The decorator's den

The living room

1:02 PM

It is often the most important room in a house, and in India it is more often known as the hall or the drawing room, the later being an old British term given to the room in which you entertain guests.
And the purpose of the room in question is more to entertain than to live in it in many Indian household. In bigger house you will actually have the formal hall, and a less formal family room in the back where the TV is often kept, but it is even more common to receive close family member directly in your bedroom, which is something I still find hard to get used to, in Switzerland the bed and the bedroom is a personal space where you do not invite relatives over to have tea and munchies.
Now while the concept of having a formal hall and a less formal one is a great idea, it works only if one has the space for these. The concept does not fit with the modern apartment living life in urban India. Yet I have seen it happening countless time in many house, people will over do the living room to look dazzling and super formal in order to impress guests at the expense of comfort and end up with one big unpractical room the rest of the time.
The good new is that it is possible to have that dual usage if one plan intelligently and do away with the notion that your guests have to be blinded sparkly chandeliers and pristine marbles.

The first thing one need to ask themselves when planning that room is “who lives here”. When you have 1000 square feet of total carpet area in Mumbai for a family of 3-4, every one of these will count, and should be utilised to keep the family in question happy and confortable, it’s an added bonus is the guests are wowed, they come only for a few hours, you live them…so who does the room benefit the most?
One of the biggest mistake I have seen in many a living room in India is the sofa set one. There is still that old fashioned notion that all your seating solution should match and that buying only a 3 seater sofa alone is not proper. In urban settings where space is a luxury that translate into a 3 seater and two armchairs eating away the entire surface of the living room, just so that your occasional guest has the space to sit, while you’ll end up pestering the rest of the time stubbing your toe in that armchair that is always in the way.
My advice is to scale down, massively. Buy only one sofa that will fit the room and when guests come over, let them sit on it while pulling out other more mobile sitting solutions out for yourself. These can be bean bags you can move from one room to another, cane stools, ottomans, floor cushions, foldable chairs…When these are not used you can push them in corners and gaining back your floor space for something else.
The concept of dinning table is still something new that many regard as optional in India. the coffee table usually double as dinning one, but I know many that hate it and wished they had space for a dinning table to begin with. Most flats will have space for one, if you forego the sofa set. And my advice is to go for one that is big enough to accommodate your family first, and not just at meal time. Rooms are small in apartment buildings, and it would be a good idea to have the table do double duty as a place to do the homework, or type that quick email as well. DH and I had to give up our computer desk when we moved to Mumbai simply due to lack of space, and doing without one while we were living in a 2BHK was easy as we also had no desktop computers, only laptops. Now that we have upgraded to a 3BHK because DH needs a study room for these late night office related duties, we can consider a desk again.
One thing I am yet to see happening on a larger scale with dinning tables in India is the round table. People over here are just used to the idea that a table will be square or rectangle, because that’s what a table is supposed to look…traditionally that is. The problem is that a rectangle table will occupy a big surface to end up not sitting that man people around here. The round table will easily accommodate that extra guest without eating your floor plan, once not in full use can even be tucked in a corner and still have enough space to sit around. I am hopeful that the concept will catch soon, a few stores are doing them already.

When you are living in an apartment the living room need to be multifunctional, and I am one of those that think the TV belongs there and not in the bedroom, that however is entirely based on personal taste. Frankly being not much of a TV watcher, I could pretty much do away with it entirely. But one thing that is getting better with TVs is that they are slimmer these days, and wall mountable, letting you being able to do away with the old fashioned entertainment unit that used to eat massive amount of space. If your living room is big enough, get a low lying rectangular cabinet unit and place the TV on top and use the hidden storage the cabinet offers to store all these wires, DVDs and board games you don’t need to have out at all time. If your living room is smaller and the sofa cannot sit directly in front of a big wall, use a corner unit on top of which you can let the TV stand.
As it is the case in my own living room :


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You may notice that we still own a ridiculously old fashioned TV, that’s how much we care about TV, we bought that TV in 2004 and it’s still working though starting to accuse signs of ageing and the luminosity is starting to be an issue. The TV stand in question was bought to fit the decor of our old Bangalore flat and had at a point glass doors on both the shelf unit and the TV stand part, but one door broke and we removed the other when Ishita started walking and getting into things. We now use the unit’s shelves to store the board games and tuck away some knick knacks she might have spread around the living room. Because the main concern when you have guests over is to invite them into a space that doesn’t look like it has gone through a recent toy tsunami (thing that is unavoidable with kids). The key to have you living room presentable in no time is having enough storage, in the form of cabinets, or of the hidden type (such as a coffee table with hidden compartment or stools that double as storage boxes). The kind of place you can quickly toss the stray Legos into to receive the insurance company guy over.
In the end what really will make your place look great and formal is the purity of the lines, a small living room will never look great with plaster of Paris fake column and gilded brass fixtures all over, because the old colonial decor or the Rajasthani palace look will only work on a bigger scale. Quality furniture with pure lines and a planned colour palette will do far more justice to your humble flat than insisting on hanging an over the top chandelier. If you are really insisting on wanting to impress your guests with your status, do it with super fancy tea cups and snack platters and a few tasteful figurines places around the room, or an interesting piece of art on one wall that will work as a focal point.
You can also jazz up the space using sofa cushion if you have no saboteurs in the house (toddler and dogs…) Soft furnishing is something you can easily change over the season and years to renew your decor and infuse a touch of lavishness to it. As I said already as much as I love cushions, they aren’t practical in my home as my dog think they are her puppies and will constantly carry them around the house. But they work amazingly at making an ordinary everyday casual sofa look festive and formal for a party.
Still in the soft furnishing area, the use of rugs work great at separating the space. From my experience nothing will bring all your decor together better than a carefully chosen area rug, the only con about them being that they are high maintenance.

And I will leave you with a picture of my living room from another angle :

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