spilling beans: decorating design tips for the living room


Alexa Hampton

My series of features called “decorating design tips” come as a result of recently cleaning a file cabinet and finding a folder full of interior decorating design tips by top decorator colleagues and so it occurred to me to review them, cluster them by room and share them with you. Many come from House Beautiful magazine and others are just quotes and tips I’ve collected over the years that have proven to be very useful.  Tips and rules-of-thumb are only guidelines and not the final nor definitive word on the topic.

The first in a series of 11 features on decorating design tips, deals with the Living Room.  Future posts will cover decorating design tips for the well-appointed Dining Room; Kitchen and Bathroom; Bedroom; Paint; Wallpapers, Fabrics and Pillows; Lighting; Floors and Surface Coverings; Hanging Artwork and Accessories; and Hardware and Light Switches.

I hope you find them as useful as I have.



J. Randall Powers

Interior Decorating Design Tips of the Trade for your Living Room


“Start your Living Room furniture plan with the best seat in the room and work from there” (DD Allen)

“Keep a minimum of 15” between coffee tables and sofas” (Alexa Hampton)

“When it comes to bookcases, stick to books.  Nothing is more visually chaotic than 46 shelves of random stuff” (J. Randall Powers)

“Use low-pile velvet on sofas and chairs.  If not, you will see the shadow of a person’s behind when they get up.  Big mistake!” (Susan Ferrier)

“The optimal height of a coffee table is between 18” and 20”, but I’ve been doing more tea table heights – 24” to 26” – because it’s just the right height to set my drink down” (Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey)



Alex Papachristidis

“Don’t use end tables lower than 30”.  The lamplight will be much better and the proportion is better” (Ginger Barber)

“I keep my sofas at 6’6” to 7’ long.  Any smaller and they look dwarfed; bigger and they look like an airport lounge” (Alex Papachristidis)

“I have lots of dogs, so I take the same fabric that’s on the sofa and make a blanket that covers almost its entire length.  This way my dogs can lounge on the sofa, and I just take it off when I have guests” (Carolyne Roehm)

“Never push furniture up against the walls.  By pulling your seating arrangement in (even just a few inches) you instantly warm up a space and create flow” (Betsy Burnham)



Mary Foley and Michael Cox

“The perfect amount of space between a mirror and the top of a mantle is 7 inches” (J. Randall Powers)

“Keep 12 inches of wood floor showing around the perimeter of a room when placing an area carpet over it” (Mary Foley and Michael Cox)

“Window ledges were not made to showcase your collection of A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  Keep them free. No art, no tchotchkes, no flowers – nothing” (Richard Rabel)


richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits From top to bottom: Alexa Hampton (Architectural Digest); J. Randall Powers (Architectural Digest); Alex Papachristidis (New York Post); Mary Foley and Michael Cox (Architectural Digest)


Below are other features in my series on decorating design tips shared by top US interior designers:

Dining Room decorating and design tips of the trade

Design Tips for the Kitchen and Bathroom