What makes a living room livable? We posed this question to designers Fiona Weeks, Biggs Powell, and Carole Weaks, and challenged each of them to create a decorative scheme for the rectangular living room shown at left. Although each designer approached the space differently, they all presented thoughtful plans that foster comfort, character, and flexibility. Read on as we showcase their concepts and furniture layouts.
Known for her inspired use of color and pattern, Fiona Weeks pulled the room together with warm tones and lively fabrics. "Colors don't have to be strong or overwhelming to be intriguing to the eye," says the Maryland-based designer. The cantaloupe shade on the walls and the pale blue on the ceiling derive from the floral fabric on the armchairs. "The wall color is unusual and inviting," says Weeks. "The sky blue ceiling complements the walls and upholstery and picks up the stripes in the area rug." The result, she says, is "a finished look that's not too sweet."
TIP: Don't forget the ceiling. After all, it's part of the room. Apply molding, color, or even wallpaper to that forgotten expanse, and your room will have a more finished look.
Weeks planned the room for flexibilty. A comfortable, three-seat sofa (1) opposite the hearth is joined by a pair of armchairs (2) and a chaise. (3) As a bridge between the two areas, the chaise is a linchpin. "It's wide and comfortable and allows one to face either direction," says Weeks. On the far end of the room, a smaller sofa (4) and chair (5) create a more intimate area. The designer picked a simple glass coffee table (6) "because its transparent top not only lightens up the area but also creates some reflection and sparkle."
TIP: Be sure there are peaks and valleys. If all the seat cushions and the coffee table are one height, it looks like a blockade. Lamps, art, and other accessories also direct the eye up and down.
Memphis designer and antiques dealer Biggs Powell is drawn to interesting shapes and textures, preferring to mix and layer elements rather than follow a single style. In creating a plan, he responded to the challenges of the room, particularly the flow of traffic to and from adjacent rooms. Simplicity and restraint guided Powell's hand. The white walls are bare except for a trio of hand-painted Chinese scenic panels opposite the fireplace. Slipper chairs are upholstered in a dragon-patterned blue silk damask, while the sofa is covered in a neutral herringbone. "Above all, I did not want the room to have a distinct theme," says Powell.
TIP: A mix of things is more exciting than a room full of things from a single period or country of origin. You can enliven a scheme and keep it from looking too predictable by tossing in an unexpected object.
Powell floated a single seating group in the center of the room. A tufted-back sofa (1) sits perpendicular to the fireplace, across from a pair of slipper chairs (2). A small bench (3) creates an extra perch. A coffee table (4) serves the group, with smaller tables (5) providing spots for accessories or drinks. A grand piano (6) by the built-in bookcase counterbalances a backgammon table (7) at the opposite end of the room. A floor clock (8) contrasts with the sleek console (9) behind the sofa. "The central arrangement invites you in," says Powell. "It's fairly tight, so there is plenty of room to circulate, on a daily basis or during a party."
TIP: If a plan is too rigid, it feels stiff and uncomfortable. Arrange your room so that there is a sense of balance rather than relentless symmetry.
Carole Weaks used a single shade of green to create a serene, highly functional space. "My favorite rooms always have a mix of antique furniture and contemporary art," she says. The Atlanta-based designer's concept for the living room reflects this affinity. First and foremost, Weaks believes that a room should answer to the realities of modern life. "I'm dedicated to designing rooms that function," says Weaks. "If a room is friendly and comfortable, people will use it."
TIP: Think about how your window treatments will look from the outside. Here, the draperies are visible from the terrace, so Weaks specified a double-faced silk.
Weaks positioned one main seating area around the fireplace, where a sofa (1) faces a chaise longue. (2) A wrought-iron table with a limestone top (3) is positioned behind the sofa. A pair of swivel tub chairs (4) completes the group. Two chairs with caned backs (5) dress up a game table (6) near the window. Two more caned-back chairs flank a walnut chest (7) on the wall opposite the hearth. Mindful of circulation, Weaks kept the space around the French doors clear. Still, a demilune console (8) prevents this area from feeling empty. "In a room this size, you should be able to seat at least 10, yet it's important to give the furniture enough breathing room," Weaks says.
TIP: Think of the purposes a room serves. If the chest were replaced by a television, the arrangement would still work because the swivel chairs could turn to face it.
Fiona Weeks Interiors, 301/983-6989;
Biggs Powell Interior Design & Antiques, 901/725-5225, biggspowell.com;
C. Weaks Interiors, 404/233-6040.