Staging the Living Room

For a faster, more profitable home 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.

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

Neutral-colored backdrop makes the blues furniture stand out.Note the elegance of the matching wall color and draperies. What a beautiful backdrop for the blue. Photo by Home Depot.

When I was a Realtor, I saw many buyers think twice about buying a home after seeing dirty carpets, outdated light fixtures and especially unmatched kitchen appliances.

Most people just want a move-in ready house. Despite what you see on TV, very few buyers are looking for a fixer-upper.

Buyers WILL keep a to-do list and use it to negotiate the price of your home down.

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

Before you begin your home staging, be sure that you have properly prepared your home by decluttering and making any necessary repairs

Note the shape and architecture of your living room

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 successfully in placing 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. 

What is a Traffic Pattern?

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 in your living room

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, even 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 is to enhance and draw attention to these special features so that buyers will want to move right in. Often, a spectacular focal point will outweigh a negative feature in a room.

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.

What about 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 toward 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 or lean a large mirror or painting above a fireplace to highlight it and create a pretty vignette on the fireplace mantle.

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.

How to create your own focal points

Brick wall with metal clock focal point.This brick wall is a great focal feature-- the rustic metal clock emphasizes it.

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.

This quilt square wall montage is a great focal point.Make your own focal point with a montage of photographs, paintings or quilt squares!
  • A bold piece of furniture, like a large sofa, can function as a focal point when you're staging the living room.
  • Arrange the rest of your furniture toward the sofa and place colorful, textured pillows on it to draw attention to it.
  • A console table placed against a wall can also serve as a focal point. Emphasize the table with artwork in the same manner as a sofa.
  • If your sofa is placed along a long wall, hang 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 large painting or a sculptural piece of art, like a clock above the sofa. 
  • Create your own focal point using multiple pieces of art, like a montage with photos or mirrors.

Using a TV as a focal point

I'm not a big fan of highlighting a big screen 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 decorators and home stagers are placing flat screen TVs over a fireplace, above a console table or on it as a design element. Or, you can hide the TV inside an armoire, entertainment unit or in a room specifically designated for television viewing. 

I once showed a 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 house didn't get sold that day.

Great paint colors for a living room

Neutral paint colors appeal to more people than any other color group.Neutral paint colors appeal to more people than any other color group.

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 room designs

Neutral wall colors provide an excellent backdrop for any color and pattern you place against it, whether its furniture, draperies, artwork and accessories. Added color simply "pops" against a neutral canvas.

Here are a few 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 almost anything you place in your room.

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 will create 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; the draw color cues from a favorite fabric, area rug or a painting.

A monochromatic or monotone room color scheme is the best color scheme for a small living room. It's a serene style that provides a feeling of greater spaciousness.

Living room lighting

Natural light

Beautiful living room window that brings in plenty of natural light.Leave windows bare to let in maximum natural light, always the preferred form of light.

Natural light is the 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 special attention on the window treatments. Are they 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? Your goal is to let in as much natural light as possible. Pull back window treatments all the way, or simply remove if you have pretty windows.

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 and stylish 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. 

Stage the living room with an area rug

Living room with a fireplace as a focal point.The area rug anchors the furniture into a cohesive space. Large mirrors create the illusion of more space.

An area rug will add color, pattern, texture and warmth to your living room design. A large area rug will unify furniture and define separate spaces.

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

Be sure that the rug is large enough to fit the front legs of your sofa and chairs, as pictured above. It’s best if all furniture legs fit on top of a rug, large area rugs can be very expensive. 

A rug running under furniture just makes a room feel larger.

If you place an area rug over wall-to-wall carpeting, don’t be surprised when 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 flooring showing between the wall and the rug.

If an area rug goes all the way to the wall, it'll create the illusion of “shrinking” the space. 

Staging the living room furniture

Perfectly symmetrical conversational furniture arrangement.A well-balanced and symmetrical grouping of furniture, although it cries out for some colorful artwork above the sofa!

Float furniture away from the walls. Despite what our instincts tell us, moving furniture away from the walls will actually make a room feel larger!

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 lovely window, face furniture toward the window where the view can be appreciated while sitting.

What about a large, oblong living room?

A large oblong-shaped room can be staged into two separate areas. Place separate area rugs to define each space as its own "room."

You might stage it 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, arrange your furniture accordingly. Each separate area can be assembled and directed toward its own focal point. An L-shaped sofa works really well in this situation, as you can place it to face in two directions at once. 

Staging your living room with accessories

Living room with a white painted fireplace.Colorful accessories and crisp white painted fireplace give this living room a fresh look.

Now for the fun part...adding the accessories! The accessories you use in your staging should 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.

  • To give a feeling of spaciousness, go with a monochromatic or monotone room color scheme.
  • 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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