Architectural designer Hugo Tugman shows how to achieve a functional and stylish living room or lounge with his expert advice on getting the balance right.

Function and focus

The first thing to do when considering what you want from your living room is to think through what you will be doing in the space and how it will be used. Will it function as an entertaining space only? Or as a room to relax and read in? Perhaps you need a multi-functional area for family and friends to enjoy?

How you want to use the room will dictate what its focal point will be. The living room is usually where the TV is placed, but often you don’t want it to be the central focus. Alternative focal points could be a fireplace with a mirror or artwork over the mantelpiece, a large window to frame the view of the garden, or seating for interaction between the family.

Think about connections

Once you have defined what you want your living room to be functionally, as well as having decided its focal point, you can then decide if the room should be isolated or connected to other rooms.

This requires a certain amount of self-analysis, so think about how you are you going to live in the room, and to what extent you want a separate sanctuary to escape from household life. You may wish to isolate the room for other people. For example, the separate room may be a space where teenagers can watch TV and play computer games with their friends while the adults remain reasonably undisturbed in the kitchen or dining room.

On the other hand, you may want a more open-plan space where the kitchen, dining and living areas overlap. This layout often allows for more family interaction (particularly when there are young children) and can have the benefit of making the entire space seem larger.

Often, the solution is a combination of both, where rooms have been linked by knocking them through, but still have a defined living space. Double doors, folding doors or even large sliding doors can provide the option to link or close off areas.

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Design the layout

Once you have identified the functional needs and focus of the room and settled on its connection or relationship to adjacent rooms or areas, you can think about how the space will be laid out.

At this stage it is important to consider how people will move in and out and within the space so that you can decide where it’s best to place the furniture.

If the room doubles up as the main route through to the garden, or is a space in which people will travel between the kitchen and dining room, you can use open shelving or storage units as screens to provide partial separation.

Or, why not consider zoning the room (using the position of the furniture) to define a circulation route that does not run through the seating or TV area? For example, in an open-plan space, you may choose to use furniture to delineate the living room area. Sofas, especially if they are L-shaped, can be used effectively to mark out the boundaries of a living room.

Where you position furniture will also depend on your choice of focal point. If a large window looking out onto the garden is the main focal point, the seating should be placed to take in the view, thus creating a comfortable space to relax in.

Remember to consider storage solutions in your design. Bench or banquette seating along one wall of your living room can incorporate storage for DVDs and home entertainment gadgets, while providing additional seating. If you are going for a contemporary design in a Victorian or Edwardian house, a stone-topped plinth about 45cm above the floor level across the whole of the fireplace wall, with storage beneath for logs and kindling, can act as the hearth for a contemporary square recessed fireplace.

Consider the lighting

A living room can have many different functions, so the key to good lighting is variety and variability. With artificial lighting, for example, it is often useful to have several different sources of light. Controlling many of these on a dimmer switch or lighting system will enable you to set the appropriate task or mood lighting in the different zones.

Using a 5A ring circuit (which will require 5A pin sockets, designed for small round pins) can allow you to operate several table lamps and floorstanding lamps around the room from the light switch or dimmer, which can be effective and efficient.

Lights can be very stylish design features. A pendant light can look striking in a traditionally symmetrical room with a chimney breast, while a long-stemmed arching floorstanding lamp can be a visual feature and have flexibility of position.

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