How To Begin A Living Room Remodel

How to Begin a Living Room Remodel


Renovating your living room:

It’s exciting, but it can be a bit overwhelming, too. Where should you start? How much can you afford to spend? How do you know whether that contractor with the impressive portfolio will really show up when he’s supposed to? And what if the sofa that looks so gorgeous on the showroom floor makes your own house resemble a bordello? Relax. We’re here to make it simpler for you. Follow our step-by-step guide to renovation, and get ready to kick back in a new living room that suits your needs, your style and your budget.

Research and Plan

One of the keys to a successful renovation is plenty of forethought, knowledge and information — especially if you’re making structural changes, or working with several professionals and a big budget. Take your time to plan before you begin, so that you are less likely to have regrets when you are finished. “Designing a room or a remodeling project is a journey or a process,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour, “and it takes time to develop ideas and do things right. In other words, you need to know your destination and how you plan to get there.”

Consider Your Lifestyle

“To start,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour, “try to envision how you see yourself and your family getting the most use out of the space. Will the space be used for parties? Intimate gatherings? Do you want or need one large seating area or several different seating groups?”

Think long-term. Remember to plan not only for this stage of your life, but for the next phases, as well. If you’re newlyweds planning to have children in a few years, take those future kids into account when planning your renovation, so that you don’t have to redo everything. Ask people who already have kids what works in real life and what doesn’t; what they wish they had in their living rooms; what has caused safety issues or got broken so many times it had to be thrown away.

On the other hand, if you have older parents (or are a senior yourself), be sure to design your space so that it is safe and comfortable for yourself and your guests as the years go by.

Consult the Pros

Once you have a sense of what functions you want your new living room to serve, gather lots of information. There are unlimited resources online alone.  If you need any help figuring out which websites to visit, please feel free to ask your designer.  They would love to help you out with that.


And don’t forget to talk to real people. Ask your friends and neighbors to recommend local professionals, and be sure to inquire as to whether there are any local pros you should steer clear of. Find out what other people are glad they included in their renovations, and what wasn’t worth the money.

Determine Your Living Room Needs

Before you begin your living room remodel, think about what you need to lounge, entertain and work.

Before you can start planning your renovation, you need to know what your ultimate goal for your remodeled space is:

  • Are you renovating your living room mostly to enlarge it?
  • Are you remodeling to update it?
  • Are you renovating to sell your home down the line?
  • How do you plan to enjoy your living room day in and day out, year after year?

“Ultimately,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour, owner of General Assembly, “the best way to identify what is going to work best for your family is to think about how you really live. Are you the type of people who like to spend a lot of time together watching movies around a TV? In that case, make sure it’s comfortable to watch. On the other hand,” she says, “if you spend most of your time reading, you might want to find a way to hide the TV when it’s not in use.”

If you are going to use your living room for entertaining, think about what types of gatherings you usually host. Do you like to invite one or two other couples for a quiet night of wine and cheese in front of the fireplace? Or throw big stand-up fetes where everyone mixes and mingles? For seated events, pick large, cushy upholstery; for stand-up shindigs, keep the chairs and couches smaller-scale to leave as much room as possible for moving around. If you entertain formally, be sure you have storage space for less-fancy items such as your kids’ toys and your stacks of magazines, so that you can stash them when company comes. And if your events tend to be boisterous and messy, you’re going to want couches and carpets that are stain resistant.

Top Living Room Design Styles

Think about what secondary functions your space has to serve. Is your living room going to be just a living room, or will it be a living room and office? “More and more,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour, “we are combining rooms that used to be separate, such as a living room that doubles as a home office or a music room. If your home has limited space, designing the living room so that it can serve multiple functions is invaluable.”

Make a list of everything you want to do in the space, so that you can plan accordingly. If you need to put your computer and printer in the living room, you’ll require ample electrical outlets, and you might want an armoire in which to hide the electronics when it’s quitting time. If the living room will double as your children’s playroom, make sure your space planning includes toy storage and furniture that won’t be ruined if someone spills a juice box.

If you need the space to do double duty as a guest room, make sure you budget and plan not only for a pullout sofa, but also for a coffee table that’s easy to move away so that you can actually open up that sofa when guests come to spend the night.

Identify Your Living Room Style

Do you consider a sleek, modern living room sexy or do you think minimalism looks cold and forbidding?  Does an eclectic assemblage of treasures from around the world feel exotic and exciting to you or is it just jumbled mess?  There’s no right answer to these questions, but finding the answers (and the styles) that are right for you is one of the most important things you’ll do when planning your living room renovation.

Take some time to look around you – at your own home, at your friends’ homes, at the rooms’ design pros put together – and find the style that resonates.  Then you can put your own twists on the style to create a living room that reflects your personality and individuality.

Here’s how:

Look At Your Home

If you’re embarking on a renovation, you clearly want to change some things about your current space, but there are probably elements that you do like.  What are they?  Think about which room in the house is your favorite, and why:  Is it the bedroom, because you love its romantic floral wallpaper?  Do you love the kitchen you redid last year, because it’s sleek and industrial?  When you’ve identified the elements that make you feel most at home, you can incorporate them into your new living room.

Do Some Design Research

Gather an armload of decorating magazines, and rip out any pages that make you linger.  Then analyze:  What do the pictures you love have in common?  Is it a minimalist sensibility?  A Victorian vibe?  A riot color?  A monochromatic palette?

When you can identify the elements you are drawn to, be sure to make note of what unites them.  That consistent element is probably the key to your personal style.

Get Out of the House

“Open your eyes to the details around you,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour, owner of Maison D’OR Interiors.  Not just on the Internet and TV, but in real life.  Go to new restaurants.  Visit museums you’ve never been to.  Take a tour of a local historical mansion.  “All of these places have design elements that you might want to incorporate into your living room redesign,” Vautour notes.

Do you like the rococo room at your local historical preservation society?  You may not want to go quite as over-the-top with the gilding and carving as folks did 200 years ago, but maybe a touch of gold leaf on a lamp would appeal to you.  That shiny new eatery downtown may be too sleek to live in day after day, but perhaps the super-cool lighting fixture you noticed while waiting for your appetizers would look great in your house.

Eliminate the Negative

And pay attention to the restaurants you’ve walked past after peering in the window because you thought it looked uninviting, and the magazine pages you’ve flipped quickly while thumbing through those magazines because you just hated them.  What turns you off again and again?  Distressed-finish furniture?  Too much ornamentation?  Don’t let them clutter your thoughts.  You may not know what you like yet, but you certainly know what you don’t like.

Keep or Toss: 4 Questions to Help You Declutter Your Living Space

Do you want to get rid of everything you own and start from scratch? Or do you want to incorporate some favorite pieces from your current living room into your new one? Or, perhaps, you wish you could have a clean design slate, but have to retain as much as you can in the interest of your budget. Whatever the answer, here are some smart ways to triage your current living room belongings. Ask yourself the following questions.

Does It Work in the Space?

“I love considering existing pieces as a source in my shopping,” say interior designer Jamie Vautour.  “But I look at what someone has with the same critical eye as when looking for new items.”  She suggests looking at a piece, whether already owned or not, through the following criteria:  First, is it the right shape and size, and second, is it the right style?

“You have to be fairly tough and non-emotional in saying goodbye to pieces that really won’t work in your design,” Vautour says, “but if you feel you must use a piece for sentimental reasons, then at least be sure to consider it upfront so that your other selections make that piece feel more relevant rather than left over.

Is It Valuable?

If you can’t stand that $20,000 Biedermeier chest, you should have to live with it, and you can have a reputable antiques dealer resell it for you.  But if something is valuable and you like it well enough, this twice about swapping it out just for the sake of having something new.  “A practical way to decide whether to keep something based on value is to research it to the best of your ability – see what it would sell for on eBay or Craigslist,” says interior designer Jamie Vautour.  “If the value of the object or furniture is low, then get rid of it and upgrade.”

Do You Love It?

That chair that you fell in love with at a chic furniture store.  The rug you shipped back from your Moroccan vacation.  The throw pillow that always makes you smile.  If there’s something in your living room that you absolutely adore, hold on to it.  Incorporating things that are meaningful to you is what will make your new living room feel like home.


Can You Tweak It?

If you love the shape of your almost-new sofa but hate the color, consider having it reupholstered.  If the milk-paint finish on your rustic coffee table won’t work with your more sophisticated design plans, maybe you can have it sanded and refinished in a glossy cherry or mahogany.  “Older tables, chests or any case good can be brought back to life with new lamps, mirrors or a coat of paint,” says interior designer Jamie Vaultour.  “And upholstered pieces can easily be updated with a new fabric.”

Ultimately, these changes are worthwhile only if you love the shape of the piece, or if it’s in the otherwise-excellent condition.  If you were never that crazy about that coffee table, or if the springs on the couch are shot, it may be better (easier, snazzier and more economical) to shop for something new.

Budgeting Your Living Room Remodel

So, just how much is that living room renovation going to cost?  The answer to that question ranges from a few thousand dollars for a paint job and new flooring to a few hundred thousand dollars for major construction and magazine-worthy interior design.  But whether you are planning to give your space a minor facelift or a major overhaul, it’s important t know how much things are going to cost before the first demolition sledgehammer is swung.  Otherwise, you could run out of money midway through the project.

To start honing in on a realistic budget for the changes you have in mind, go back to the wish list you’ve created for your renovation and prioritize it into “musts,” “maybes” and “someday down the line.”  Then do some research about how much each element – or at least the “musts”- might cost.

Consult the Pros

To find realistic numbers for architecture, construction and design services, talk to a few professionals you might consider working with.  Share your ideas for the project and ask them how much their service for such a plan might run and how much you can expect to spend on materials and subcontractors’ work, as well.  Remember that after you’ve paid your designer to find the perfect fabric for your sofa, you’ll have to pay for the fabric as well as the upholsterer’s time and talent.  Talk to a few different pros so that you have a sense of how prices might vary.

Remember the Rugs

As for decoration, says interior designer Jamie Vautour, “Create a spreadsheet and prioritize the ‘must-have’ items, like the sofa that is an investment or the chandelier you’ve been coveting, and then work around that.  And be sure to put in a contingency line item in for those amazing finds or extras you for