Home Decor Styles Formal living room ideas – 10 tips for an elegant sitting room

Formal living room ideas – 10 tips for an elegant sitting room

by Monika Bürger

Getting your formal living room ideas right is essential to making your guests feel not only welcome but special. 
Creating a reception room where the living room ideas are geared towards your guest’s wants and needs – rather than your day-to-day need to put your feet up – is a wonderful way to celebrate visitors.

It’s also a room where you can have a lot of fun with decor too. As a more occasional room, the layout and choose furniture pieces can be more about form than function, with elegance prized over comfort.


From seriously stylish sofas to the importance of showing off your prized antiques, we asked the experts to share their top formal living room ideas and found some beautiful examples to inspire your sitting space.


Formal living room ideas with a pair of blue sofas and fireplace with floor-to-ceiling windows either side
(Image credit: Melinda Kelson O’Connor Design/Wendy Concannon)

Often our clients require two separate spaces in their homes for formal entertaining and relaxing with their family,’ says Louise Wicksteed, Design Director at Sims Hilditch. ‘A formal sitting room might include a beautiful sofa upholstered in velvet and a selection of smart armchairs, whereas a family room might include a deep L-shaped sofa upholstered in hard-wearing child-friendly material.’ 

A key part of making these spaces feel distinct is getting the sofa choice right. While low-rise couches with corner units that make them apt for reclining are better suited to informal spaces, sofas with a higher seat, upright backs, and design-led detailing are often more appropriate for welcoming guests. This theory is evident in the living room of this home designed by Melinda Kelson O’Connor. While a family room features an L-shaped sofa ripe for sprawling, the small living room ideas include this neat pair of blue button-backed couches.

Express your style all over your home with a feature-worthy rug. They’re made from a woven, polyester chenille for a soft and textured look. Plus, choosing from our wide array of designs, you’re sure to find just the rug to match your decor. Rugs are one of the best, attention-grabbing pieces to design a room around. Use the colors within the rug to help choose art prints, furniture fabric and accent pillows.

<< More Area Rugs Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with a blue velvet sofa, antique dresser, fireplace with tarnished mirrors either side and green armchairs
(Image credit: K&H Design)

Don’t be afraid to mix old and new,’ says Martin Waller, Founder of Andrew Martin, with regards to living room furniture ideas. As the notion of the sitting room has a longstanding history, it’s a great part of the house to employ some of your favorite antique pieces and pair them with contemporary styling elements, as demonstrated in this room by K&H Design

Interior design should transcend the limits of time and geography,’ says Waller. ‘It’s a form of escapism, a root of happiness and most importantly the background to your life. So cherish your grandmother’s antique rocking chair or the Chinese wedding cabinet donated from your parents’ living room, it is these pieces that give character to your home and tell your unique story… Vintage and collectible accessories will also add eternal quirk and give a space which might otherwise be on-trend but lifeless, a real sense of depth, personality, and soul.’

Our Framed Canvas Prints add an extra touch of refinement to our gallery-quality canvases. Select from four different frame colors: black, white, maple or walnut to suit your decor taste and show off your favorite artists’ designs. Framed canvases are available in seven different sizes.

<< More Framed Printed and Wall Decor Artworks >>


Formal living room ideas with grey textured walls, modern art, grey sofa and armchairs, and red modern stools
(Image credit: Olivia Stutz Design/Jonathan Hokklo)

A formal living room is likely to need to cater to varying levels of formality, and for guests ranging from your grandmother to your friend’s kids – so make sure your living room seating ideas are prepared for every eventuality. 

I like a room to feel alive whether there are 2 people or 20 people in it,’ says home decor designer Jonathan Adler. ‘Pullable-mappable ottomans, tables you can perch on, conversation cocoons – make your space work like one giant gossip bench.’ 

In this room by designer Olivia Stutz, a grey sofa is joined by a pair of curved armchairs, a black and white accent chair from Parisian brand Liaigre, and a quirky pair of red, space age-style stools found in a Paris flea market, in a collection that balances fun and formality.

Our folding stools offer a lightweight, yet style-forward way to get your lounge on. There’s no better way to experience the outdoors than with your feet kicked back and a cold drink in hand, add in your unique sense of style and you truly can have it all. The woven polyester top is spill and splash resistant so you can take and use anywhere you feel like lounging.

<< More Folding Stool Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with pink and white patterned wallpaper, green curtains, blue sofa, green armchairs and lavender ottoman
(Image credit: Liz Caan/Eric Roth)

Every home and design should have some sort of story attached to it,’ says Albion Nord’s Creative Director Camilla Clarke. ‘If the design doesn’t tell a story about the homeowner, the house, or the surrounding area, it can then lack depth and connection.’ 

Whether it be a design around an inherited piece of art or, a celebration of the classical features of a property, this will help create the soul and character of a home and make it different from any other house,’ adds Clarke. 

Interior designer Liz Caan has certainly stamped individuality all over the living room styling for her Boston home. The hand-printed pink and white wallpaper by Raoul surrounds what Caan calls her ‘collection of curiosities’, an eclectic mix of vintage furniture, artwork, ornaments, and books.

Add throw pillows to whatever room needs an extra dose of comfy. Individually cut and sewn by hand, each pillow features a double-sided print and is finished with a concealed zipper and faux down insert. Keeping an assortment of throw pillow designs on hand is the easiest way to give any space an instant refresh. Available in four sizes.

<< More Throw Pillow Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with white walls and fireplace, grey sofa and armchairs, and blue accessories
(Image credit: Amanda Evans Interiors)

When it comes to deciding on your layout, centering the scheme around your living room fireplace ideas creates a timelessly welcoming focal point, as demonstrated in this space by designer Amanda Evans. If the fireplace is the star of the show, ensure that it is pitched perfectly design-wise between your home’s period and your contemporary tastes. 

It’s important to decide whether you would prefer a restored antique fireplace, salvaged from another property, or whether you would like to create your own based on your research of the property and the kind of look and feel you aspire to for your home or room,’ says Owen Pacey, Founder of Renaissance London. ‘Restoration can be a hugely gratifying and challenging process, from sourcing to installation, but the result is a true piece of history amongst the fabric of your home.

Our blackout window curtains are a denser alternative to your standard window curtain, blocking out most light and proudly featuring your favorite designs. Whether you live in a busy apartment or a peaceful neighborhood, it’s always nice to have the option to shut out the sun and relax inside by the candlelight. Available in either single or double panel options. A double panel features the same design on both panels. The bottom edge of curtain includes a 2″ pocket that can be used as a hanging pocket, but beware that the artwork will be upside down for any non-patterned designs.

<< More Blackout Curtain Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with cream traditional armchairs and wooden bookshelves
(Image credit: Sims Hilditch)

‘When designing a formal space for entertaining guests, we often omit a television from the design, or else devise intelligent ways to hide it from view,’ says Wicksteed. ‘Some of these include creating bespoke joinery disguised to look like a bookcase and installing a television which looks like a mirror.’ 

Providing an intellectually stimulating alternative to a TV, designing a home library as part of your formal living area is a great way to add purpose to the room, create meaningful storage for a book collection, and demonstrate your personal tastes and interests.

Our floor pillows are the perfect pick for seating in a pinch. They’re overstuffed and firm to never lose their shape and the high-quality print makes sure the design stays crisp and colorful. Available in round or square, with two size options.

<< More Floor Pillow Style >>


Formal living room ideas with artwork above and either side of a fireplace, with matching marble console tables
(Image credit: Yellow London/Matt Clayton)

‘Art adds character and a sense of personality to a space that you can’t always fully achieve through materials and colors in a room,’ says Clarke. ‘A room without art is a room unfinished. Your wall should be the canvas for your art.’ 

When thinking about how to design a living room, art should never be an afterthought – if you’re a keen collector, consider putting your favorite pieces pride of place in your formal living room to be enjoyed by guests. In this Pimlico townhouse by Yellow London, the living room is filled with bold pieces of colorful art that not only ooze personality but inspire the eclectic color scheme around the rest of the room.

From sideshow to show-stopper, our side tables will be a stunning modern accent to your space. Selecting from our wide array of artist’s designs printed with a satin finish on birch wood, you’ll take any room from zero to a hundred. Available in a square or round table top, and black or gold leg colors.

<< More Side Table Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with blue walls, arched built-in bookcase, pink curtains and blue and white seating
(Image credit: Kit Kemp/Simon Brown)

For visual interest that runs from top to bottom, give some serious thought to your living room curtain ideas. ‘Curtains are the hairdo of the room, framing the space like the tresses of a groovy 60s Rock chick,’ says Jonathan Adler. ‘Think Jean Shrimpton, Marianne Faithful, Nico. Blondes do have more fun.’ 

Curtains in a purposeful pattern and color choice, and made from a luxurious fabric can really make a formal living space feel elegant and special. In this living room by interior designer Kit Kemp, a blue-led scheme is made to feel warm, playful, and contemporary with the use of blush pink patterned curtains.

Our floor cushions are the super comfy and style-forward option for outdoor seating. They’re UV coated to protect against fading and water resistant so you can avoid scrambling to bring them inside whenever there’s a touch of weather. Grab a few to have on hand whenever seating is hard to come by or for a fun option for kids to use out in the yard.

More Floor Cushion Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with curved powder blue velvet sofas and fireplace
(Image credit: Jonathan Adler)

In a more formal space, your living room sofa ideas have a license to focus more on exciting design than they do comfort. As a space for entertaining, consider choosing pieces that are individual, interesting, and ready to party. 

Float a unique sofa in the middle of your living room to anchor an organic furniture plan, or let it own that corner you haven’t figured out what to do with yet,’ says Adler. In this room put together by Adler, a pair of highly contemporary curved sofas wrap around a circular coffee table, creating a cocooned seating area that is as stylish as it is welcoming.

Cozy up with our unbelievably soft throw blankets. Crafted with sherpa fleece, these blankets actually get softer the more times you wash them. Coordinate with throw pillows and rectangular pillows for whatever nook needs a little extra dose of comfy. Available in three sizes.

<< More Throw Blanket Styles >>


Formal living room ideas with blue walls, built-in bookcases, blue velvet sofa and orange velvet armchairs
(Image credit: Davide Lovati)

Coziness may be of paramount importance in a family room or TV snug, but too much in the way of soft furnishings can feel a little overwhelming in a more formal setting. To balance the need for comfort with a touch of restraint, consider swapping a carpet for a large living room rug. Not only will it bring focus to the center of the room, but it will prevent the atmosphere from feeling too cosseting, and mean neither you nor your guests worry too much about them keeping their shoes on in the room, with rugs often easier to clean than carpets.

Park it in style on this incredibly versatile bench, upholstered with vegan leather featuring all the designs you love. The perfect indoor bench will give any space an instant upgrade. Dress it with plush blankets or throw pillows to keep it elegant, but super cush.

<< More Bench Styles >>


Seating is the most important aspect of any formal living space – and it’s important to have as much of it as you can manage. Offering your guests a variety of seating options allows them to choose which are most comfortable for them – a squashy ottoman might be great for kids but not so great for grandma. A sofa is a must-have, while armchairs are a more adaptable addition that provides similar comfort. 

Placing a coffee table – or upholstered bench with a tray – at the center of the seating area serves as a focal point and a perch for food, drinks, and games. Storage may be necessary for books, games, and ornaments, but the priority for these pieces is for them to be aesthetically pleasing first: antique dressers and ottomans that can function as both seating and storage are helpful for a room that needs to stay neat and tidy. 


Providing you have a more relaxed space for kicking back and watching the TV, the formal living room should channel beauty over comfort every time. Leave the squashy sofas elsewhere and choose leaner silhouettes with thoughtful design details. Invest in statement curtains or a rug for some softness that still carries some aesthetic weight, and always leave the television out, or be sure to disguise its presence. 

In terms of decor, this is the place for putting the best on show. Incorporate some open shelving to display prized ornaments, artwork and books – leave the family photos to the more relaxed spaces.


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