceilings, beams, arches

• Fireplace

• Large windows with a great view, a gorgeous bay window, arched windows

• Beautiful winding staircase

• French doors

• Built-in bookcases and entertainment centers

• A feature wall, such as old brick or reclaimed lumber

Fireplace interior design picturesColorful artwork draws attention to this fireplace

If your living room focal point is an attractive fireplace, it's important to draw attention toward it.

A large mirror or piece of art hung above, or propped on the mantle will draw the eye to this area.

Place candlesticks, vases, a floral arrangement or other interesting objects in a symmetrical fashion along the mantle.

(Symmetry is easier to achieve than asymmetry if you’re uncertain of your decorating abilities. See art of accessorizing.)

If your living room focal point is a large window or french doors that offer a nice view, keep window treatments simple (or none at all) so you don't block or detract from the view.

Create your own focal points

For rooms that don’t have a focal point, create your own with the use of color, accessories andfurniture placement.

Focal point paintingA large colorful painting can serve as a focal point
  • A bold piece of furniture such as a large sofa can work as a focal point in a living room. Arrange the rest of your furniture around the sofa and place colorful pillows in a variety of textures on the sofa to draw attention to it. Drape a lovely throw across the sofa for additional color and accent.

  • If your sofa is placed along a long wall, hang a large painting or beautifully framed mirror above the sofa. The size and weight of the sofa with a large painting above will function in the same manner as a fireplace or other natural focal point.
  • Create an accent wall by painting it in a darker, yet neutral tone of the living room wall color. 
  • Hang a large painting, a stunning mirror or sculptural piece of art like a large clock.
  • Float a conversation grouping in the center of the room and make the grouping the focal point.
  • A bookcase with artful arrangements can serve as a focal point.

The TV as a focal point

I am not a fan of arranging furniture around a big ugly TV, but because so many buyers want one, the big screen TV has adapted itself into the world of home interior design. (Home staging is all about creating the lifestyle that home buyers want!)

These days, interior designers and home stagers are placing the flat screen TV over a fireplace as a design element. Or if you prefer discretion, you can hide the TV inside an armoire, entertainment unit, or in a room specifically designated for television viewing. 

I once showed a brand new house to a prospective buyer who kept casting his eyes around the living room. I knew exactly what he was looking for...a spot for his big screen TV! The builder had neglected to leave enough wall space for a large TV, so the buyer wasn't interested.

It’s also acceptable to display your flat screened TV on a console. Store electronics and cords out of sight.

Living room paint colors

When staging your living room, select warm, neutral paint colors. This doesn’t mean you are limited to boring beige! 

Neutral colors are the easiest to decorate with because they blend well with most surroundings and work successfully in all room designs. They make an excellent backdrop for the color you will be adding with furniture, draperies, artwork and accessories. Added color will simply "pop" against a neutral canvas.

Neutral paint colorsNeutral paint colors

Neutral paint colors that most people love; beige, taupe, ivory, coffee tones, honey, butter, golden, wheat, blue-green, mossy green, brown, blue-gray and gray.

Gray is a sophisticated color and very trendy at this time. Gray complements all other colors and serves as an excellent backdrop for brighter colors, allowing them to shine.

Light neutrals and earth tones have the widest appeal among home buyers and will complement most people’s furniture (Buyers are always trying to imagine their own furniture in a space.) 

To make a room appear bigger than it is, or to tie an open floor plan together, paint walls the same color as the adjacent room. This creates a seamless transition from room to room, giving the illusion of one big space. 

Classic room design begins with one main color and one or two accent colors. Start by finding one main color you like; perhaps drawing color cues from a favorite fabric, area rug or a piece of artwork. For more information, see interior colors for home staging.


Living room lighting

Natural lighting

Beautiful living room windowLeave windows bare to let in maximum natural light

Natural light is the most preferred form of lighting in home interior design. Natural light makes everyone feel good by infusing a room with sunny warmth and a feeling of spaciousness!

When you are staging the living room, you should focus attention on the window treatments. Are the windows shrouded in dark heavy draperies? Are you covering a beautiful view that home buyers might miss seeing?

Your goal is to let in as much natural light as possible. Pull back window treatments all the way, wash the windows until they sparkle, remove screens or open the blinds.

If you have a spectacular window with a great view, as in the picture to the right, simply leave it bare. Bare windows let in maximum natural light, making a space seem more open by extending the room into the outdoors. See window treatments for home staging.

Artificial lighting

A living room requires enough overall ambient lighting to make it comfortable on the eyes. Typically, the living room is a multi-task area that requires task lighting for activities like reading, and accent lighting to call attention to artwork and other focal points. A good rule of thumb is to have 100 watts per 50 square feet.

Home buyers are very sophisticated in their taste these days, and a house filled with out-dated light fixtures may cause them to rethink your home. Installing modern lighting fixtures is one of the most cost effective facelifts you can give your home. Buyers respond positively to a well-lit house, and beautiful interior lighting will add value to your home, meaning more money in your pocket. 

Decorating with area rugs

An area rug will add color, texture, pattern and warmth to any room in your home. Rugs unify all the furniture placed on it and define separate spaces while complimenting your decor. 

Living room designsThe area rug in this living room helps ground the conversational area. The wall mirrors create the illusion of more space.

Before staging the living room with furniture, lay out any area rug(s) you plan on using first. If you're not sure where you want to place them, use blue painter's tape on the floor to outline the dimensions of the rug(s) you will be using.

Cover tile and wood flooring when staging the living room. Bare floors can look and feel cold (and sound loud). An area rug will be that finishing touch that a room so often needs.

Center an area rug under a conversation grouping of furniture or use 2 area rugs to define separate conversation groupings. Good sizes for groupings like these are 6’ by 9’ rugs or 5’ by 8’ rugs.

Make sure that the rug you buy is large enough to fit the front legs of your sofa and chairs on top. (It’s better if all the legs can fit on the rug, but large area rugs can be expensive!) A rug running under furniture creates the impression that a space is larger than it really is.

If you place an area rug over wall-to-wall carpeting, don’t be surprised when home buyers want to look underneath. They’ll think you are covering a massive stain!

Another good interior decorating tip for placing 1 large area rug that covers most of the floor; have at least 1 or 2 feet of floor showing between the wall and the rug. If the rug goes all the way to the wall, it will give the illusion of “shrinking” the space. 

For larger rugs filling a living room, perimeter furniture should be set entirely on or off the rug. A rug that is too big can make a room appear smaller.

Living room window treatments

Neutral window curtainsKeep window treatments neutral. Hang curtain rods higher to "raise" a low ceiling

Window treatments for home staging should be basic in form and design and kept to a minimum. Keep it simple by sticking with light draperies, curtain panels, window blinds and shades, or better yet, no window coverings at all! Windows are often the focal point of the living room—you may want to dress them with window curtains or simply leave them bare.

  • Always leave window treatments open to allow the most natural light possible to come in.
  • If privacy is needed, hang sheer panels that will filter light in.
  • Avoid small patterns in large rooms, as the pattern will disappear. If windows are not the focal point of the room, avoid overly bright window curtains that will turn the eye away from the focal point.
  • When staging the living room, avoid fussy, heavy and ornate window curtains. Do away with tassels, swags and ruffles. Dark colors and heavy fabrics will oppress and close in a room.
  • For small living rooms, hang window curtains that are the same color as the walls. This will create the illusion of a larger room. For more small window home staging tips and tricks, see window treatments for home staging

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Staging the living room furniture

Conversational furniture arrangementA well-balanced living room conversational grouping of furniture

Furniture should be placed into conversation groupings. A sofa should have another sofa, or two chairs (of equal visual weight) facing or perpendicular to it.

If the living room has a fireplace, center the conversation grouping toward it. When you enter the living room, the fireplace should be the first thing you see, with nothing blocking the view.

Living room interior design picturesCenter a conversation grouping at the window and where the view can be enjoyed while sitting.

If the focal point in the living room is a window, center the conversation grouping at the window and where the view can be enjoyed while sitting. Keep a clear path from the door to the window as well, so that home buyers can clearly see the view.

Keep sight lines open to your focal points. Don’t block the fireplace or window with a large piece of furniture.

Furniture, such as a media center or bookshelves, should be decluttered before staging the living room. Don't try to completely fill the bookshelves-- keep spaces between objects to create an open and airy effect.

Large living rooms

If you have a large oblong-shaped room, you should probably stage it into two separate areas. You might stage it as a multi-functional room, with a conversation grouping on one end and media viewing on the other. Or you could just stage it into two separate conversational areas.

If the living room has one or more focal points, arranging the furniture into separate cozy conversational areas will give the feeling of two rooms. Each separate area should be assembled and directed toward its own focal point. 

An area rug placed in each section will help define the separate spaces in a large room. Each rug will give the feeling of a different room. 

Open floor plans

Open concept interior design picturesOpen concept living room

The open floor plan is a greatly desired feature in home interior design at this time. Prospective buyers are looking for that spacious feeling with good sight lines that an open floor plan provides. 

The open floor plan, also called the great room, typically encompasses a living room, dining area and a kitchen.

Spaces flowing into each other often makes it a challenge to arrange furniture. Designating each space into separate zones will define each space, yet still maintain flow.

Defining the zones in open concept areas

  • Area rugs can define a space and create separate zones. Float furniture on top of an area rug in the living room and place another under a dining table. 

  • Flooring can separate zones as well; tile in the kitchen, wood in the dining area and maybe carpet in the living room. Separate styles of flooring can interfere with the flow of space, making a great room appear smaller.

Living room interior design picturesThe area rug defines the living room area as a separate space from the kitchen. Using the same neutral paint colors in each space creates good flow between rooms.

Harmony and flow between the rooms

  • Paint the walls of each room the same color or use paint colors from the same palette.

  • Keep colors similar and coordinate patterns from one room to the next. 
  • Use low-profile furniture to avoid obstructing the view between the spaces.
  • Be aware of traffic flow when arranging furniture; don't make it difficult to maneuver through a room or around furniture. 
  • Use the back of the couch as a divider between other rooms when staging the living room. 
  • Folding screens, see-through shelving and columns can be used to create separation as well.
  • Install a stunning light fixture over the dining table to highlight that area as the dining room.

Wayfair.com March 2015 Newsletter

Interior decorating ideas for accessorizing

Living room interior design picturesColorful accessories give this living room a fresh look

Adding accessories is the final (and fun!) step when staging the living room. Accessories will add personality and create visual interest.

Typically, when you accessorize your home, you decorate according to your personal style and taste. The opposite is true when staging your home for sale.

Neutralizing your home of your personal taste will allow home buyers to better imagine themselves living there. See depersonalizing your home.

Accessories should enhance the furniture and architecture in your home, tie the room together and enliven the space. Read on for interior decorating tips for staging the living room:

  • Arrange accessories in odd numbers of 3, 5 and 7. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye, and appear less “studied.”
  • The triangle is a basic form in accessorizing. Imagine a triangle in the spot where you want to put your arrangement. You will be placing an object at each point of the triangle. Each object should vary in height and width. Place the tallest at the back and the smallest in the front. 

Harmony is another aspect when accessorizing. The objects that you place together when creating arrangements should have something in common; color, texture, shape or theme.

Try to avoid being too matchy, which is boring. A group of aqua vases in the same shape and height would be dull. A group of aqua vases in different shapes and heights would be more interesting. The colors would unify the group and the differences would add interest.

Don’t overload shelves, bookcases or mantles with accessories. It will only look like clutter. A few well-placed objects is sufficient. 

If you want symmetry on shelves or mantles, start by putting two items of equal visual weight on each end. Then add various pieces on each size of different color and height for interest. Step back to see if both sides of the shelf are balanced. You will know if its unbalanced-- one side will seem visually heavier than the other.

Living room interior design picturesPare down accessories to create an open and airy feeling
  • Accessories the same color as the walls will give a feeling of more space, as pictured above.
  • Don’t place objects in a straight line on a shelf. Overlap objects to create interest and depth in your arrangements. Remember to group in threes and fives and place the tallest objects in the back, smallest in the front. 
Arrangement of three accessoriesAccessorize in groups of threes
  • Maintain proper balance, scale and proportion when accessorizing.

  • Plan on using medium to large-sized accessories when staging the living room. Larger accessories will be noticed and have more impact as you enter a room. Follow the advice of HGTV's Sabrina Soto when selecting accessories; Don't use anything smaller than the size of a cantaloupe!
  • Balance your art and accessories throughout a room. Don't place everything on one side. This is especially important when using color; scatter your accent color in at least three places around a room to create visual movement.
  • Fresh floral arrangements and greenery will add life to any room. NO FAKE PLANTS! Fill an empty corner with a tall large leafed plant for dramatic impact.

  • Table and floor lamps are great functional accessories when staging the living room. You may need to have at least two in the living room to balance the light. Avoid staging with overly ornate or taste specific lamp designs. Select contemporary style lamps with white or beige shades for optimum light.                 
Vignette in neutral colorsA pleasing vignette in neutral colors

  • If you have a small living room, a landscape is a good selection for wall art. A landscape has visual perspective and gives the illusion of more space, like looking out a window.
  • Instead of one large piece of art, hang 3 smaller pieces that mimic the shape of the fireplace or furniture below.
  • Add color and texture in accent pieces like pillows and throws.
  • Mirrors are one of a home stager’s favorite tools in creating the illusion of more space! The best place to hang a mirror is where it will reflect light, such as across from a window with a great view or a sparkling light fixture. This will bounce more light around a room and create the illusion of more space. Mirrors also add depth to a room by seemingly extending the room through the glass. 
  • Decorate the living room for the holidays, but in tasteful proportion. Don’t overdo it! People who go house hunting during the Christmas holiday are usually serious buyers.

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