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neutral living roo with cream sofa and suede paint effect on walls

Neutral Living Room Decorating Ideas: Styling to Soothe, Not Snooze

I’ve been getting into subdued spaces of late; really analysing what makes one neutral room read as cold and sterile but another read as warm and inviting. I’m redecorating my living room at the moment and am going to be using a lot of the ideas here in my own space. So I thought I’d take you along for the ride.

I want to give you some hints, tips and inspiration to make your living room a stunner too, whether you’re starting from scratch or just looking for some smaller updates that’ll take the space next-level.

This post follows on from my recent neutral bedroom decorating ideas post, which I’d suggest you line up to read after this one. Because a home should always have design cohesion. If you’re creating the neutral living room of your dreams, it stands to reason that your bedroom should also feel the same way.

Enjoy all of these neutral living room decorating idea and I’ll see you in the comments at the end of the post.

tribe home white and grey diamond rug in neutral living room with concrete effect wall

Try a Non-White Wall, I Beg You

So many people have white walls in their living room and then try to introduce interest through furniture. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Many of the ideas in this post showcase neutral living rooms with that approach in mind.

But you can adopt the opposite strategy and enjoy a phenomenal (and often better) result. Splashing your walls with a soothing tone like soft grey or dusty beige can bring a sense of depth to the space, allowing you to layer furniture on top in lighter tones. 

Take the concept a step further by applying a textured paint effect and you’ve achieved peak designer status. If you look at the image above via Tribe Home, you’ll see what I mean. Isn’t that light grey suede effect doing incredible things to the walls? It makes the whole room feel way moodier than a plain white wall would.

Here are some neutral paint colour ideas for the walls of your living room if you need.

globewest dark charcoal sofa in neutral living room with beige rug and timber tables

Embrace the Beauty of Timber

This week I took you through the top interior design trends of 2021 and the Earthy Organic Trend was a big one. It’s all about bringing a sense of nature into our homes to counteract all the technology that’s in our lives right now. And this neutral decorating idea plays into that concept as well.

Not only is nature in the home a good way to make you feel more grounded, but it does wonders to a space like a neutral living room. All too often I see living rooms where the sofa is beige, the TV unit is white melamine, the coffee table is white marble and the side table is glass. That is a lot of cold material in the one zone.

Introducing some warmer pieces of furniture into your living room is the solution to this problem. The space above from Globewest showcases this idea perfectly. How stunning is the timber coffee and side table? Throw in a timber occasional chair and you have yourself a neutral living room that still feels serene and easy on the eye.

brown sofa in neutral living room with round marble coffee table

Showcase a Darker Piece of Furniture

If you’re keen on keeping a white wall, I’m not hatin’. White walls are easy to work with and can certainly make a room feel light and ethereal. Where things can go horribly wrong is when the walls are white and then the furniture and rugs are light as well. 

Decorating a living room like this creates the opposite effect of what you were hoping to achieve. You tried to create this soothing escape, but instead it feels cold and clinical. Nurse Ratched is on the way to administer your lobotomy – run! 

To keep the straight jacket at bay, it’s a nice idea to bring in a darker piece of furniture, like the gorgeous sofa in the room above via Bemz. Neutral doesn’t mean all-white, it means void of colour. If we’re going to accept white and black as a neutral, we gotta welcome brown with open arms as well. 

Bonus Tip: If you have a brown sofa, try pairing it with beige rug and oak coffee table. It’s a better to have three pieces in varying shades of the same colour rather than a dark sofa and then all-white everything else.

tribe home neutral living room with subtle patterned rug and large block sofa

Look for a Rug with Subtle Detail

Every room needs a focal point; the show-stopping moment that draws your eye when you walk into the space. Even in a neutral living room, you still gotta have a focal point. Don’t be thinking that a calm room should be void of one; it’s a common trap people fall into.

Of course, on the flip side, you don’t want to over-stimulate the senses. The beauty of a neutral living room is that it’s a relaxing escape, so you gotta walk that fine line. How do you bring in interests while still keeping the overall vibe soothing?

A floor rug is the answer. Or more specifically, a floor rug with some subtle detail in it. When I say detail, I don’t mean pattern exclusively. Sometimes the texture or pile in a rug can create a subtle pattern of its own. In short, avoid a plain white or grey rug and you’re onto a winner.

The rug above from Tribe Home is the perfect illustration of what I mean. It’s got quite a detailed pattern to it, and it definitely captures your attention, but it doesn’t feel overbearing. Imagine if that white sofa was on a plan rug. Snooooze-ville!

neutral living room with books on picture ledge and black coffee table

Introduce Colour Through Small Decor

The best neutral living rooms are packed with colour. It’s just that you don’t tend to notice it because the tone is turned right down. I’m not talking pure, vivid colour; it’s all about subtle shades. If you introduce this into your neutral living room I promise you it’ll look a thousand times better than if the space was all-white.

Bring the colour in through smaller pieces though, not large ones. Keep things like sofas, rugs and tables fairly subdued and then layer smaller decor over the top in tones like muddy brown and orange, or a hint of dusty blue or green. The devil is in the detail when it comes to decorating any living room, but it’s even more crucial when the room in question is neutral.

The image above via Bemz is a lovely example of a neutral living room where there is a hint of colour in moments like cushions, a vase, and the covers of books and magazines. It adds interests but by no means is it overwhelming (and the room still reads as neutral).

space exploration neutral luxe living room with marble dining table and round coffee table

Rock a Dramatic Black Moment

Neutral living rooms aren’t all-white affairs; you know you’ve gotta embrace beige and grey and other soothing tones. But, to really turn up the sense of drama (and to make the living room feel more refined) I encourage you to rock a big black moment. Bonus points if you introduce interesting shapes as well.

It could be through a tabletop, a sofa, or even an artwork against a crisp white wall. It makes the room feel more high-contrast, for sure, but it doesn’t stop it from being neutral. It just means it reads as less serene and a bit more high-impact. That’s a good thing though, because not everyone is trying to rock that boho-coastal vibe. Many of you might want things to feel more luxe.

In fact, one of my 2021 interior design predictions is a look I’m calling Neutral Luxe and it’s very in-keeping with the room above via Space Exploration Design. Very neutral, but very chic. It screams sophistication, don’t you think?

Also notice the stunning light fixtures. It’s still a neutral room but boy does it feel sleek and curated.

neutral living room with beige sofa and black coffee table

Ramp Up Soft Textures 

It doesn’t matter what season it is, or how hot or cold the living room is; if the approach to colour is neutral then you have to ramp up soft textures in the space. A plush rug on the floor, oodles of cushions on your sofa and throws galore will certainly help prevent the space from feeling empty and uninviting.

Also make sure you vary the materials. You don’t want just velvet cushions on the sofa or just linen ones. You want to rock a medley of materials in a variety of neutral tones. If you opt to rock just one material, the whole look can feel flat and the vibe of the space can fall apart before your very eyes.

The more textures a room has, the more welcoming it feels. And of course it’s good to look outside of just soft textures. They’ll do a lot of the job for you, but look at other ways to showcase different materials too.

The space above via Bemz does soft textures wonderfully. We have hard and soft, matt and gloss, rough and smooth. You want all of that in your neutral living room.

bemz ikea sofa covers white sofa in beige living room with organic wall hanging

Showcase a Wacky, WTF Moment

I always encourage you to showcase your memories and keepsakes. I detail why here and show you tonnes of ideas to do it beautifully. But in short, your home is your home. It’s not your sibling’s home and it’s not your neighbours home. It has to be a true reflection of you.

Because neutral rooms can so easily delve into feeling flat or sterile, the need to introduce character increases dramatically. Out of all the neutral living room ideas in this post I’d say this is one of the most crucial. And the more out of left field the design moment is in the living room, the better.

It could be a wall hanging like the one above in the room from Bemz. Or it could be an interesting statue or ceramic that you made when you were younger. It might be a family heirloom or something you collected on travels overseas. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s a reflection of your personality and works in the space.

You want to avoid bright colours, of course, and patterned or textural elements will be very successful too.

Here’s a list of my fave kooky and unique decor finds to add personality to your space.

neutral living roo with cream sofa and suede paint effect on walls

How do you Make your Neutral Living Room a Stunner?

I’d be really keen to hear how you’ve kept your pared-back living room feeling exciting without it being overwhelming. It can be such a fine line to walk, but when it’s done right the space really shines.

Drop me a comment below and let me know what your go-to neutral living room ideas are. I’m sure other TLC blog readers will find it very informative.

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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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7 Responses

  1. The boxed in by one style comment resonates with me. A lot of my furniture living room has chrome legs so I feel I can’t do other metals such as brass or gold elsewhere. I’m scared of the lack of continuity. Are you saying it doesn’t matter? I can embrace other metal colours in other rooms?

    1. I always like to match metals. In a house with mostly silver, I wouldn’t throw in gold unless it was very intentionally and carefully done.

      If you’re talking completely separate rooms, you have some wiggle room. I like a whole house to be cohesive, but you can have rooms be more individual, it’s just harder to make it all work as a whole without feeling like you have a new theme in each room.

  2. Hi Chris,
    Love your site and get so much inspiration from you!
    With regards to the image above (at the beginning and end of the article with the grey wall and black lamp infront) How would be the best way to achieve this paint finish – been looking and lime wash or suede effect paint – what would you suggest?
    Thanks and keep making everyone smile and laugh!
    Renee x

  3. I really appreciate your post showing all the different living room furniture colors you can use with grey tinged walls. The townhouse I bought recently looks freshly painted in marble throughout so that is my starting point. I need to buy furniture and I was thinking that the wall color limited me to grey or cool tones, which I do not especially like. I like the warm tones of coffee latte and celery etc. When I saw the range of neutrals of the furnishings you used in this post it opened up so many possibilities and felt like the sky had opened up!
    Thanks Chris!

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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