From the revival of 80’s aesthetics to a growing appreciation for locally sourced furniture and crafts, living rooms today are influenced by more than one design language
By Carol Ferrao
Designed to impress, modern living rooms seamlessly integrate comfort, aesthetics and functionality by relying on the most exquisite line of furniture, lights, furnishings and more. Experimenting with materials and textures has become a norm in this space, with high quality material palette and finishes playing a significant role in creating a statement decor. From rustic, earthy elements to refined, neo-classical features, living rooms are designed with a certain nostalgic character too. Either the space exudes the charm and relaxed ambience of a country life or seeks to resurrect Art Deco styles and classical features for elegant living. “Indians being fond of decorative features and details, the classic style is coming back in several ways,” points out architect Aparna Kaushik.
One of the most social zones in the house, it is essential that the space fosters interaction while also being a representation of the family, their beliefs and aesthetical leanings. The design language could be contemporary or classic, but the personalised quality of these spaces results in a design that transcends style. “Now-a-days, living rooms have ascended beyond being just a gathering zone to becoming a representation of the collective likeness, interests and attributes of its inhabitants,” confirm Rudraksh Charan & Priyanka Khanna, principals, 42MM.
In terms of style, more and more designers are taking the ‘maximalism’ route to fashion interiors that are bold and explorative in their use of materials, colours and schematics. Nitin Kohli, founder, Nitin Kohli Home, highlights, “The perfect trending materials doing the rounds are semi-precious marbles, stones and metals of finishes like brass and copper. Also, materials with gloss and sheen for fabrics as well.” These bold choices are complemented with soft pastel shades such as powder blue, sky blue and greens like mint and sage, according to the designer.
It’s an exciting time in architecture and design, with access to a wide range of materials and style inspirations both old and new. Living spaces, therefore, are expected to be an amalgamation of diverse influences brought together to usher in a new design language. Studios like MuseLAB believe that the palette for 2020 will blend contemporary and vintage design, enabling them to fully express their creativity and potential. “It’s a maximalist and eclectic palette made of rich colours referring to the past, especially to the Bauhaus and Arts and Crafts movements, blended with some 80s-inspired hues,” specify Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani, directors, MuseLAB.
Parallel to this movement, there is a greater awareness on ‘conscious living’ today, which has encouraged homeowners to embrace upcycling and recycling, ensuring minimal use of energy. Pankhuri Goel, design principal, Studio Lotus, shares that old furniture is now repurposed and celebrated for its evocative character, and materials are being vastly upcycled to address economic and environmental constraints. Explaining the reasons behind this approach, she mentions, “Modern homes are undergoing a makeover – being envisioned as a repository of memories, shaped by family heirlooms, photo montages/ collections, paintings and memorabilia collected over time.”
Within the canvas of a living room, there are multiple details that tie the space together. Each element and its materiality are critical to the design narrative of the space. In the current context, rich, natural textures and materials are definitely trending, according to Hardesh & Monica Chawla, founders and principal designers, Essentia Environments. “The current material palettes include rich, natural stones or patterned tiles for floors; velvets and suede fabrics for upholstery; rich, shimmery textiles with great fall for curtains; or billowy, sheer ones with grand tie-backs.” Walls are clad with luxurious stones in gorgeous colours, whereas metals screens – often polished in gold, including in furniture pieces – add a textural dimension to the space. “Most importantly, (we see) exotic stones as table tops revealing their natural beauty, often with organic contours,” adds the design duo.
When it comes to flooring choices, Amit Khanna, principal at Amit Khanna Design Studio (AKDA) states that period detailing in real hardwood flooring, particularly large herringbone and two-tone patterns, are preferred now. “Also, custom hardwood architectural hardware in sustainable species is an area where some manufacturers have started work, but there is a lot of scope for innovation,” he adds. Even details like doors and windows are carefully articulated to represent the character of the space. Firms like AKDA are exploring solutions such as custom-milled hardwood windows that offer the sound insulation and robust nature of uPVC/aluminum along with the beauty of Indian woods.
“Traditionally, Indian wood window framing left a lot to be desired since they would warp, bend and offer little thermal insulation. Now, the complex profiles required for sealants and thermal breaks can be milled on the factory floor on wood that has been professionally seasoned to be incredibly stable in a spectrum of climatic conditions,” comments Amit Khanna.
Natural materials continue to be a popular choice for living rooms, especially Italian marbles for floors and wall claddings as well as wooden parquet floors. In fact, exotic marbles have even made their way into furniture design, used extensively as table tops for coffee and side tables. Kaushik believes these choices go well with neutral paints for walls with moulding as highlights, upholstered sofas in velvet or suede and furniture made of a combination of metal and wood. Finer details such as luxurious carpets, linen and textured fabrics, chandeliers, gold finish, enhance the modern space.
Offering a contrasting view, Goel mentions, “Material palettes have also been marked by a revival of incorporating locally-sourced stones in varied finishes as opposed to expensive Italian marbles — which are also contextually incongruous. While exhibiting durability, they age gracefully, and become expressive of the inhabitants’ sense of aesthetics, form and function.”
Designers are extracting earthy and warm material palettes by drawing cues from nature. Goel shares, “For instance, there has been a revived interest in the use of Terrazzo as a surface material; its durability and endless colour choices make it a veritable choice for cladding floors.” Materials like cane and timber are the next best choices because they offer strength, life, and aesthetic value, along with warmth and texture to cladding surfaces and furnishings.
Affirming this trend, the MuseLAB directors say, “Terrazzo works brilliantly for floors – it is versatile, pays homage to the past and brings warmth to the home, along with tonnes of visual texture.” As for the rest of the palette, both Rangwala and Pirani prefer to keep the walls simple, acting as receptacles for interesting wall art, paintings and even wall lights. “A simple or minimally textured paint works well,” they note.
Living room furniture is determined based on the timeless appeal of its design, quality of the material composition and the overall design aesthetic, and how it relates to the concept chosen for the space. “We are seeing a comeback of 80’s trends like curved sofas & upholstered furnishings,” point out Charan and Khanna of 42MM, adding that people are also mindful of product quality, eco-friendliness and sustainability today. They also mention, “People prefer buying quality products. It is about finding furniture that speaks to your design aesthetic, it can be unique, custom furniture or can be a simple option from a mass retailer. There is a growing trend towards the use of unique or statement pieces which add a sculptural moment in the overall scheme.”
Whether it is a local or imported line of furniture, the design theme and budget define the furniture choices. For example, Kaushik says that for a tropical style in the living room, furniture and upholstery in linen fabric are preferred over velvet. “Fully upholstered, sophisticated seating arrangements with a combination of statement armchairs and coffee tables in textured wood, or marble and metal work are best for modern, contemporary spaces,” she further explains. A particular trend to watch out for, the architect says, are digital-printed tabletops that bring an artsy element in the furniture.
Another trend evident in living room furniture is the widespread use of imported solutions from places like China. Often contemporary in design, this option is commonly seen in homes for HNI clients. Recently, however, designers like Goel have witnessed a resurgence in hand-crafted locally-made items too. “The rise of eclecticism — fuelled by shifting preferences, experimentation and perpetually changing trends — has resulted in unique interior palettes, depicting a combination of several styles. The fixation on convention has essentially dissolved, and clients are more willing to appropriate styles evocative of contemporary times,” elaborates the designer from Studio Lotus.
In this setting, studios like MuseLAB take great pride in endorsing customised furniture and sourcing from local brands. “There is enough talent in our country and the craft has a lot more finesse now,” note Rangwala and Pirani.
AKDA’s Khanna agrees and fully supports the shift from imported to local & sustainable. “Clients are keen to minimise the environmental impact of their projects and choose locally manufactured products,” mentions the architect. He suggests opting for a colourful piece of furniture to accentuate the whole aesthetic of the space. Paired with soft colours and rich textures in furniture, the scheme ensures a remarkable appearance.
Exquisite design elements are seen everywhere in the living room, but when it comes to ceiling and lighting, the less imposing the design, the better. Homeowners and designers now prefer to maintain the volume and visual depth of the living room and are avoiding excessive work on false ceilings that invariably lower the floor-to-ceiling height. “Instead, lighting design has witnessed a shift to the use of area lamps, pendants, and chandeliers, which, in addition to illuminating spaces, also add depth and character to the ambience,” Goel explains.
The purpose of illumination is seen in a new light now, meeting not only the functional requirements, but also serving as an artistic element within the space. “Statement sculptural lights, geometric-shaped lights, grand suspension lights that drop down at various levels, result in gorgeous spectacles, and look like art installations,” share the design duo from Essentia Environments, while also mentioning that metal lights with chrome or gold finish are popular at the moment.
Lighting Design was once an afterthought, but has now become an integral element in defining the ambience of the space. Vishal Singh, founder and managing director, Vizion, vouches for this shift. “There is an emphasis on precision, efficiency and durability, as well as wellness. Pared-back, minimalist and utilitarian lighting fixtures are gaining traction among clients, as are bespoke luminaires — designed to serve a variety of functional requirements, while offering scalability and flexibility.” Singh identifies tunable luminaires and human-centric fixtures as game changers in this segment. The ceiling itself is kept minimal – a muted backdrop, drawing little attention to it, says the expert – whereas suspended lamps stand out as sculptural marvels. “Bespoke ceiling plates designed to allow for easy installation of luminaires create a more cohesive spatial experience for the user,” he suggests.
Since, the right type of illumination can significantly improve the quality of day-to-day life, more homeowners today are opting for design-based solutions as opposed to cost-driven ventures. “The Indian lighting market had been slow to embrace design and application-based lighting solutions, but is now picking up steadily,” Singh confirms, while also mentioning that the renewed focus on human-centric lighting has impacted the automated lighting solutions market positively too. Hence, modern living rooms are considered truly modern when they are equipped with smart lighting controls — IoT-enabled, wireless, and Bluetooth-operated systems — that assist users with regulating lux levels for optimal vision. “We expect to witness scalable and flexible systems becoming ubiquitous in the coming years, and design explorations that will cater to a growing globally-aware consumer base,” predicts Singh.
Overall, living room designs today celebrate diversity – in concepts, styles, material palettes, colours and more. Visual appeal aside, the designs are remarkable for their thoughtful curation of quality craftsmanship and how it impacts not just the spatial quality of the space, but also its social dimension. Rangwala and Pirani summarise it perfectly, “We are moving to a slower and more conscious way of living, leading to the design of welcoming and warm environments. Interiors embrace smart solutions together with more conscious choices, with pieces that last for a long time and are hand-made.”