A Designer's Secret to Creating a Modern Yet Inviting Living Room

This is how it's done

Updated 05/05/19
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We've been watching interior designer Anne Sage's California bungalow come together room by room, and it just keeps getting better. First, we saw her stunning kitchen remodel, and then we took a tour of the master bedroom, where the sunlight flows through the large windows. Up next, we're getting a look inside her open living room and dining room area, where it's clear that living in Los Angeles has impacted her taste. As with the rest of the home, her appreciation of natural light, open spaces, and rich layers of textures shines through immediately. "One look at my Instagram feed is a dead giveaway on my style: I like things simple, clean, and modern, yet warm and inviting too," Sage tells MyDomaine.

This aesthetic and its accompanying sentiments are definitely reflected in the final product. "Our previous house was my husband's former bachelor pad, and while I had done my best to give it a makeover, it always felt like I was trying to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse," she shares. And now that they're in their first home together as a married couple, she's been determined to make every design decision feel like a lasting and intentional one. "I wanted this space to feel like an elevated evolution of our shared design sensibilities, one that was representative of this new phase of our lives together," she says.

To get some expert guidance to oversee the project, she enlisted her favorite interior designer, Martha Mulholland. "Even an interior designer can get tunnel vision when approaching her own home, which is why I called upon fellow designer Mulholland to help me reimagine an oddly shaped living room. The result is a wonderful blend of both our signature styles," Sage tells us. "Martha's taste is like no other," she continues. "Her eye for shape and proportion, plus her vast knowledge of vintage and antiques, makes for unique, sophisticated spaces that also feel really welcoming and inviting." So without further ado, see how she transformed her open floor living room into a picture-picture, livable foyer, dining, and living room.

Laying Out the Open-Plan Space

Living Room Layout Ideas
Monica Wang

"The L-shaped footprint of the room was the biggest stumbling block we encountered while designing this space," Sage says. Coming up with a good layout was the first challenge she and Mulholland tackled. "I knew that the logistics of space planning in this room would be tricky," Sage tells us. "It's one open area, but we wanted it to serve as an entryway, a living room, and a dining room. Bringing a pro with experience on board saved me a lot of painful trial-and-error in trying to figure out the best layout."

And they only had to make one small renovation. "I can't underscore enough the impact of the minor handyman changes that we did make," she tells us— the mounted custom cabinet designed by The Hunt, which sits on the way by the front door. "I absolutely adore the floating effect of the cabinet, not only because it looks more intentional than just putting a console table in that spot, but because it allowed us to create entryway area that feels unobtrusive in our small space."

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"We then kept the dot theme going with fun extras from Consort, my favorite L.A. resource for eye-catching accents like these patterned ceramic jars and a speckled vase."

Setting the Tone With Neutrals and Motifs

Living Room Décor
Monica Wang

Because Sage is drawn to neutral tones, she focused on creating dimension, cohesion, and personality by playing with motifs and textures. Mulholland is the master of layering neutrals for a dynamic and interesting effect, Sage explains: "It was a no-brainer to go with a contrasting palette of ecru and black, with metallics, blonde wood, and caramel leather thrown in for depth." Sage also wanted to incorporate a lot of beautiful textures and backgrounds for flat lays. "I shoot a lot of my work in my home, so it's great to have a crisp, versatile backdrop for impromptu photos," she tells us.

Beyond the neutral colors and organic, natural materials punctuated by metallics, this room also achieves cohesion through the repeating dot motif, from the rug to the dice décor to the circular and spherical shapes of the furniture. "For starters, there's a repeating circle motif that starts in the polka-dot rug by Jaipur Living and continues in the globe lighting by FLOS USA," she says. "I'm obsessed with the Kim Salmela drum ottomans we had custom upholstered in a stain-resistant caramel leather by Crypton Fabric. They're ideal as extra seating or for putting your feet up when you're watching TV, and the brass base adds a touch of metallic polish that juxtaposes so nicely with all the light organic textures in the room."

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"Once we settled on seating, we then chose our accent tables. We pretty quickly landed on the Tulip Coffee Table by Rove Concepts as our coffee table, since its smooth curves offset the angles of the sofa and chairs so nicely. The two martini tables flanking the sofa are from Perigold, a brilliant new site that makes to-the-trade brands available to the public," she says.

In the Seating Area

Sofa Décor
Monica Wang

As expected in a living room, Sage says everything hinged on the seating area: "The sofa and chairs were the first and most important decision we made for the room. Not only did they dictate the other pieces we chose from a stylistic point of view, but their dimensions had to be exactly right since the living room is also the main flow of traffic into the house." Before landing on the ones pictured above, she and Mulholland looked at hundreds of seating options, all of which were too wide or too deep for the tricky footprint of the room. "But then the clouds parted and we found the holy grail: a classic Milo Baughman sofa and chairs in two of the visionary designer's most iconic silhouettes."

"Not only are they the perfect size, I adore the versatility of their elegant proportions and clean lines—and I love that they're manufactured here in the U.S. by another design icon, Thayer Coggin," Sage gushes. She also knew they were going to design custom seating: "We had tons of fun choosing our own upholstery—Crypton Home is pretty much the only fabric I use in my house these days. We have four pets, and Crypton is impervious to stains, which means I get to confidently have a light-colored sofa in spite of the messes our animals make! (And let's be honest; I love to snack while we watch TV, and not every bite makes it to my mouth.)" They chose to get the sofa upholstered in a flax-hued linen from a Crypton collaboration with Thibaut fabric; and the two chairs are covered in multihued nubby strié by designer Dana Gibson for Crypton x Stroheim.

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"The final layer was cozy textiles like an Icelandic sheepskin and super-soft sofa pillows, plus extra cushions in a rattan basket."

Dressing Up Tech

How to Design With a TV
Monica Wang

When you want to design a living room that's both livable and presentable, decorating around the television is the hardest part. And the only items that weren't specifically purchased for this space were the TV and assorted tech accessories. "If it were up to me, we wouldn't have a TV at all. I hate feeling like the room is totally centered around it, but my husband put his foot down on getting rid of it," she tells us.

So they made a compromise with The Frame by Samsung. "It's a TV with a screen mode that allows you to choose an art piece to take the place of a black screen when the TV is off," she explains. Then Mulholland helped them choose a wall-mounted location for it that would be comfortable for viewing. "By opting to place chairs beneath it, she took the emphasis off the TV on the wall and placed it on the conversation zone she had created with the furnishings," Sage tells us.

Mulholland adds that "determining the right placement for the TV was a challenge because it needed to be hung low enough for comfortable viewing from the sofa but high enough to be believable as art. After much deliberation and numerous micro adjustments we nailed it, then reinforced the move by putting chairs underneath the TV to take the emphasis off the wall and onto the seating vignette below."

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Hiding the receiver box and accompanying wires was easy once they found an accent table with a drawer to place between the chairs.

At the Dining Table

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Monica Wang

As she mentioned previously, the layout of the open floor plan made things tricky. "It made finding a suitable dining table and chairs seem like an impossible task," Sage says. "The dining room forms the long, narrow side of the L-shape, and the door to the kitchen is at one end of it," she tells us. "A round or square table would have blocked traffic to the kitchen, as would have any rectangular table of significant width; yet at the same time, all the standard-size tables narrow enough for the space were also too short and would have seemed to float, unanchored, in front of the window."

Just when they were ready to give up on finding the perfect peace, they discovered that Room & Board makes custom dining tables, so she was able to order the exact proportions they needed down to the inch. "We went with the brand's Corbett table, a simple slab table style that reminds me of something you might find in a beach house in Malibu. Its 29" x 86" size fits perfectly beneath the single large window in the dining room while still allowing plenty of clearance to the kitchen door. We paired it with six of Room & Board's Windsor-inspired Thatcher dining chairs in a charcoal stain for a high-contrast yet classic feel."

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Sage chose the Ashwood option for its airy presence and subtly grained finish.

Details in the Dining Room

Dining Room Décor IDeas
Monica Wang

Even though the dining area was one of the hardest sections to nail, Sage ultimately found the right pieces to fit within the shape of the room and blend seamlessly into the lounge area. "My greatest coup was the vintage cabinet in the dining area. Finding a storage piece for that spot was the final piece of the puzzle, and of course it had to be the right size and style. I'd almost given up on finding my dream piece when I stumbled upon this beauty at a vintage store in San Diego," she tells us.

"Anne sent me a text with a photo of the cabinet and I literally jumped up and down—it was perfect. The last piece is always the hardest to find because it has to tie in all the other elements in the space, which requires a nuance and materiality that is a tall order. It rarely happens without spending a ton of money and/or scouring the planet so when you stumble upon that perfect missing pieces it's such a triumph," Mulholland recounts. 

 

"It's so unique with that carved relief paneling—I've never seen anything like it—and the fact that it was only 12 inches deep felt like a minor miracle since everything else I'd tried there jutted too far into the dining area. I bought it on the spot and rented a U-Haul to drive it home from San Diego myself!" she adds. Moral of the story? Never underestimate a flea market. There are so many treasures to dig up in unexpected antique shops and unsuspecting outdoor markets.

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"The existing chandelier for the dining area was in a random spot, so we had an electrician move the ceiling junction box so that it was centered with the window—and then we installed a showstopping brass chandelier by Park Studio LA. It gives the dining area a clear focal point where there wasn't one before. The swing-arm sconce overlooking the sofa was also a newly hardwired addition."

In the Foyer

Monica Wang

And last but not least, we present you with this personality-packed nook. "Once all the major pieces were in place, it was a blast to choose the finishing touches," she tells us, and it really shows through. "Even though the finished room feels elevated and sophisticated, there are design elements that bring a touch of fun and quirkiness to the space. (I like to think my personality is a combination of those qualities too!)"

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"In the entryway, we hung a photo of Big Sur by Denise Crew, who donates a portion of proceeds from sales of the print to the women's empowerment organization Girl Up. My longtime friend Christine sent her Swim/Surf print for over the storage cabinet; it's the perfect subtle yet cheeky nod to our home city of L.A.!"

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Flos was Sage's go-to brand for lighting. "Its Copycat and IC Lights T lamps are internationally renowned pieces, and I love being able to incorporate haute design icons in a not-so-serious way," she says. ■

To see more of Sage's work, check out the bedroom she helped decorate for the style influencer behind Eat/Sleep/Wear, Kimberly Lapides.

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