The Art of a One-of-a-Kind Living Room

There’s an art to imbuing a living room with a unique style. Literally. Nine times out of ten, it’s the artwork or its display that gives the design standout style. In this DC Design House, a 10-piece collection of art pieces titled Memories of France, by Paule Marrot, does just that. The pieces’ uncommon yellow-green color tugs the eye, and their creative display in two vertical rows inset in paneling completes the unexpectedness. The result: a design that radiates reviving energy.

Interior design: Barry Dixon

Pattern a Singular Living Room Design

Use pattern to orchestrate one-of-a-kind style. The lemon-yellow ottoman in this room features a bold Greek-key pattern around its base. Solo, it’s pretty, but accompanied with the geometric patterns of mismatched fretwork screens that flank the windows, as well as the club chair’s modern spin on the classic flame-stitch pattern, the room pulsates with visual rhythm.

Tip: Not only fabric features pattern. Carved wood and even architectural plaster sport patterns of their own. Recognizing their contribution to a room’s design brings you one step closer to a sophisticated result. Pattern doesn’t need to be in-your-face brash to be enormously effective.

Interior design: Barry Dixon

Create Extraordinary Design with Exotica

Even the best architectural bones can be enhanced with a touch of exotica. Objets d’art and accessories from across the globe are design’s ticket to uniqueness and inspiration. The grand carved-limestone fireplace establishes character in this showhouse space at the DC Design House, but what tips the scales to a singular style are the exotic details of the decorating. For example, a dozen Zodiac figures from the Han dynasty cluster at one end of the mantelshelf, suggesting travels across time and place and the thrill of collecting. A pair of large Moroccan vases huddle at the hearth, adding another layer to the design’s character.

Interior design: Barry Dixon

A Living Room Where Opposites Energize

To lift your living room’s design out of the doldrums and elevate it to a more rarefied realm of style, tap into tensile power. The best designers know that mixing diverse styles creates a tension that visually empowers any room. In this living room, that tension is created by mixing the classic architecture’s beautiful white-painted millwork with modern geometric rugs and abstract art. The quiet elegance of the architecture juxtaposed with the punched-up colors of the modern elements increases the room’s energy, drama, and excitement.

Interior design: Kerry Howard

Designed on a Masterful Molding

Decorating a stellar living room sometimes demands getting down to the bare bones. That’s the case in the living room of this handsome Los Angeles Mediterranean Revival designed in 1928 by architect Gordon B. Kaufmann. The room’s original plaster moldings were too perfect to tamper with. Instead, the walls were kept clean and light to allow the arched moldings to make the design statement. A pair of custom sofas and a Baker sunburst mirror remain understated to give the glory to the original architecture.

Interior design: Mark Williams

Season’s Sensational Living Room

A hand-carved wooden deer snuggled up close to the fireplace and a vintage ski scene plopped on the mantelshelf above it bring warm whimsy to this winter-themed showhouse living room. But all year long, the design exudes character with a bold-striped screen and a fuzzy faux-fur bench. A massive 10-arm chandelier dramatizes the textural mix.

Tip: Usher in a piece or two of seasonal art to change your living room’s character.

Interior design: Irwin Feld

Small Room, Singular Style

A pint-size apartment can live larger than life. This 340-square-foot studio is proof. Its unique look in the living area begins with an oversize Federal-style mirror. The big piece defies its small confines and makes the space breathe. Teaming the traditional mirror with a modern tripod occasional table and a bright Hermès-orange rug shrugs off play-it-safe design rules to embrace a character-creating abandon.

Interior design: Shari Markbreiter

Rock-Star Living Room Design

You don’t have to be a rock star to live like one. This showhouse living room draws energy from flashy features including a jewel-like end table composed of small mirrored circles, and an extra-spiky shag rug. A midcentury-mod chair wears a traditional Greek-key fabric to amplify the edginess with the contrast of modern and classic. (Note: The pattern is placed on the diagonal for a fresher look.) More glam shimmers from four vertical mirrors propped between the windows. And to assure this room is equipped for all kinds of partying including Grammy night or Super Bowl Sunday, a flat-screen is mounted high on the wall just above the mirrors.

Interior design: Jolie Korek

Indigo Glow

Real-life living room decorating is one thing; showhouse living room designs are another. Showhouses encourage experimenting; taking risks; going for the unique. That’s what New York designer Eric Cohler and his sister Jennifer Mason did in this Manhattan mansion on the Upper East Side. To discover what makes the design special, look no further than the room’s original richly paneled walls. The sister-brother team painted them a high-gloss indigo for a mega-dose of drama. A white sofa and yellow abstract art stand in stark contrast to the walls’ moody blues.

Interior design: Eric Cohler and Jennifer Mason

Objet d’Art Is a Stand-Out

In this Stamford, Connecticut, living room of beautiful antiques, one-of-a-kind identity emanates from the large shell-framed mirror. The seashells hit a more playful note than those sounded by the Louis XVI open armchair or the gilded French cane-back chair by the window. The shells’ texture, too, invites closer inspection, drawing attention away from the other furnishings’ decorative carvings and fancy finishes, to the natural world. Wisely, the large seashell-framed mirror is placed prominently in the furniture arrangement, just inside the front door. From the sofa and chairs in the living room’s main conversation area, it can’t be missed. And that’s essential for the piece that is the design’s only allusion to the nearby sea.

Tip: Give your living room a unique look with one accessory that announces the room’s region, while also breaking from its predominant decorative finishes.

Interior design: Jack Fhillips

Magical Murals

An inimitable and unforgettable style is created in this showhouse living room with a trompe l’oeil mural. Painted to look like the view outside a pair of big windows, the scenic mural portrays the gardens of Chateau de Villandry. Onlookers feel transported to France as a result of the “windows” being draped with ceiling-to-floor panels and including all the proper millwork parts. The mural creates the room’s magic. But it’s underscored by another wall of gold leaves cleverly stamped with real gold leaf. The room’s little bit of trickery feels like a treat.

Interior design: Cathy Yohay and Marjorie Sobiloff

Shelf-and-Show Living Room Decorating

A custom bookcase that wraps around the window ushers in personal style in this Cape Cod home’s living room. And even if your home isn’t already outfitted with wraparound shelving, it’s an idea that’s easy to implement, even for DIYers. Because it wraps around the window, the shelving unit becomes the room’s natural focal point. That means opportunity with a capital O.  Whatever is displayed on the shelves can stamp the room with special style. Here, it’s a repetition of like boxes across the top two rows—clean, even—and a medley of illustrations all given the same framing treatment. The objects on display aren’t all that special, but their presentation is—and that’s the style source.

Interior design: Maureen Footer

Sky-High Style

The strongest living room style statements often are about how, more than what; inflection, more than content. In this Houston home’s living room, the style strength lies in how the art is displayed, versus what the art is. (A correlation in the fashion world might be how a scarf is worn, instead of who designed it.) This homeowner, acting as her own designer, gleaned the best ideas from her favorite showhouses. Stacking art in vertical rows all the way to the ceiling is a fave idea she plucked from the repertoire of Atlanta designer Dan Carithers. Its unexpectedness draws the eye beyond the normal boundaries, and makes pieces like the re-covered grandmother sofa appear as stylish as they are personal.

Interior design: Homeowner Virginia Mary Brown

Design Is in the Details

The irrepressible energy of a Fort Worth home designed by Joseph Minton springs from its mix of objects and fabrics. Nowhere is the tug of that energy stronger than in the living room, where Minton’s mix can be dissected on even a minuscule level. The fireplace mantel, for example, is a catwalk for some bold blue-and-white Chinese porcelains to strut heel to toe with nautilus seashells. This mix of high and low (price-wise) and of not-so-typical next-door neighbors (porcelains and found objects) is the source of the room’s excitement. The lead crystal candy dish on the coffee table goes for the same mix, laden with starfish and seashells.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to mix inexpensive, casual, or even rustic pieces with finer objects. The tensile energy brings designs to life.

Interior design: Joseph Minton

Show Your Colors

There’s no mistaking the living room of this Hamptons house for any of its neighbor’s. A signature grass-green color painted on the room’s two-story walls makes sure of that. The color, a combination of restful and zestful, generates its own kind of aura. Against it, the classic white-painted millwork pops, and neutral-upholstered seating pops. Even the furniture’s traditional exposed wood appears a little fresher, a little happier, a little more youthful.

Interior design: Jack Fhillips

More Living Rooms

For more decorating ideas for your living room, see Elegant Living Rooms in Neutral Colors.

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Decorating Ideas: Unique Living Rooms

From the Editors of Traditional Home
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Written and produced by Candace Ord Manroe

Designing a Unique Living Room
As the public showcase of your home, the living room begs for a design that’s not only comfortable for entertaining, but that’s unique enough to wow guests with a lasting impression. The decorating goal is an “ahh!” moment. It’s a look you love, which stops others in their tracks. And achieving it doesn’t have to trip you up. Just the opposite. Going with your natural flow is the surest route to a singular style. Build your living room’s design with extraordinary furnishings, fabrics, textures, art, accessories, and colors that speak to you. Then give those faves a shout-out with a prominent display.

When your shopping excursions mine gold like the exquisite antique embossed leather screen in this living room, indulge your instincts, even if you’re uncertain where or how you’ll use the piece. Thinking outside the box assures the most impact. Instead of cowering in a corner, this outstanding screen anchors the living room’s design. In decorating, a single statement can be the final word.

Tip: Rethink what goes behind the sofa. A paneled screen is an arresting alternative to framed art.

Interior design: Ann Shipp and Roger Higgins