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Modern living room ideas: How to decorate in a modern style

If you're thinking of restyling your living room, a modern décor is often a good choice if you want to create a simple yet sophisticated space without needing to completely overhaul your interior.

This look is more straightforward to achieve than others, as well as being adaptable if you want to retain some of your current features. However, there are some things to consider when decorating in a modern style, so it's better to have a good idea of what to expect before starting your project.

We intend for this guide to give you a good overview of the key features of a modern living room. We’ve also shared some modern living room ideas so you can get inspired ahead of your own redecorating project.

What is modern living room design?

When someone talks about creating a modern décor today, they're usually referring to an interior that is deeply indebted to one of the most popular styles of the 20th century.

The modern trend emerged around the beginning turn of the century and grew to prominence between the 1920s and 1950s. It was influenced by German Bauhaus and Scandinavian design, as well as the modern art movement that was sweeping galleries around the world at the time.

Modern decorators looked to abandon the frills and non-essential detailing of past generations, and assume a sleeker, less formal look, where all furnishing and decoration should reflect its purpose. If the element did not serve any practical function, then it was removed from the décor.

Though the look still remains popular itself, the modern style was a precursor to other interior trends that are current today, including mid-century modern, minimalist, and postmodern interiors.

Modern vs contemporary: What's the difference?

Modern and contemporary are often used interchangeably to describe interiors, however, there is a difference: a modern décor is the 20th century look we've just covered, while a contemporary room is decorated to reflect current popular design trends.

Contemporary décor is a more fluid style that evolves as trends shift. Typically, these rooms incorporate influences from a few different looks, so it's not uncommon to find a few modern elements within a contemporary space. However, you'll likely find them alongside features from other styles for a more eclectic look.

What are the key elements of modern living room design?

When it comes to planning your modern living room, it's important to be aware of the key elements that go into making up a modern style décor. There are a few golden rules to stick to:

Simplicity over complexity: Modern interiors shun any kind of fussiness or clutter, instead opting for more modest, simple designs that serve a practical purpose.

Emphasis on horizontal and vertical lines: A modern space will be full of clean horizontal and vertical lines, particularly with furniture, and will have distinct lack of curves. This helps to define the space and give it a cohesive look.

Natural is best: In a modern décor, there is a preference for natural-look features, which includes incorporating materials like wood, metals, and natural fibers, maximizing the levels of natural light, and opting for neutral colors.

Though these golden rules apply across the entire interior, it is possible to take a closer look at some aspects in more detail, which we've done below.

Color schemes for a modern living room

For a modern living room, by far and away the biggest trend when choosing a color scheme is the use of a neutral palette. This is because colors like white, beige, and gray offer a clean and simple look, which is in keeping with modern design philosophy.

However, if you overdo it with these neutrals, you can run the risk of turning your living room into a bland space with little life or personality to it. Getting it right requires you to strike a balance by choosing complementing colors that unify your space but still express character.

When you're choosing your main neutral shade, keep in mind:

The level of natural light your living room receives: Choosing a darker neutral in a room that gets little natural light will make the space seem smaller and less open, which is the opposite to the feeling you want to create within a modern décor.
The size of your living room: Again, a darker neutral will make the walls of a smaller space feel closer, so you should consider generating a more open feel with a lighter shade.
The undertones of your preferred color: Remember that, even though they're "without color", many neutrals have undertones that may or may not work with other colors.
Your personal preference: Putting practicalities aside, it's important that you still choose a neutral color that is in line with your own tastes.

There are two main ways of working with neutral colors:

Using neutrals as a backdrop for eye-catching accents

If you want to create a modern living room with pops of vivid color or patterning here and there, then decorating with neutral color as a backdrop is the way to go. When you're choosing your main neutral, keep in mind which accent colors you want to use, as you'll need to pick one that complements them.

Accent colors can be incorporated in quite a few different ways:

Statement pieces: You can use these to make a big impression with a bold statement wall, sofa, or chairs, which will ensure your modern interior has a focal point.
Soft furnishings: Picking out some soft furnishings in your chosen accent color is a great way to work in some character without making drastic changes. Throws and throw pillows are two easy but effective ways to add some character to your modern interior.
Flooring or carpet: If you're adding some flooring or carpet to your interior, consider opting for some in your chosen accent color to bring balance to the room. A bright or patterned rug is a good way to get a similar effect if you have a plain floor.
Artwork: If you have some artwork in mind to hang from your wall or display, it can be a great way to work in matching accent colors, as well as providing a conversation piece.
Light fixtures: Your light fixtures are another outlet for adding your preferred accent color, so be sure to take this into consideration.

Using layered neutrals for a classic look

Another way of decorating in a modern style with neutrals is by building up a layered look with similar hues of your chosen color. While it's possible to be too monochromatic, you can create an elegant, classic look with shades of the same family if matched correctly.

The key to decorating in this understated style is using the color wheel to find complementing hues. Most paint brands will have a color matching system with their own paints included, so you should be able to pick out the ideal sister shades to layer up around your chosen base neutral.

One way to go would be to choose a base neutral in a lighter shade for your walls, then contrast it mildly with a sofa and chairs upholstered in a slightly darker color. You can then add a rug or carpet in a complementing hue to build some depth to your room. Finish the look off with soft furnishings, like throws and throw pillows, as well as artwork and other accessories in similar shades.

Textures and materials for a modern living room

In addition to color, the ambiance of your modern living room will be defined by the textures on show. They play a key role in building depth and personality within a modern space, especially those with a neutral color scheme. While there is plenty of room to work in a variety of textures, there are a few materials that are typical of modern design:

Metallic elements

Adding metallic elements to a living room can help to build the sleek, sophisticated look associated with modern décor. Silver metals, such as stainless steel and chrome, are classic choices. Not only do they look the part, but their shiny surfaces can help natural light bounce around the space, another important element of modern design.

There are a few ways you can work metallic elements into your modern living room. You could work in a centerpiece, such as hanging a silver mirror or placing a glass and steel coffee table in the middle of your floor. An easy way to do it is to incorporate decorative metallic accents, such as a lamp, vase, or photo frame, or by opting for metal fittings, like light switches, sockets, and door handles.

Raw wood

Another popular element to add to a modern living room is a raw wood texture, which is in keeping with the style's no-fuss ideals. Unfinished wooden surfaces can also add an element of earthiness that can help to ground an otherwise airy room, lending it some levity.

One of the most common ways to add raw wood to your living room is through floorboards, though it really depends on whether you already have suitable boards or are willing to have them installed.

Other opportunities to display this material present themselves in your furniture, with coffee and side tables two of the most popular pieces. Unfinished or reclaimed wood tables can add an accent of modern rusticism without overpowering the space.

Natural materials

With an emphasis on unadornment and practicality, it's little surprise that natural materials are used heavily in modern spaces, especially through furniture and soft furnishings.

Furniture upholstered in fabrics like herringbone wool and linen is a good choice — these fabrics look and feel great, as well as offering the benefits of being woven with natural fibers, including breathability, durability, and being hypoallergenic. A modern sofa or chair design covered in one of these fabrics is sure to make a fantastic addition to your living room, so bear this in mind when you're shopping for your furniture.

Some people may be tempted to overlook leather as a modern upholstery choice, owing to its traditional heritage. However, this material is actually very fitting for a modern space, providing an elegant and understated look, and many functional benefits. As an unfussy and practical material, leather is actually a great choice for this style of room.

If you would like further advice on choosing a sofa or chair in a natural material, it's also worth reading our leather and fabric sofa buying guides.

Furniture for a modern living room

Your choice of furniture for your modern living room will play a huge role in defining the look of your space, so it's important that you choose pieces that match the aesthetics of the style.

Some of the hallmarks of modern furniture are:

A low profile: A modern living room needs to look spacious, so most furniture features a fairly low profile to emphasize the open space between the floor and the ceiling. This extra negative space also allows a modern décor to flow seamlessly when viewed.
Clean lines and a lack of curves: Modern furniture is all about clean lines, so look for pieces with an uncomplicated outline. Try to avoid items with bulky cushions or curved surfaces, instead going for straight-edged pieces that will allow add simple definition to your room.
An understated look: The look of your furniture should be understated and without the type of embellishment that distracts your gaze from moving from line to line and appreciating the room as a whole. Choosing modestly designed pieces will ensure your space doesn't become too visually cluttered.
Natural materials: Selecting furniture that makes use of natural materials will enhance the unfussy and practical atmosphere you want your modern décor to create.
Reflective surfaces: Modern living rooms should make the most of natural light, so plenty of reflective surfaces and accents will help to maximize the level of light in the room.  Plus, metallic and mirrored elements always look spacious, sleek, and clean, which are certainly vibes that you should be aiming for.

Sofas and chairs

One of the first things you're likely to consider for your modern living room is which sofa and chairs will work with the style. This is especially important to get right as they will likely be the largest items of furniture in your living room and will be a huge influence on how the space comes together. And, in addition to picking a sofa and chairs that look the part, you need to make sure that they are comfy, supportive, and well-made so that you can actually enjoy sitting and relaxing on them.

You'll want to seek out modern sofas and chairs that match the aesthetic that you're going for. Look for low-back sofas and low-back chairs to ensure a low-profile, while also avoiding those that have too much extra cushioning, rounded elements, or extra embellishments. Stick to these guidelines and you're sure to find a sofa that matches the understated modern look.

Alternatively, if you're looking to work in a statement sofa, go for a more timeless design that will still work within a modern décor. In particular, a Chesterfield sofa or chair is a great choice due to its enduring appeal and ability to match a variety of styles. What's more, the majority of these sofas maintain a low-profile and straight back, so they won't look out of place in your modern space.

Be sure to read our guide to spotting a quality Chesterfield to get expert advice on what to look for when shopping for one of these sofas.

If you're working with a more compact living room, you can maximize the floorspace in your room by choosing a modern sectional sofa that will allow you to maintain the openness needed for your décor to work. Be sure to read our guide to small living rooms for more advice.

Coffee table

Should you decide to include a coffee table in your modern sitting room, it's important to remember what the hallmarks of modern furniture are, as they should influence your choice. Also, don't forget the general rules of picking a coffee table: it should be as high as the seat of your sofa and it should be approximately two-thirds of the length.

Soft furnishings

Bringing in some soft furnishings to your modern living room can be a great way to add extra personality to your space. We've already mentioned that those with an interesting texture can help to build a sense of depth to make your room feel bigger, as well as providing the ideal outlet to work accent colors into your décor. And, there are plenty of options for soft furnishings in your home:

Drapes: Your window dressings are a great place to accessorize your living room but be careful to steer clear of heavy drapes as they will act as light blockers and disrupt the clean lines in your space. Light drapes or semi-transparent blinds are a good choice that will allow light through but won't dominate your window space.
Scatter cushions: Placing some throw pillows on your sofa and chairs will allow you to add color and texture to your sitting area. You will also have flexibility to add a pop of color against neutral upholstery or work in neutrals against a statement piece.
Throws: Like throw pillows, throws can add color and texture to your seating in accent or neutral colors. And, if you choose a natural material, such as a wool throw, you can ensure your accessories match the philosophy of modern design.
Rugs: An area rug placed in your living room is a great place to work in some modern style, expand your color scheme, and give your floorspace some definition. Positioning furniture, like a sofa or coffee table, on top of your rug can also create depth.
Footstool: Accessorizing your sofa and chairs with a footstool allows you to extend their look even further across your living room.

Storage options

When you spend a lot of time in your living room, it's easy for it to build up a cast of loose items, like remote controls, books, and DVDs. To ensure that your modern living room looks as sleek and spacious as possible, it's important that you minimize the level of clutter on show.

The easiest way to do this is by including some storage within your living room. There are plenty of solutions to this problem, ranging from adding a bookshelf for your favorite novels to investing in an ottoman with storage to keep loose items hidden from sight.

You also need to hide away any loose electrical cables to ensure they don't disrupt your space visually. Take the time to position your tech so that cords aren't on show or use cable tidies to bind them together out of sight. If this isn't possible, it might be worth looking at how they can be secured to the unit or a wall.

The modern living room layout

One of the biggest factors influencing the modern style is a sense of openness, something that is heavily dependent on how you arrange your room. Leaving enough space between each item is the key to making sure your living room doesn't look too cluttered, so keep this in mind when you're planning. You can also place pieces so that their clean lines match up, making it easier for the eye to effortlessly glide over the room, which will reinforce the sense of relaxed spaciousness.

Lighting for a modern living room

Lighting plays a huge role in a modern style living room. While artificial light can be used to create the right ambience at the end of the day, it's natural light that will help to define your décor. A room with plentiful access to natural light will seem more open and airy, which is exactly the effect you need to highlight the beauty of your space.

Here are a few ways that you can maximize natural light in your living room:

Decorate with lighter neutrals: We've mentioned how neutral colors are the palette of choice for modern living rooms, and a big part of this is because they do a much better job of reflecting light around, especially paint with a satin finish.
Add reflective surfaces: Your paint doesn't have to be the only reflector, so be sure to work in some metallic, mirrored, or glass surfaces into your décor. Try hanging up a stylish mirror or adding glass or metal accessories. Every little bit helps!
Choose polished flooring: If you choose stone, wood, or ceramic flooring with a polished finish, then it will act as a reflector and help light get around the space.
Check your windows: You should ensure that your windows are clean and letting in as much light as possible. Also, pay attention to any foliage or objects that might be blocking the sun.
Consider renovating: If you've got the budget and you're thinking about remodeling your living room, you could look at ways to install larger windows to let in as much light as possible. Skylights and sun tunnels are options for windowless living rooms.

If your living room struggles to get natural light, it's possible to set your electric lights up so they can assist. This means you can still create that bright and open feel modern décors are known for.

Look for the locations around your living room where the natural light doesn't reach, like dark corners and alcoves, and think about installing side lights or positioning a lamp in them. You could even add daylight bulbs to your lamps that simulate the real thing.

Consider installing dimmer switches in your lighting system, as you'll then be able to gradually alter brightness as the levels of natural light vary through the day. They're also useful in the evening when you want a softer light setting available.

Art and ornaments for a modern living room

Though one of the principles of modern décor is to keep clutter to a minimum, there is definitely room for a few carefully chosen pieces of art and ornaments in your space. They're a great way of adding accent colors, building detail and depth, and injecting some personality into your room.

If you're thinking of hanging an artwork, there's a whole world of modern art to choose from in almost every size, shape, and color. And, it's quite easy to visit a gallery or shop online for a print that you love. However, we appreciate that modern art is not to everyone's tastes, so you'll be glad to know that almost any bold artwork that complements the colors in your room will work.

We hope that this guide has given you some valuable modern living room ideas, as well as some useful advice for your own project. If you keep the principles of modern design in mind and apply them to your color scheme, textures, furniture, lighting, and art choices, you should have a lot of success.

Here at Sofas by Saxon, we specialize in handmade furniture, including modern sofas, chairs, sectional sofas, and footstools. And, if you have a particular style in mind, we can help you achieve your vision through our custom furniture serviceget in touch with our team to find out more.

We make all of our furniture by hand in our UK workshop before shipping it to you in the US, so you know you're getting a real, genuine piece of British furniture. Just take a look at our international delivery FAQ to get started.