I thought I'd take Sara's suggestions for 5 basics and find some budget-friendly examples. Take one: Several Seating Areas.
"In a small living space, that means 2 sofas - a couple can sit together on one or both stretch out on their own. In a larger living room I like to create several seating areas. A built-in banquette/window seat in the corner with a game table creates a nook for evening games, a larger gathering area with one or two sofas and a few chairs lends itself to great conversation over cocktails, while a chaise lounge or two is perfect for the person who is wanting their own space to read while others may be watching TV."
Here are my suggestions for two couches, which will ground any room and add symmetry (instantly making you look like had a design plan). Finding two new couches for around $1000 total is virtually impossible. BUT! On Overstock.com, a favorite of my friend Jessie's, I spied a find.
Photo from Overstock.comMade of eco-friendly fabric and constructed of sustainable hardwood, this Metolious Limit Sofa in Cream will fit three people and is a traditional shape that won't go out of style. A user review remarked that the color is closer to a light khaki - even better!
Cost: $699.99 each.
Shipping: $2.95 (yes, you read that right)
Total (without tax): $1402.93
Add a soft throw over the center of the back of one and some appropriately-sized pillows*, and voila! Your living room will instantly have presence.
Of course, there is always Ikea (though you are paying less for lower quality materials). Check out these two sofas:
Karlstad Sofa (with Cover) at $399.00 each - a clean look that would work well in any apartment or home. Makes me think of the beach.
Knihult Sofa at $349.00 each - modern and masculine. To keep this piece from looking cheap, you'd need to be very particular about the pieces you surround it with. You may also consider staining or painting the legs.
Both photos from Ikea.comIn pairs, each of these sofas will center your room. And you can easily add a chair or two from Craigslist, a flea market or even the Salvation Army for more seating under $100! Paint or recover whatever you don't like about the piece (coordinate with, but don't duplicate exactly, the colors you use for throw pillows/blanket). This will also create a more lived-in, eclectic look, since the chairs won't match the couches. Repeat: don't match the chairs to the couches.
This is a very good thing, Martha.
P.S. So, why are quality couches so expensive? Most large retail chains don't use hardwood and quality fillers (such as down) when building their furniture, allowing them to lower their cost and charge you less. This means the pieces aren't made for long-term use and likely will lose their comfortability and look after extended wear (foam cushions lose their bouyancy). If you are investing in one piece of furniture, a good couch (made of kiln-dried hardwood, down/down blend cushions, 8-way tied coil springs, screw construction vs. stapling) is worth it - you'll keep it for 15 years. And Ikea will be a very distant memory at that point!
*I hate when throw pillows look too small or too large for a couch. It looks cheap. Boys, ask a girl for assistance with this shopping trip! This also ties into Basic 2: Texture and Color. More on that later.