Ideas for Decorating Our Long, Narrow Living Room (Part I)

Right now, our living room (which we call our ‘keeping room,’ since originally that’s what it was – the combined kitchen and living area of the colonial house with its giant fireplace) is a mish-mosh of things we’ve bought, furniture that we purchased with the house, hand-me-downs and items from our old apartment. Altogether, it’s a bit of a mess! Now, I’m trying to decide on what to keep, what to get rid of, what to purchase and what colors to incorporate.

So far, we’ve made some progress in this room. Here it is before we moved in:

And here it is now:

Thus far we’ve re-finished the floors, painted the woodwork a light gray-blue and the walls a matte putty-colored white.

The only things I’ve specifically bought for this room are the couch and the rugs. We love the couch, which is incredibly comfy, but the rugs … not so much. I’ve had probably five different rugs in here to try, and haven’t liked any of them. This is a nice vintage rug layered over a larger jute rug, but it’s just too dark and too much navy for the space.

Here’s what needs to be done in this room:

It’s a lot! Folks never talk about the measurements, but measurements are everything in design. If it’s not proportional, it’s just not right. And this room doesn’t work because it is full of out-of-proportion too-dark furniture and rugs. This room is so narrow that it also poses a lot of challenges as far as finding pieces that work in the space.

For example, here you can get an idea of how crowded it currently is in our reading nook, where the chair is just too large for where it’s located:

The Eames chair was a craigslist find from our old apartment. It actually looks pretty good in here, but for being wedged in. It really is a timeless piece of furniture, and I will certainly use it elsewhere in the house (but not here).

The coffee table is vintage from my in-laws. It is also too large and dark for the space.

We purchased the spool chairs with the house. They’re very comfy, proportions work, but the fabric is old, worn, and not right for this space.

Finding a rug that works in here is so rough.  For the living space, the maximum rug width we can have is 8’4”, but the length needs to be around 12’ to be sure that the rug extends about a foot on each side from the (GIANT)  hearth. Not a standard size for a rug, so not easy to find anything but handmade vintage or a custom-bound piece of carpet. Both options are pricey and tough to ‘try out’ since most places don’t take returns of vintage rugs (and no one takes returns of something you’ve had custom bound around the edges).

While we love the couch, the sectional only extends about 18”, but a table needs to be between 40” and 60” to be useful from the couch. This means a narrow, bench-like coffee table or a long oval coffee table would be ideal. Not so easy to find! Then add in the fact that a coffee table should be shorter than 18”, because the couch sits low. On top of THAT, coffee tables are one of my least favorite furniture items ever, so, yeah, it’s challenging. For real, I don’t know how I can love dining tables so much and find so many amazing ones, but not be able to find the same styles in smaller scales for coffee tables (incidentally, the opposite is true of chairs and bar stools – chairs are the most fantastic pieces of furniture out there, but barstools, with their extended sizes, are mostly nightmares. Mostly.).

It might also be nice to have an upholstered ottoman with a tray to use as a coffee table, because we’d be able to put our feet on it from the spool chairs or the couch, and stick a tray on it for coffee-table purposes. But that is a LOT of upholstery, between the couch, two chairs, and the ottoman, plus any pattern on a rug, plus pillows. There’s a reason you don’t see so much upholstery in one room – outside of my paternal grandma’s matching living room set, obviously (my maternal grandma would have DIED before buying a ‘set,’ which would have been tantamount to admitting she liked any one pattern enough to buy more than one thing done in it). It is HARD to match so many different fabrics and not have it look ‘grandma.’ Don’t get me wrong, I like my ‘grandma-chic’ frilly French sofas and worn-in coziness, but it’s harder to pull off than it looks.

So, I’ve been working for an (embarrassingly) long time to come up with better options for this room. Tune in Wednesday to help me decide what works and doesn’t work!