Everyone wants the Studio McGee living room style. Ever since they blew up on Netflix, it’s become a highly desired style. This spring, I’ve decided to participate in the One Room Challenge, an online interior design event meant as a way for participants to inspire and encourage each other in redesigning, renovating, and reawakening ONE room. For my challenge, I will be making-over my parent’s living room – from start to finish! It’s a challenge because focusing on one room only, but one whole room, is not as simple as it sounds.
Since my mom absolutely loves Syd and Shea’s style, from Studio McGee, I will be drawing inspiration from their account. As you can see, the looks they put together are bright and open, as well as classic and timeless.
While renovating a whole room risks being costly, it’s still possible to emulate this kind of style for your space without breaking the bank. You don’t have to get a construction crew to tear down walls to make it look and feel spacious. How we put the room together is what creates the vibe we want.
Keeping this approach in mind, here are 10 things in your living room to consider to recreate the Studio McGee style:
A Cozy Living Room Layout
A Studio McGee living room is structured around conversation. In their living room designs, you’ll notice the absence of TVs, and a focus on spaces where loved ones can gather and talk. The best way to create this atmosphere is by moving your furniture in a way that encourages interaction.
Start by facing the sofas towards each other, to ensure that your guests can comfortably sit and hear each other. This step alone makes a world of difference and is at the centre of Studio McGee’s living room design approach.
Next, in the middle of this conversation area you can place a coffee table or an ottoman to ground the space. With these, your guests can put their feet up or place their mugs or glasses down, which has them subtly reaching and leaning towards each other. This way, you’re kind of placing secret cues in the space to create a comfortable and intimate atmosphere.
Shea will often include a large oversized rug in this little space, as well. A helpful rule of thumb for positioning couches around an area rug is to place at least the front feet of the furniture on the rug. Again, including this textile element pulls the eye towards the centre and helps delineate the seating area.
If you think of it as a drawing, for example, the couches act as the outline. When you add the coffee table, ottoman, and rug, you’re filling in that shape to put together a beautiful picture.
When possible, try to float the couches away from the wall. This makes the room look larger. You can still do this if you have a smaller room; you will just have to be more mindful of the available surface area. Don’t be afraid to move the furniture around and try different layouts until it feels right. You may find a rug especially helpful in this case, too.
Finally, keep in mind your windows and doorways. Syd and Shea make use of these in their designs, incorporating them in the layout even though they are features that can’t be moved. You can use these as guides or anchor points that can help you frame the space for the furniture. The way the couch sits in front of the window with the curtain framing the living room furniture, for example, looks like a natural extension of that seating.
Contemporary Color Palette is Characteristic of Studio McGee
To construct a living space that feels airy and relaxed, Studio McGee relies on colours that are fresh and calming. Think: light colours, like whites and creams, and oak wood tones.
Picking a white paint color can be tricky. Some favourite white paints of interior designers are Alabaster SW xx and Pure White SW XX. These work in many different spaces. If you need more help picking a white, I have an in-depth post on everything to consider when painting a space white. It’s also important to include other, softer elements within the space to create a balance.
Lightening your paint colours actually helps to open up the room, and can feel like taking in a long, deep breath. It also makes for a blank canvas, which gives you more freedom in how you want to design your space. Rather than pulling attention, it makes space for the things you want to feature. You may not be able to move any walls, but by painting them white, you’re smoothing out the background.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that another great way to structure a calming space is to introduce elements of nature. This is where the wood element comes in, especially lighter coloured wood. In a space that feels bright and expansive, wood grounds us. There’s a sense of life and stable energy that comes with it. Look for pieces that have that lightness in the shade so any contrast between the wood and the rest of the space isn’t jarring.
Together, these elements work in harmony to build a comfortable and relaxing living room that actually works well with both modern and traditional style preferences.
Fireplace as the centre of the room
Fireplaces are homey – they give off feelings of cosiness and comfort. So, rather than designing living rooms to face or work around a television set, Syd and Shea use fireplaces as the focal point.
Actually, the fireplace, or the hearth, has been an important central piece in homes for centuries. We just can’t help being drawn to fireplaces, so it makes perfect sense to structure your room in a way that allows everyone to gather near that spot.
Obviously, not all homes are built with a fireplace. If your living room does have one, you can DIY a fireplace, like I did! It’s a key feature take your living room to the Studio McGee style.
Styles of fireplaces
There are so many design elements to a fireplace. Here are a few to consider
The scale of the fireplace – in a space with high ceilings, take the fireplace surround all the way to the ceiling. This will help draw the eye upwards
Fireplace mantle – In some spaces, a fireplace mantle suits the space. However, in other spaces, it can appear bulky and heavy. If you’re opting for cleaner lines, omit the mantle. You’ll see this helps to lighten up the space
Fireplace design – The possibilities are endless: you can use bricks, stones, tile, marble slabs, and trim. Whichever style you use, keep the colors neutral and lighter.
Built-ins to Frame the Fireplace
Having built-in shelves in a house gives it so much character. The Studio Mcgee look has really made having built-ins a must-have, especially on either or both sides of the fireplace. Of course, like anything in interior design, these come in a few different styles.
In the last few years, arches have made a huge comeback. You will find arched doorways and curved furniture – and built-in shelves are no exception.
Many key pieces in a living room have sharp angles (think: sofas, fireplace, rugs), so having arched built-in shelves will go a long way in softening the overall space.
Built-ins with oak framing
Keeping with the Studio McGee color scheme, bringing oak framing into the built-ins is one of my favorite looks. It elevates the space and bring more warmth into the space.
White minimal built-ins
The built-in trend started with white built-ins. This will remain a timeless look that is well suited with any design style
Trade built-ins for tall cabinets
If you have very high ceilings, or are not a fan of the built-ins, you could add display cabinets on either side of your fireplace to create a similar effect. This addition gives you display space to show off your favourite or meaningful possessions, and the lower space also acts as storage to hide any unsightly items like toys, tech or board games. While you wouldn’t be adding any curves, the act of making space for the things you love brings its own charm. I love a good multi-purpose piece!
Large area rugs
While nice wooden floors are wonderful to have, an effective way of bringing a space together is to simply add a rug. In addition to including a coffee table or ottoman in the middle of the seating area, Studio McGee will add a large oversized rug to anchor everything together.
Having a rug in your space also enables you to add another cozy texture. They tend to be soft on many of our senses; they look plush, they feel velvety, and they muffle sounds like footsteps. This one piece does it all!
Regardless of what design style you’re trying to replicate, it’s always good to keep in mind that adding a rug is such a simple way to include a pop of colour or interesting pattern to any space. You can also layer rugs with a neutral jute rug under a vintage style rug. Most often, Studio McGee uses vintage style rugs. These look worn in and have traditional patterns.
Soft Curtains bring texture to a living room
It may seem counterintuitive to want to add curtains as a function to encourage light and openness in a living room, when their basic purpose is to block out the light and enclose the space. However, you can utilise curtains to create the illusion of more space. Simply by hanging them higher and wider than your windows, you are actually making them look bigger! This technique will make it seem like your windows are taking up more space on the wall, which makes the room feel more open to the outside.
For smaller windows, use roman blinds. You can be playful and use a pop of color, or keep it more simple.
And, like many of our little tricks to soften up the elements in play, curtains will introduce another textile in the space. You can create different looks and feels by choosing heavy drapes for a solid, grounding feature, or using sheer veils for a delicate and breezy ambiance.
Layered Furniture is central to a Studio McGee Living Room
Since we are aiming to create a conversation area, you will almost always see 2 sofas facing each other with 2 armchairs.
Sofa’s and arm chairs
Sofa Color – The sofa’s are most often in a creamy beige, leather or light grey color.
Sofa legs – One detail that is often overlooked is the shape of the legs. Opt for wooden legs that are straight. Slanted legs scream mid-century modern and don’t fit in the Studio McGee style.
Material – Every couch in Studio McGee design has a deep seat base. It makes you feel like you can simply fall into the sofa and be cushioned in. They are plush and soft.
Throw pillows – Add personal touches of color and style with throw pillows. Studio McGee makes this even easier their extensive pillow collection at Target. They avoid having duplicates of the same pillow. Try lots of different pillows in similar color tones and don’t be afraid to mix patterns
Coffee Tables and Side tables
Most of the tables in the Studio McGee collection are an oak wood, or lighter wood. They use different shapes like rectangles or circles. The one thing that sets them apart is they are substantial and ground the conversation area.
Don’t forget your ceiling
People often forget about the 5th wall: the ceiling! Ceiling design has become so popular recently – even I tackled a ceiling project in my home using shiplap to cover up our outdated popcorn ceiling. And I’m so glad I did. Our new ceiling gives so much charm to the space.
While my shiplap was a great option for me and my home, the Studio McGee approach is to add beams or have vaulted ceilings. Adding a bit of style to the ceiling draws the eyes upwards and makes the room look taller and more grand.
Of course, vaulted ceilings are gorgeous if your home has them, but they’re not necessarily a feature – or even a possibility – in all homes. Adding ceiling beams, however, is a great DIY project that you can do with a good friend or partner on a weekend. It’s another way to bring some wood into the space too, which adds a touch of rustic warmth to the room.
Organic shaped vases, and layers of accessories
Studio McGee’s signature style always includes vases, pottery, books, baskets, plants and decor items. Here’s a few ways to include them in your home:
- Adding a large family photo book on the coffee table makes for a great conversation piece
- Use large floor baskets to conceal kids toys, and stash throw blankets
- Use vases of different heights on a fireplace mantle to draw the eye to the focal of the room
- Display thrifted vases on built-ins. If you can’t find your color scheme, paint them with baking soda.
- Place table lamps on side tables to create softer mood lighting
- Pull the sofa away from the wall and place a floor lamp behind it
Large, oversized lighting
In a living room, you need a large light. It’s not only functional, but it also centres the room. In a living room, you most often want to use a round light fixture instead of a drop pendent or linear chandelier which is better suited for a dining room.
In the coming weeks, as I tackle my mom’s living room, I will be leaning heavily on these points to recreate the atmosphere that Studio McGee brings to their designs. Join me while I take on my One Room Challenge!
I would love to see you do something like this. If you do, be sure to share with me. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for more budget projects!
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