7 ways to make the most of a period living room (without sacrificing character)

7 inspirational ways to make the most of a period living room
How to decorate a period living roomSnug / The Wood flooring Co.

There's a lot to love about period properties, especially all the special details that give them a unique character. But, how do you respect these features while creating a home that still feels contemporary?

Period living rooms, in particular, need to feel as functional and welcoming in the 21st century as they did over a hundred years ago. The good news is that it's totally achievable to maintain all the things that make your period home special and still feel in the present day.

Whether your home is Edwardian, Victorian or Georgian, here's some expert advice on decorating a period living room.

First things first, stay true to the intended style of your home and its design quirks. The key is to work with your space, rather than against it. Save key period features – dado rails and ceiling roses, for example – and work them into your interior plans.

'Respecting the period and architecture of your home is pivotal to a successful interior scheme,' says interior designer Naomi Astley Clarke. 'Avoid clashing styles and materials and think about how to draw elements from your home into your designs. Getting the basics such as the appropriate cornice and joinery profiles is a subtle but effective way to ensure that you stay true to your home. From there you can layer on your tastes and possessions knowing you've got solid foundations.'

wentworth loveseat in velvy dark grey

Chris Harvey, an interior expert at Stelrad, advises: 'To make the most of the period features in your living room while still maintaining a contemporary, on-trend look, you should begin by focusing on the architectural details of the space.

'If your living room has beautiful period features like high ceilings, intricate mouldings, or wood panelling, you could paint the walls in a neutral shade to provide a modern backdrop and accentuate the beauty of the features. You can then add a few pieces of furniture that blend traditional and contemporary styles, such as a mid-century modern sofa with a classic wooden armchair. You can also incorporate some statement lighting to bring a modern touch to the space, such as an industrial-style pendant light or a vintage chandelier.

'The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to create a balanced look that captures the charm of the period features while still feeling modern and on-trend,' Chris continues. 'It also gives you the flexibility to swap out the furniture and decor to keep the look up-to-date as trends come and go.'

Your sofa is likely to be the most prominent piece of furniture, so getting it right is essential. In a period living room, opt for a timeless sofa – as opposed to trend-led – and it will look as good in the future as it did in the past.

Vicki Foster, interior stylist at ScS, advises: 'When choosing your sofa for your period living room, you'll want something that screams classic and timeless. Fabrics such as velvet have always been in style but are currently enjoying a spike in popularity as part of retro-revival and luxe living trends.

patrick 2 5 seat sofa in deep turquoise cotton matt velvet

'Other styles such as Chesterfield sofas, whether in leather or fabric, also bring that traditionally elegant and classic look which can complement a period home wonderfully. If you're concerned about crossing the fine line between classic and old-fashioned, you can put a modern spin on your sofa with accessories that bring in an on-trend look.'

The final flourishes allow you to add personality and work in harmony with the decorative elements that make period homes so special.

'Vintage vases, intricate lamps and coffee tables with regal finishes are all ways to pay homage to your home's period past without committing too much to the theme,' explains Vicki. 'If you’re unsure where to start looking for these items, looking in secondhand shops or vintage interior stores is one way to try and find these gems, and you'll be able to select items that work with your existing theme.

piranesi pink wall paint
Piranesi Pink Wall Paint, Annie SloanAnnie Sloan

'The period style is all about exuding class and elegance but still having that modern edge, so think of smaller things that you can put in your rooms that radiate this, such as gold or silver candle holders, paintings or prints, flowers and even bigger elements like curtains or mirrors.'

From delicate florals to awning stripes, patterns lend themselves well to period spaces and can add interest to a room. In a period living room, you can contrast traditional prints and patterns with minimalist modern furniture, or vice versa.

'If you’re keen to incorporate these into your space, remember that sometimes less is more,' warns Vicki. 'You may want to opt for a chair that has biophilic elements to it, or curtains that have a subtle animal print. Allow these pieces to stand out within the room without needing to compete with other patterns.'

shadow play tiamat wallpaper
Image: Shadow Play Tiamat Wallpaper, Graham & BrownGraham & Brown

'Period styles hark back to a time when we lived differently, and because of that, natural materials were more present in the home,' says Vicki. 'If you’re lucky enough to have exposed brick in the home, think about how you can restore this and make it a focal point in your space.

'When it comes to flooring, we often see wood or wood-style flooring in these spaces as they open the room up and bounce around the light. If you do decide to go for this you can always layer a rug over the top to add softness and warmth.'

Other natural materials such as wool, steel, brass and rattan can also work great in a period living room. Look to throws, rugs and furniture to bring in these natural elements.

The great thing about period homes is that they offer a wealth of opportunity when it comes to colour – there's no need to keep things neutral, and you can get as experimental as you want.

'Your colour scheme will most likely be centred around your tastes, but it’s important to think this through as colour can determine the look and feel of the space,' says Vicki. 'If you're looking to create a cosy, warming room you should look to deeper, warmer colours such as navy, deep greens or even purples as these will bring the classic look but make the room feel inviting.

salcombe oak parquet
Salcombe Oak Parquet, The Wood Flooring Co.The Wood Flooring Co.

'However, if you'd like to open up the space and bring light, you only need to look at shows like Bridgerton to take inspiration from that pastel colour scheme; blues, pinks, yellows, oranges and greens in lighter shades will bring a bright, fresh look and feel that will complement the period style perfectly.'

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