We’re going to start by stating the obvious: furniture is expensive. (Raise your hand if you had sticker shock the first time you saw the price for a sofa or bed frame!) But it also happens to be one of life’s little necessities. And if you’re getting your first apartment, living solo for the first time, or buying your first home and upgrading to more “grown-up” furniture, it can definitely feel overwhelming to figure out how to furnish your home and still afford to pay your bills and buy groceries.

Many of our Modsy clients are unsure how to think about budget and what to expect when starting a design project. How much does it cost to furnish a whole room? If you’re buying furniture over time, where do you start and what can wait? How do you make your space livable without it being fully furnished? It’s enough to make your head spin! So, we tapped one of our top designers to show us how she’d decorate one room with three different budgets.

Our hope is that this exercise will show you how far different budgets can get you when designing a room from scratch, as well as give you some practical living room design ideas. Of course, not everyone is starting from scratch—perhaps you’re starting with an existing sofa or decorating around a dining room table. But to level the playing field and show you as accurately as possible what it takes to design a full room, we’re starting with nothing but an empty room!

With some smart design choices and a couple of insider hacks, a Modsy designer can help you make the most of any budget. Read on to see how far $3,500, $10,000, and $20,000 will get you when designing a living room.

The Before

Here’s a little context before we get started: The room we’re designing is a 19’x17’ living room with a fireplace. Our designer’s main priorities for the space were to offer the functional basics and a conversational layout, with as much seating, storage, and surfaces as possible for each budget.

Design #1: Living Room With a $3,500 Budget

With a $3,500 budget, you’re just getting the bare necessities. When you’re starting with an empty living room, prioritizing function is key. So, we started with the living room essentials.

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What You Get

  • A Simple Sofa: For a budget-friendly sofa, we opted for a comfortable but less expensive option. Though it’s a fabric-upholstered sofa (made in a durable vinyl), it has a faux leather look which we like. The single bench seat cushion gives the sofa a sleek but simple look. It has smaller dimensions than the average sofa, being shorter and less deep, which helps keep the price point lower.
  • Basic Accent Furniture: The simple accent chairs, side table, coffee table, and floor lamp help fill out the function in this space. They offer a bare minimum for surface space and seating and are all 100% focused on functionality. But that doesn’t mean they’re lacking in style! Small details—whether the shape, material, or finish make them still feel like thoughtful pieces within the space.
  • A Synthetic-Fiber Rug: Why are rugs so expensive? Size and material are huge factors. So, we opted for a rug with slightly smaller dimensions and made of synthetic fibers (since synthetic-fiber rugs tend to be more affordable than their natural fiber counterparts). This rug is made of a combo of polyester and polypropylene and woven in a beautiful, global-inspired pattern that makes it look more expensive than it is. It provides necessary floor protection and helps to “zone” the floating furniture, but the material it’s made out of means it won’t last forever. (AKA, this isn’t an investment piece but rather a rug that does the trick for now!)
  • Minimal Decor: There wasn’t a ton of money left in the budget for decor—but we didn’t want to leave this living room feeling bare. So, one statement piece of wall art above the fireplace (a beautiful landscape painting) adds color and a touch of intentionality to the space. A basket next to the sofa adds a touch of hidden storage, and a few throw pillows and a plant help finish the look.

The Strategy: Function With a Few Frills

This is a “no-frills” living room design. When decorating on a budget, you’re getting the basics and not much else. But we didn’t skimp on functionality. Even with a smaller budget, we were able to fill out the space with essential furniture and accessories while leaving plenty of room to add more over time.

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Design #2: Living Room With a $10,000 Budget

With a $10,000 budget, you’re able to upgrade some of the basic pieces of furniture to add a little more luxury to your space. You can also go beyond the essentials and fill out the living room with a bit more decor.

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What You Get

  • Upgraded Essentials: At this budget, you can spend a bit more on a sofa and accent chairs—leaning more toward investment pieces than shorter-term placeholders. (Check out our guide on how much to spend on a sofa if you’re waffling between a mid-range and more luxurious sofa.) We swapped out the vinyl sofa for a leather one with brass legs. Not only is it a material upgrade, but it’s also longer and deeper, offering more room to kick back and relax. The accent chairs are also more substantial; this design is more comfortable to sit in for long periods of time.
  • Additional Seating: We added two poufs in front of the fireplace to add seating and visual depth to the room. Bonus: they can easily be moved around as needed. We also swapped out the coffee table for a tufted ottoman, which can be used for additional seating as needed.
  • A Larger Rug: Rugs get more expensive the larger they are; so it makes sense that with a smaller budget you likely have to go with a smaller rug. But with more to spend, you can upgrade the size. You’re able to cover more floor space—which, with this floating furniture layout, allows the whole furniture set-up to expand and feel more spacious.
  • Layered Lighting: For lighting in this living room design, we started with a larger and more decorative floor lamp, making a grander visual statement in the space. But we also added additional lighting—including a table lamp on the console, candles on various surfaces, and a beautiful beaded chandelier to give the space more layered lighting.
  • More Accent Furniture and Decor: One of the most notable upgrades to this living room with a $10,000 budget is the addition of a credenza. This not only offers added storage to the living room, but it also offers a styled surface for lighting and decor, and helps fill in the wall alcove on one side of the fireplace. Beyond the credenza, we were also able to add more decorative accents, as well as a large tree which adds texture and color to the space.

The Strategy: Upgraded Essentials

The name of the game at this price point was giving the essential furniture and decor an upgrade. Larger pieces made of higher quality materials will last longer and give this living room design a more elevated look and feel. The addition of a few extra pieces also helps fill out the space.

Design #3: Living Room With a $20,000 Budget

With a $20,000 budget, get to go way beyond the essentials to a fully furnished and styled living room (with upgraded furniture and decor, of course). And with extra furniture, you now have a perfect set-up for larger entertaining and family hangouts.

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What You Get

  • Two Sofas: We loved the sofa from the previous design—so we decided to level up this living room design with two of them! Having a pair of matching sofas facing each other (especially ones finished in such beautiful, high-quality leather) really elevates the design of this living room.
  • Extra Accent Seating: Rather than ditch the pair of accent chairs from the previous designs, we simply swapped out the poufs and placed them in front of the fireplace instead. This offers more substantial seating options, rounding out a robust conversational seating area. The tufted ottoman coffee table or bench behind the sofa could also be used as additional seating when needed.
  • Larger, Layered Rugs: When a budget allows for it, we love layering rugs to add visual depth to a room and give it a stylized and finished feel. And that’s exactly what these layered rugs do for this living room. The top rug also adds beautiful color and pattern to the space—and it’s handwoven by artisans in India, in a durable but lightweight cotton (a meaningful upgrade from power-loomed, synthetic-fiber rugs).
  • Two Display Cabinets: With a larger budget, we could afford to upgrade the one credenza to two display cabinets that frame in the fireplace. This helps utilize the empty space that’s created on either side of the fireplace while adding lots of space for displaying decor and oodles of storage.
  • Additional Accent Furniture: To help fill out the space and give it a more polished look, we added a console table behind the sofa on the window side of the room, offering an extra surface for accent lighting and decor. And a bench behind the other sofa adds some visual depth and a warmer welcome when you enter the space (rather than having a bare sofa back be the first thing you see when you walk into the room).
  • Plenty of Decor and Accents: This budget allowed us to fill out the room with tons of decor and accents. We were able to style all the surfaces—from the coffee table and console to both of the display cabinets. We were also able to swap out the landscape print above the fireplace with a custom piece of artwork. Additionally, we added layered window treatments—building on the roman shades with silk curtains.

The Strategy: Add the Bells and Whistles

Feel like you’re seeing double? That’s because you are—with two sofas, two accent chairs, two display cabinets, and two rugs, there’s simply MORE in this space. And the pieces that are here are high-quality investment pieces that will last for years to come. But we didn’t stop at more furniture. With a $20,000 budget, we were also able to add in all the bells and whistles—fully styling this living room with decorative accents to give it a finished look.

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