8 Ways to Give a Traditional Living Room a Fresh and Modern Twist

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A soothing color scheme anchored by warm neutrals, dark wood furnishings, and ornate fabrics are just a few telltale signs of a traditional living room design. The iconic aesthetic, born in 18th century Europe, has reigned supreme for centuries, earmarking it as a truly timeless style. A traditional design scheme is as cozy as it is elegant. It champions symmetry, well-made furnishings, and a sense of cohesiveness. You won't find an eclectic mishmash of prints and colorful textiles commanding attention from one another but rather, a thoughtful combo of effortless elements.

When it comes to the living room, it's all about striking a delicate balance between comfort and style, one that will ultimately establish a rich and inviting feel. The decorative pieces you bring in may skew a bit classic but with modern touches, you can easily usher the look into the 21st century. Allow the inspired spots ahead to serve as proof.

1. Mix and match finishes.

Leather may be a particularly commonplace material in traditional living rooms but it doesn't necessarily have to be the center of attention. Instead of a large sectional or recliner, invest in a streamlined leather armchair, or two, and complement it with a linen-upholstered sofa just as Amber Lewis did in this cozy California home. Offset the dark, moody tones with off-white walls and matching textiles.

Get the look: Shoppe by Amber Interiors Riviera Sofa, $6,600

2. Keep the space mostly monochrome.

If you're looking to give the traditional a slightly modern touch, consider going for a near monochrome finish as Jute Home did in this California home. Design the space around a palette of muted neutrals —think a sofa upholstered in cream-colored linen, similarly toned textiles, and light wood furniture — and a pop of color like a blue area rug to complete the space.

Get the look: Merida Studio Ashe + Leandro Touro in Lapis, pricing upon request

3. Even out the decor.

Traditional living rooms are rooted in symmetry so it's important to make sure that both the furniture and accent pieces are evenly dispersed throughout the space. In this seating area by Kate Marker Interiors, sofas, lounge chairs, accent chests, and table lamps mirror each other, resulting in a balanced space that feels oh-so-relaxing.

Get the look: Redford House Furniture Arden Side Table, $876.88

4. Embrace period pieces.

Though it may not seem like it, traditional design can be quite versatile and isn't limited to a particular time period either. Take a cue from Paloma Contreras and elevate the aesthetic with an old-school spin that heavies up on chinoiserie, pastel hues, and plenty of Southern charm to boot.

Get the look: Spoonflower Euro Pillow Sham, $44

5. Embrace large-scale pieces.

Bulky furniture is yet another classic marker of traditional design. From grand sectionals to oversize coffee tables, these living room staples will often feature nail-head detailing and a wooden frame. Contrast the deeper tones with lighter fabrics, reserved for the pillows and throws, and a rug in a complementary shade of blue.

Get the look: Pottery Barn Ludlow Trunk With Stand End Table, $499

6. Paint the walls.

If you're all about inviting in a bit of drama, dark walls are the way to go. Offset the intensity with a whimsical assortment of textiles, just as St. Frank founder Christina Bryant did in her NYC apartment featured on A Cup of Jo. The finishing touch? A mustard velvet sofa with a traditional silhouette to truly emulate the aesthetic.

Get the look: Farrow & Ball Hague Blue

7. Cover the windows.

A traditional living room isn't complete without window treatments, and statement-worthy ones at that. Install curtain rods high up on the walls to create the illusion of taller ceilings, which will, in turn, make the space feel grand and elegant. Studio McGee's take on the concept came with matching off-white furniture and layered rugs that contribute to the room's coziness.

Get the look: Pottery Barn Custom Classic Belgian Linen Curtain in Dark Flax, starting at $46

8. Ground the color palette.

If you're not into the all-neutral combo, stick to a palette of earthy tones to create an inviting scene that feels fresh and new. This dreamy home by Heidi Caillier Design keeps things interesting with modern accents, such as the coffee table and edgy floor lamp, and warm pops of color found by way of the chairs, pillows, and area rugs.

Get the look: Mayotte Offset Floor Lamp, $1,149


Anna is a New York-based writer and editor with a penchant for travel, design, and interiors.

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