Formal Living Room Ideas for Timeless Interior Design

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A formal living room is a space in a house that is used for entertaining guests and creating a sense of elegance and sophistication. It is typically located near the entrance of a house and is designed to impress visitors with its grandeur and beauty. We will explore formal living room ideas and provide some tips for designing your own, giving you endless inspiration when designing your living room.

History of Formal Living Rooms

The concept of a formal living room dates back to the 18th century when wealthy families began to build large homes with separate spaces for different activities. The formal living room was designed to receive guests and host social events. It was typically decorated with expensive furnishings and artwork and was meant to convey the status and taste of the homeowner.

An inset framed mirror is fixed to a black wall over a black fireplace mantel flanked by styled black built-ins.
Photo Credit: Kira David Design

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, formal living rooms became even more elaborate and ornate. They were often decorated in a specific style, such as Victorian or Art Deco, and were filled with luxurious fabrics, intricate woodwork, and decorative details. These rooms were a reflection of the homeowner’s wealth and social status and were designed to impress and awe visitors.

Morgan Harrison Home - A framed art piece hangs from a gray wall over a limestone fireplace flanked by built-in styled oak shelves. A glass and rope coffee table is placed on a white and blue striped rug in front of accent chairs with blue cushions.
Photo Credit: Jane Beiles

Modern Formal Living Room Ideas

Today, formal living rooms are still popular in many homes, although they have evolved to reflect modern tastes and lifestyles. They are often designed as a more casual space, with comfortable seating and a focus on relaxation and entertainment. However, they still retain their sense of elegance and sophistication and are often decorated with artwork, antiques, and other high-end furnishings.

Chic modern living room boasts gray knitted stools placed on a gray rug in front of a modern gray marble fireplace, as a black accent table is paired iwth a black leather chair located in front of a fiddle leaf fig.
Photo Credit: Croma Design

Design Tips

When designing a formal living room, several key elements must be considered. First, you should decide on a color scheme that reflects your personal style and the mood you want to create. You may choose to go with a neutral palette for a classic, timeless look or opt for bold, bright colors for a more modern, eclectic feel.

A sconce lights an alcove bookcase built-in behind a dove gray living room chair complemented with a matching ottoman and a round wooden accent table illuminated by a bronze pharmacy floor lamp.
Photo Credit: Amanda Teal Design


Next, you should choose furnishings that are both functional and beautiful. Sofas and chairs should be comfortable and inviting while also complementing the room’s overall aesthetic. You may also want to add accent pieces, such as a coffee table or decorative lamps, to enhance the ambiance of the space.

White built-in living room shelves fixed over white cabinets are accented with pale pink backs and flank a white fireplace mantel framing a black surround and styled under a gold framed portrait.
Photo Credit: Allison Elebash

When choosing furniture for a formal living room, it’s important to consider the overall aesthetic you’re going for. Typically, formal living rooms have a more elegant and sophisticated feel, so you’ll want to select furniture pieces that reflect that. Start by choosing a color scheme, such as neutral tones or muted jewel tones, and stick to it throughout the space.

Look for furniture with clean lines and elegant details, such as tufted upholstery or carved wood accents. Opt for pieces that are comfortable but not too bulky or overstuffed. Remember to balance the space by mixing and matching different shapes and sizes of furniture, such as a sofa and a couple of armchairs, to create a cohesive and inviting layout. Finally, don’t forget to accessorize with decorative pillows, lamps, and artwork to add personality and warmth to the room.

Chic formal living room features a Round Edwardian Entry Lantern illuminating a pair of gray chairs with brass nailhead trim adorned with gray chevron pillows atop a black cowhide rug layered atop a jute rug facing a traditional fireplace. A pair of contemporary lucite stools topped with gray sheepskin flank an x-based coffee table with glass-top stands in front of a fireplace with taupe stone surround situated under an oval metal mirror.
Photo Credit: Sotheby Realty


You should consider the lighting and accessories that will complete the look of your formal living room. Chandeliers and other statement lighting fixtures can add drama and elegance to the space, while artwork and decorative objects can add personality and interest.

When it comes to choosing lighting for a formal living room, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to consider the overall style and aesthetic of the room. If the space features traditional furnishings and decor, for example, you might opt for classic chandeliers or wall sconces with ornate detailing.

Formal living room with ivory linen sofa with rolled-arms accented with pink pillows paired with blue velvet armchairs as well as hex lucite coffee table with glass top over suede tiles rug,
Photo Credit: Collins Interiors

On the other hand, if the room has a more modern or minimalist vibe, you may want to choose sleeker, simpler lighting options, such as pendant lights or floor lamps with clean lines.

Additionally, it’s important to think about the function of the room and the different activities that may take place there. For example, if the living room is often used for reading or watching television, you may want to incorporate table lamps or adjustable floor lamps that can be positioned to provide focused task lighting.

Finally, don’t forget about the importance of layering your lighting sources. By incorporating a mix of overhead, task, and accent lighting, you can create a warm, inviting ambiance that’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing.


When it comes to choosing artwork for a formal living room, it’s important to consider the overall aesthetic and mood of the space. Generally, formal living rooms call for sophisticated and elegant pieces that add a touch of refined beauty to the room. Large-scale paintings or prints in ornate frames work well, as do classical sculptures or busts.

Black built-in display cabinets are fixed in a country style living room beside a gray stone fireplace finished witha hearth and a chunky brown wooden mantel mounted beneath an art piece.
Photo Credit: Bria Hammel Interiors

Black and white photography can also be a great choice, particularly if the subject matter is classic or timeless. When selecting artwork, it’s important to balance the scale of the piece with the size of the room. Larger pieces work well in spacious rooms, while smaller pieces can be grouped together in a gallery wall to create a cohesive look. Overall, the artwork in a formal living room should complement the space and add to its sense of refinement and elegance.

A black plaid accent chair sits on red brick herringbone pavers in a beautiful styled cottage living room.
Photo Credit: Becca Interiors

A formal living room is a space that can add both beauty and functionality to your home. Regardless of which formal living room ideas might have caught your attention, the key is to design a room that reflects your style and makes you feel comfortable and at home. With the right furnishings, color scheme, lighting, and accessories, your formal living room can become a space in which you and your guests will love to spend time.

Holly Antoine is a Home, Lifestyle and DIY content creator. After leaving behind an 11-year career in the dental field to pursue her passion for design and decor, she developed her own branded site,, where she shares her love of home design, decor, DIYs and inspires others to get creative and build[...]
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