Reader SOS – Designing an Open Concept Living Room

I’m back with another “DIY Playbook, Save our Space”. My plan for #DIYPlaybookSOS is to take a reader’s space and (virtually) offer design tips and tricks on how to improve it.

Here are some old design problems I’ve solved during this series…

DIY Playbook save our space

I’m tackling a question from the sweetest reader, Debbie. She recently moved to North Carolina to be closer to her kids and moved into an adorable home. Here’s her question about her open concept living room.

Open Concept Living Room HelpOpen concept living room

This room has high ceilings and is very open. Between the wood floors and the high ceilings, it echoes in the room and it feels very cold, no warmth to the space at all.   I want this space to be warm and welcoming. The living room area is attached to the small kitchen eating area and the kitchen.
Reader SOS open concept living room
But I am in desperate need of what to do to decorate this big open space to make it cozy, warm and inviting. This space has a boring, plain wall with no fireplace and a huge plain wall opposite the fireplace wall and it has high ceilings. Reader SOS blank wall in living room
Reader SOS dining room space
Thanks for your help with my open concept living room! -Debbie

Debbie’s New Floor Plan

sos reader open concept living floor plan

We have all struggled with Debbie’s design challenge. How can we make an open space feel warm and inviting? The first step is to create zones…one for lounging and one for dining. For this space, I recommend changing the placement of the television by moving it to the opposite wall. Yep, we’re flipping the entire living room setup. Because this wall is so large and bare, it makes for the perfect spot to create an awesome entertainment center.

I would then use Debbie’s existing sofas (to save some cash!) and move them into an L-shape opening up into the dining and kitchen area. For additional seating, I suggest ottomans or poufs that can be moved around as needed. Since Debbie mentioned she has lots of kids, this would be great when everyone is over and wants to hang out. And as always, a large rug is always helpful when creating zones. But be sure to buy the right size (my guess is at least a 9×12 or larger in this room!).

This new layout also makes space for a larger dining table that will fit more of Debbie’s beautiful family.  Because this space has many rectangular features, I’d select a round or oval table to soften things. This is a gorgeous one that I think would work well. And, since the kitchen island has limited knee space and is so close to the dining room table, I’d forgo bar stools here. This also helps keep the walkways clear for moving between spaces on either side of the kitchen island.Gallery wall

Across from the dining table, I would place a credenza. It could hold dining essentials and act as a console for the entryway.  Above the credenza, I’d create a family gallery wall similar to the one in my mom’s bedroom.

Create a Focal Point

Another challenge frequently found in open space living is a surplus of large blank wall space. Filling that space can be difficult and expensive, especially if you’re looking to purchase large scale art. What the heck do you do with all of that space?!

For Debbie, it makes sense to add a built-in on the largest open wall in her space. This helps ground the living room area while also furthering the creation of zones.

Built-in focal point with electric fireplace feature.

Image via I Heart Organizing 

Debbie mentioned loving the warmth that a fireplace adds to a living space, but that she is limited by the structural elements of her new home. With this in mind, I’d recommend inserting an electric fireplace into the built-in feature (kind of like the DIY built-in from my friend Jen at iHeart Organizing). The television could be mounted above and the open shelving would provide ample opportunity to add personal touches to the space.

This project isn’t cheap but would make a big impact on the entire room. If this isn’t in the cards financially, a large media console with partially open bookcases (like this one) would also look great here. The built-in and credenza with the gallery wall will take up a good chunk of that huuuuuge wall space and make the entire room feel cozier and more balanced.

Master Cohesion with Color 

Now that we’ve got the furniture and layout down, it’s time for the fun part…the accessories!

The best way to make an open concept space feel cohesive is through the use of color and finishing touches. Finn would say for me that means incorporating white, black, gray, and more gray (although, I promise I’m doing more color in the new house!)! Debbie told me she loves color but is unsure of how to best incorporate that into a room. I know this is something a lot of you struggle with too.

Reader SOS inspiration new traditional living room

Image via Citizen Decor

amber interiors living room design inspo

Image via Amber Interiors

I recommend starting with a neutral palette and then working in 2-3 accent colors through rugs, art, and other accessories. For this space, it makes sense to keep the existing sofas because they are in good condition and when paired with other neutrals and mild accent colors, the blue will read as a vibrant neutral.

Image via Emily Henderson

I find that it’s helpful to select a rug early on in the design process and then move to curtains and pillows because it can be tricky to find a large scale and affordable rug option.  I envision a Persian style rug for the living room area (like this one!) that will subtly introduce other accent colors to the space. From there, I would select neutral curtains and accent seating. When working with neutral colors, I think it’s important to be mindful of texture. For example, in Debbie’s space, it makes sense to select a linen curtain instead of cotton or velvet as the subtle texture will complement the smoother texture of the sofa.

Finally, add colorful pillows, decor, and art.  I would subtly incorporate the same accent colors into the dining and kitchen space, as well, to ensure this large open concept room feels cohesive.

Shop The Look

Here are my product recs for Debbie. A subtle pop of color, lots of texture, and warmth for a cozy open concept living room.

reader sos open concept living mood board

Sofa || Coffee Table || Leather Poufs ||  Arm Chair || Rug || Curtains || Dining Room Table || Dining Chairs || Credenza || Art

Gallery Frames || Chandelier || Floor Lamp || Table Lamp || Vase || Ceramic Bowl || Ceramic Pot || Decorative Boxes ||

Floral Stems || Orange Pillow || Beige Pillow ||  Patterned Lumbar Pillow || Throw Blanket

Submit your Reader SOS

I always love hearing your design dilemmas. If you have a space you want me to tackle next, email [email protected] with the subject line “READER SOS”. Please include as many photos and information as possible. Can’t wait to read…


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.