Staging the Living Room

How to sell your home and make a faster, more profitable sale

Neutral living room with blue accent colors.Blue accent colors and textural elements add excitement to this neutral colored living room. Photo by

Staging the living room before you place your house on the real estate market will help sell it faster and for more money.

The living room is the most important room in a house for many people, a place where family and friends spend time relaxing, visiting, and entertaining. Your home staging should reflect these kind of activities. 

Most home buyers are looking for a move-in ready home. Despite what you see on TV, there are very few do-it-yourself types out there wanting to take on a construction project. There are just too many costly unknowns lurking behind walls and under floors needing to be fixed.

Dirty carpets, dingy walls, and outdated light fixtures will also cause buyers to think about how much it will cost to replace and update everything. They WILL negotiate the price down.

Living room with tall ceilings.A high ceiling is emphasized by ceiling to floor drapes, sliding barn door, and a tall display case. Photo by

Staging the living room with neutral colors, sensible furniture arrangements and fun accessories will add value to your home.

Before you begin staging the living room, be sure that you have decluttered, made necessary repairs, and depersonalized.

Living room shape and architecture

Symmetrical living room with fireplace.Here is an example of a symmetrical living room; matching architecture on each side of the fireplace takes the guesswork out of furniture placement. Photo by Studio Munroe

The shape and architecture of a room can often guide you to successfully place your furniture. Before you begin moving heavy furniture around, take a moment to reflect on the shape and architecture of the room.

Is it a perfect square or a long rectangle? Do you have an L-shaped living room? Are there awkward corners or angles? Can you find a focal point(s)?

Where are the traffic patterns? With proper space planning, there should be enough room for people to travel comfortably in and around the furniture and through the room. 

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 traffic patterns occur. 

It’s important to establish traffic patterns before you begin staging the living room. Watch out for door swings and windows; you'll need room to open and close them. You'll need a comfortable 24” of space in which to maneuver in and around furniture.

Identify the focal points

Forest view focal point.The forest view through the large windows makes a spectacular focal point! Photo by

A focal point is a feature that captures your attention as you immediately walk into a room. It can be a stunning view, a lovely fireplace, or a striking painting. A focal point can also be bad, as in a crumbling brick fireplace or view of an overgrown jungle in the backyard.

Your goal when staging the living room is to enhance and focus attention on those special features so that buyers will want to move right in.

Furniture and accessories should be arranged to draw attention to focal points. Emphasize striking or lovely features to distract home buyers from focusing on the flaws in your home.

Multiple focal points

Living room interior design picturesThis living room has three focal points; a fireplace, TV, and a window view. Furniture is arranged to take advantage of each one.

Quite often a room will have multiple focal points. How do you know which one to highlight? Where does your eye go first when you enter a room?

Look for the predominant focal point-- it may be the largest and most dramatic element in a room. If your living room is large enough, you can arrange furniture around two separate focal points.

Common living room focal points

  • Fireplace
  • French doors
  • Feature wall made from rustic brick or reclaimed lumber
  • Beautiful windows, like bay or arched windows
  • Stunning view
  • TV entertainment centers
  • Built-in bookcases
  • Large painting

When staging the living room, it's important to draw attention to the best feature. If it's a gorgeous fireplace, you're in luck, because buyers love them! Hang a large mirror or painting above, or propped on the mantle to highlight it.

Beautiful windows or French doors can speak for themselves. No need to hide them under window treatments that can detract from a gorgeous view or an outdoor entertaining area.

Create your own focal points

Brick wall with metal clock focal point.This brick wall didn't need any help, but the rustic metal clock takes it over the top.

Sometimes a room just doesn't have a focal point, so you'll need to create your own. This can be done with color, accessories, artwork, and furniture placement.

Quilt square wall montage.This quilt square focal point is just charming!
  • A bold piece of furniture, such as a large sofa, can function as a focal point when you're staging the 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.
  • If your sofa is placed along a long wall, hang a large painting, or a montage of smaller pictures above it. 
  • Or, hang a beautifully framed mirror over the sofa to add depth and bounce light around.
  • Create an accent wall by painting it in a darker, yet neutral tone of the living room wall color. 
  • Hang a sculptural piece of art, like a large clock. 
  • Create your own focal point using multiple pieces of art, like a montage with photos or mirrors.

The TV as a focal point

I'm not a big fan of highlighting a huge TV as a focal point in living room design, but since most buyers want them, the big screen TV is here to stay.

These days, interior designers and home stagers are placing flat screens over a fireplace, or on a TV console as a design element. 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. There wasn't room, so the buyer wasn't interested, even though he loved the house.

Living room paint colors

Neutral paint colorsNeutral paint colors

When staging the living room, select warm, neutral paint colors. Neutral colors work best when you have a house for sale because both men and women prefer them.

Neutral colors are the easiest to decorate with because they work successfully in all living room designsNeutral wall colors provide an excellent backdrop for any color and pattern you place against it, with furniture, draperies, artwork, and accessories. Added color simply "pops" against a neutral canvas.

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.

Light neutrals and earth tones have the widest appeal among home buyers and will complement most people’s furniture.

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. 

Classic home interior design begins with one main color and one or two accent colors. Find one main color you like; draw color cues from a favorite fabric, area rug, or a painting.

Living room lighting

Natural light

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 staging the living room, focus attention on your window treatments. Are your windows shrouded in dark heavy draperies? Dark colors and heavy fabrics can oppress and close in a room. Drapes and curtains with tassels, swags, and ruffles are also outdated and fussy.

Are you covering a beautiful view that buyers might miss seeing? Your goal is to let in as much natural light as possible. Pull back window treatments all the way, or simply remove.

For small living rooms, hang window curtains that are the same color as the walls. This will create the illusion of a larger room.

If you have a spectacular window with a great view, simply leave windows bare. Bare windows let in maximum natural light, making a space seem more open by extending the room into the outdoors.

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 also requires task lighting for activities like reading or sewing. A good rule of thumb is to have 100 watts per 50 square feet.

If you need more light, remember that floor and table lamps are functional accessories. You may need to have at least two in the living room to balance light. Select contemporary lamp styles with white or beige shades for optimum light.             

Trying to sell your home with dated light fixtures is a huge mistake! Home buyers are very sophisticated in their taste these days, and updating light fixtures may seem like too much work for them.

Installing modern light 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. 

Staging the living room with area rugs

Living room designsThe area rug anchors the furniture into a cohesive space. Large mirrors create the illusion of more space.

An area rug adds color, pattern, texture, and warmth to your living room design. Rugs unify furniture and help define separate spaces. 

Center area rugs under a conversational grouping of furniture, or use two area rugs to define separate groupings. Good rug sizes for groupings: 6’ by 9’ rugs or 5’ by 8’ rugs.

Be sure that the rug you use is large enough to fit the front legs of your sofa and chairs on top of. It’s better when all legs fit on a rug, but I know large area rugs can be very expensive. A rug running under the furniture makes a room feel bigger.

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're trying to hide a stain!

For area rugs that cover most of the floor, leave 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'll create the illusion of “shrinking” the space. 

Staging the living room furniture

Conversational furniture arrangementA well-balanced grouping of furniture, although it's crying out for colorful artwork above the sofa!

Float furniture away from the walls. Furniture should be arranged in conversational groupings. Place a sofa across from another sofa, or two chairs (of equal visual weight) facing or perpendicular to a sofa.

If you have a fireplace, center the furniture grouping toward it. When you enter the living room, the fireplace should be the first thing you notice.

If your focal point is a window, face furniture toward the window 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.

Large living rooms

If you have a large oblong-shaped room, you can 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 your living room has more than one focal point, create separate areas to 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.

Open floor plans

Open concept interior design picturesThe area rug defines the living room as a separate zone from the kitchen. The same neutral colors in each space creates good flow between rooms.

The open floor plan is a greatly desired feature in home interior design at this time. Prospective buyers want the spacious feeling that open sight lines provide. 

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

Separate spaces that flow into one other is often a design challenge when it comes to placing furniture. How do you designate each space as a separate zone, yet still maintain flow?

Defining the zones in open concept rooms

  • An area rug can define a space, yet create a sense of separate zones. Float furniture on top of an area rug in the living room area, 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. But separate floor styles can interfere with flow, making a great room appear smaller by cutting off sight lines.

Harmony and flow between 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.
  • Use the back of the couch as a divider between 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.

Staging the living room with accessories

Living room interior design picturesColorful accessories and crisp white painted fireplace give this living room a fresh look.

Now for the fun part...adding accessories! Accessories should enhance the furniture and architecture in your home, tie the room together, and enliven the space.

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. Be sure to maintain proper balance, scale and proportion when staging the living room.

  • Use accessories the same color as the walls to give a feeling of more space.
  • Bookshelves, media centers, or a large display piece, like an armoire, should be decluttered and staged with spaces between objects to create an open and airy effect.
  • Don’t just place objects in a straight line on a shelf. Build a vignette, overlap objects to create depth in your arrangements. Group objects in threes and fives and place the tallest objects in the back, smallest in the front. 

  • 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 color throughout a room. Scatter accent colors in at least three places around the 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.

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Home staging during the holidays!