If you think the living room – described by Sir Terence Conran as “the temple of the soul” – has been around forever, you’d be mistaken. “The most surprising thing,” says Bill Bryson in his book At Home, “is not how long it took us to reach the moon, but how long it took us to get comfortable.”
Most early-medieval homes – including those of the aristocracy – involved a single room – the “hall” – in which people ate, slept, procreated and lived. Only gradually did anything like a modern home layout evolve. As with so many things, the Romans had got there first, but even then, only for the exceptionally wealthy – the majority lived in one or two rooms, like many still do around the world today.
In other words, the living room is a modern phenomenon which is still evolving. Just in the past few years, we’ve seen the relatively novel open-plan and zonal living room begin to revert to individual rooms and the return of the dedicated dining room. Then there’s the question of what we call it. A century ago the term “living room” was rare – it was a parlour or drawing room; and it’s still variously known as sitting room, drawing room, lounge, lounge-room, front room and family room.
Whatever you choose to call it, here are 20 exceptional examples from some of the world’s most era-defining interior designers:
Bergman Design House : Upper Brook Street
London-based Swedish-Egyptian duo Bergman Design House create projects from private members’ clubs to superyachts, but their residential interiors include some beautifully put-together living rooms, as with this Upper Brook Street mansion in London. Classic, but with an edge, it’s reflected by the duo’s outlook – co-founder Marie Soliman tells us: “A space has to be functional and timeless, with a playful hint of surprise or whimsical energy.”
Sandra Weingort : Di Lido Drive
This stunning modernist composition by Miami and New York-based Columbian Sandra Weingort hints at her influences. She tells us: “Without a doubt, Louis Kahn’s spaces have had the biggest impact on me.” Also evident is her curation of beautiful vintage pieces, which are at least as important a starting point in her work as the overall concept: “I cannot visualise an interior space without knowing what furniture, art and objects may or may not habit the space – I need a holistic approach.” We’ve included another of our favourites from Weingort further down.
Albion Nord : Primrose Hill House
Albion Nord, as their name suggests, are a British-Scandinavian firm based in London, and they have bewitched the industry with their alchemy at mixing antique and traditionalist notes in with a highly contemporary aesthetic. Co-founder Camilla Clarke tells us: “People like things around them that mean something – antiques that tell a story, or furniture that’s a bit rough round the edges.” This beautiful example is from a house project the team did in Primrose Hill, London.
Kelly Wearstler : Malibu Broad Beach Residence
Kelly Wearstler’s Malibu Broad Beach project is much photographed and often mentioned – and with good reason: it’s a Tropicalia-infused masterpiece of shoji screens and Nakashima tables, with the Pacific Ocean spraying the windows. She tells us: “I want to tell evocative stories, adventurous and full of soul, incorporating a mixology of materials and influences.”
Ryan Saghian : New York Residence
Ryan Saghian is one of LA’s most in-demand interior designers, and he describes his style as invoking the ‘wow-factor’ – which is hard to dispute. “The key for me has always been designing with emotion and intuition while leaving the thinking to the end,” he says. “I design to my fullest potential, not limiting myself to budget or client restrictions, then editing down more analytically.” This sense of leaving it all on the table is evident in his fabulous living room project, above.
Fiona Barratt-Campbell : Cheyne Walk
Property is in Fiona Barratt-Campbell’s blood – her father founded Barratt homes, the huge UK housebuilding company. She’s worked with Kelly Hoppen, designed for Sir Richard Branson, and is building a global portfolio. This living room is from her own home, which she shares with husband Sol Campbell, and gives a good indication of her impeccable taste and talent for mixing periods: “There is definitely an art to combining contemporary products with antiques,” she tells Effect, adding: “It’s also important to create something that’s timeless, because for a client who is spending a large amount of money, it can’t become outdated in two or even five years. The trick is designing with integrity.”
Mimi Shodeinde : Cape Coast, Ghana
Mimi Shodeinde’s designs look like nothing else we’ve seen, which is why we can’t get enough of the British-Nigerian talent. A sense of serenity infuses all her projects: “I always say my work is relaxed elegance: it’s elegant, timeless – and most importantly, relaxed. That’s my whole design approach.” This living room is in Cape Coast, Ghana, and although it has a definite sense of place, it also bears the hallmarks that Shodeinde carries through her work from the Cotswolds to Provence – copious use of space, stone, with large, uncluttered and dramatic pieces.
David Collins Studio : David Collins’ Home
This is the living room of the late, great David Collins, founder of the David Collins Studio. Aside from the fabulous vintage jewel-toned furniture, it’s the lilac-and-blue combo that electrifies this scene.
Corey Damon Jenkins : Detroit House
There’s a reason they call Corey Damon Jenkins the ‘gorgeous peacock’ of design. His bold colour alchemy and blending of classicism with modernity have made him one of America’s most celebrated interior designers. “I like to celebrate the point where antiquity meets modernity,” says the New York-based designer. “My vibe is 16 pieces of furniture mixed in with African art mixed in with Indian headdresses and a Saarinen table and a Kagan sofa. They don’t go together and yet they flow together.”
Katharine Pooley : London Hyde Park Residence
Katharine Pooley’s grounded principles and ability to interpret her clients’ dreams have placed her centre-stage as one of the world’s greatest designers. Globally in-demand, her interiors have an international luxe feel that sacrifices none of its artistry to ostentation; and she’s as happy designing a palace in the gulf as she is a Lake District cottage or disadvantaged child’s bedroom for the charity Decorate a Child’s Life.
Sandra Weingort : Lower East Side Apartment
Sandra Weingort set Instagram aglow with this Japanese Modernism-inspired living room she designed for a client’s temporary residence in the Lower East side, with pieces from Nakashima and Jeanneret. It’s still one of our favourite spaces – bold, minimal and impeccably composed.
Maddux Creative : Holland Park House
This Holland Park town house contains all the elements of Maddux Creative’s classic-yet-edgy vibe: a scene that offers up more treasures with each look – and of course, there’s the scene-stealing pistachio-green sofa. “I would say more times than not, people go somewhere between the middle-of-the-road and the super-leftfield idea. That’s a nice side of the road to be on,” says Scott Maddux, who with Jo Le Gleud forms the super-swish British-American design duo.
Charu Gandhi of Elicyon : One Palm, Dubai
Charu Gandhi’s interior design firm Elicyon are based in London, but they are a true international company in clients and outlook, nailing a glossy luxe look that is keeping the team of 30 busy from Belgravia to Shanghai. In this One Palm apartment in Dubai, Gandhi plays off the angular lines of the dramatic picture windows, echoed in the cuboid furniture and chandelier, the silver a cool foil to the blue gulf skies.
Chloé Roussel : Ultima Gstaad
When the A-list takes a break, they call Ultima – a company carving out a rarefied niche creating beautiful, design-forward private holiday residences from the Med to the Alps. Chloé Roussel is their managing partner and head of design, and here’s one of their Gstaad residences to dream about when thoughts turn to the ski slopes.
Alidad : London Drawing Room
No one does sumptuous interiors like Alidad – a true artist and living proof of the maxim that timeless style will always be in fashion. A maximalist before maximalism existed, he exudes a mastery of colour and texture with elements of escapist fantasy, as with Alidad’s own drawing room in London, with intense mustard de Gourney wallpaper. He tells us: “My whole concept when I approach a project is that I want it to be timeless and still as current in 20 years’ time as it is today.”
Alfredo Paredes : East Village Duplex
After a stellar career at Ralph Lauren, Alfredo Paredes – the visionary behind New York’s iconic Polo Bar – is forging a new interior design path under his own name, and he has a knack for impeccably tasteful spaces that look exactly like the sorts of places you want to kick back in – as with this living room in an East Village duplex. “I don’t like self-conscious interiors,” he says. “Spaces should feel relatable and should always have something new.”
David Collins Studio : Mount Nicholson, Hong Kong
Another stunning entry from David Collins Studio, and the show-stopping elements here are the symmetry and the mirage-like ceiling lights, creating a bold source of drama that counterpoints the dignified serenity of what lies beneath.
Simone Haag : Melbourne House
“I’ve always had a confidence about me,” says Simone Haag, one of Australia’s pre-eminent stylists, and that’s certainly evident with this brilliant living room in a Melbourne town house, where Haag has really owned the enveloping green, rosewood and textured feel, with mid-century furniture living happily among Victorian original features and contemporary art.
Kathryn Ireland : French Farmhouse
Considered one of the most influential interior designers in the world, UK-born Californian Kathryn Ireland creates refined, relaxed and liveable homes. Her first client might have been the actor Steve Martin, but Ireland’s approach has remained down-to-earth: “I do houses that are to be lived in,” she tells us. “I understand living with dogs, having children, people, parties. Above all, I like to create that absolute sense of comfort and well-being.” This living room – in her own French farmhouse – exemplifies that sense of comfortable elegance.
Goddard Littlefair : Belvedere Gardens Penthouse
We all love a penthouse, but interior designers have a special reason to – they are forming fruitful relationships with property developers to create show-stopping show homes – as with this one by London interior design firm Goddard Littlefair, with an incredible view over the London Eye.
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