“Modern.” Has a more ambiguous word ever existed? Tell someone you’re dreaming of a modern living room and it’ll evoke sleek leather sofas and Barcelona chairs for some, while for others it will conjure up classic furniture paired with fresh, neutral colors. Even more confusing? They’re both right on the money.
In truth, the beauty of modern design is that there are no hard and fast rules. A modern space can lean whichever way your passion lies—be it mid-century modern, classic-leaning, or cool contemporary. In an effort to capture the essence of the modern living room (no small feat, trust us!), we’ve broken down three different takes on the term. This is how modern day living is done.
MID-CENTURY MODERN LIVING ROOM
The Vibe: The ‘60s are back, but not in a tie-dye kind of way. Take those flower power decals and kiss ‘em goodbye. This modern reboot is big on earthy neutrals, dig-your-fingers-in-deep textiles, and organic-shaped furniture mixed with pieces sporting strong, clean lines.
The Essentials: When it comes to making a mid-century modern living room feel current, there’s no better place to start than boxy furniture clad in simple materials like leather, linen, and tanned woods. Punch things up with blips of chrome and brass, whether it be through a sculptural lighting piece or brass accents, and for texture, layer in chunky pieces of pottery and nubby textiles that have a refined edge.
If You Only Have One Item to Make the Room: An Eames lounge chair and ottoman. Drop an Eames lounger into a vintage modern living room and it labels you as someone schooled in all things mid-century. Graceful and swanky, this design classic exudes modernity while maintaining a thoroughly ‘60s aesthetic. Consider it an investment piece, and rest easy knowing that it’ll stick by your side through the wax and wane of trends (not that we think mid-century modern is going anywhere. Like ever). Black leather is classic, but there’s something undeniably sleek about this iconic design done up in white leather.
CLASSIC MODERN LIVING ROOM
The Vibe: A Jane Austen character walks into a modern day penthouse and dresses it in the elegant silhouettes of her youth. Her modern day concessions come in the form of a muted color scheme, metallic flourishes, and a heavy-handed application of the contemporary art finds she’s collected on weekend jaunts through her favorite galleries.
The Essentials: When you consider that the classic modern living room is one that nods to tradition while opting for modern simplicity, styling one becomes as easy as checks and balances. To start, cast elegant classics like roll-arm chairs, chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling drapes in a starring role. Then, with the traditional stage set, usher in a modern theme with contemporary art, minimalist lamps, and luscious, silk rugs decked out in simple prints. While the look might sound disjointed, a shared sense of sophistication will ensure that the traditional and modern elements hit it off without a hitch.
If You Only Have One Item to Make the Room: Abstract art. If you have a room that’s teetering on stodgy, introduce a piece of abstract art to hit the refresh button. Keep in mind that there’s no need to look for art that’s overly edgy here. A simple black and white abstract will feel surprisingly avant-garde when used among traditional furnishings.
CONTEMPORARY MODERN LIVING ROOM
The Vibe: Minimalism gets upgraded to luxury status thanks to sumptuous textiles and textures. Think of a contemporary modern living room as one with sculptural silhouettes and plushy textiles steering the focus away from the hard angles.
The Essentials: Because the contemporary modern living room is built on minimalist principles, look for furniture with strikingly sculptural notes. Ground things with a neutral rug, be it a solid-colored silk carpet or something with an all-over geometric print and then layer in those glam touches that are so 21st century: brass, chrome, natural stone, velvet. Finally, when it comes to furniture placement, employ the power of symmetry sparingly. Consider doubling up on table lamps or side tables, but pieces like accent chairs should be treated as mini-moments unto themselves to really let those sculptural details shine. Nothing sells a living room as contemporary modern like an edited approach.
If You Only Have One Item to Make the Room: Brass and glass coffee table. Minimalist yet classic, the brass and glass coffee table is contemporary design reduced to a single foundational piece. Use one of these luxe tables to set a contemporary modern living room up for success, as you’ll be able to riff off both its glamorous and minimalist notes.
YOUR MODERN LIVING ROOM CHECKLIST!
Craving modernity but not sure if any of the above scenarios suit your style? No problem. Pick and choose characteristics from the list below to give your space a quick modern re-charge.
Metallic Notes – Nothing perks up a room like a jolt of metallic running through the space. We love chrome, but use brass or copper to hit a warmer note.
Textural Textiles – Warm up your space with touchy-feely textiles. Long gone is the notion that modern means sterile and cold, so say hello to must-touch materials like chunky knits and seagrass-covered walls.
Velvet – Regal yet perfectly down-to-earth, velvet is hands–down the fabric of the new millennia. It’s slight incandescent quality makes it pitch-perfect for mixing with metallic, while its durability earns it more than just style points.
Sedated Rugs – It’s all about tone-on-tone pattern these days, which infuses just the subtlest hint of something going on underfoot without drawing the eye away from those sexy side tables. Ground your room with a rug that’s soothing in both color and print.
Clever Furniture Arrangements – Two chairs placed across from a sofa will fuel conversation, but the arrangement can sometimes feel a bit less than novel. To hit the refresh, try using a bench or chaise across from your sofa, then anchor the sides with chairs. We guarantee the look will wake up even the most tired of eyes.
Lead photo by Rikki Snyder, Courtesy of Raji RM & Associates