Steven Gambrel, one of America's top-tier interior designers, recently had a chance to consider the question. Although he lives and often works in the most urbane precincts of Manhattan, Steven grew up in Virginia and still has ties there. When the owners of a Middleburg horse farm asked him to convert one of their barns into a place for large, casual parties and just hanging out and watching TV, he took it on with relish—his first barn, and on home turf.
A black marble fireplace strikes the perfect balance between edgy and timeless. It anchors this living room designed by Arent & Pyke, which get a contemporary lift from the jute rug, modern and bright artwork, and shapely table lamp. And because the armchairs are a classic silhouette, they'll last forever—you can reupholster them with different colors and prints throughout the years as your taste and style changes.
Designed by Studio Razavi, this eclectic Parisian apartment is a breath of fresh air. Not only does it prove that you can use a wallpaper mural in a minimalist environment (the grayscale color palette helps), but it's also the perfect example of how to design a living room that's both fun and relaxed, sophisticated and formal. The key? Seating needs to be comfortable, and materials need to be casual but clean.
With the multihued curtain fabric as her jumping-off point, designer Ashley Whittaker splashed an amped-up version of pink in three places in the living room—the footstool, the contrasting pillow welt, and the slipper-chair trim. "We wanted the home to feel bright and colorful like Florida but not like a vacation home," says Ashley. She pulled off the cozy yet elegant vibe by grounding the sun-and-surf palette with serious touches, such as the antique demilune tables.