Design Secrets: Arranging A Living Room
Have you ever walked into someone’s house and felt awkward about where you were supposed to stand? Or had to squeeze between two sofas too close to one another to reach the seating area? What about a dash into the bathroom to get some breathing room because everyone just felt way too close to you? [Introverts unite!]
The arrangement of a room has a direct impact on how comfortable you feel in that room. Good space planning is one of the simplest changes you can make to a space as there’s no need to buy anything - just rearrange what you have. And yet it can make a huge difference in how your home feels. A good flow will make you and your guests comfortable, show people how to move through a space, and make several layers of activities function together; while a bad arrangement can be awkward. Really awkward. Like trying to squeeze between someone’s back and the wall to get to the middle chair awkward. (I mean, do you go in facing the wall or back to the wall?) Yeah, let’s avoid that one.
Designers spend years learning, practicing, and perfecting space planning. It’s not always easy. Sometimes we spend months drafting a floor plan, and then change it as soon as we start installing in the actual space because it just doesn’t feel right. That said, there are a few basic guidelines anyone can follow that can take your home from awkward to cozy with only a little time and experimentation. And maybe a set of muscles.
1. Focal Point
Orient your furniture towards a focal point, whether it’s a fireplace, a view, artwork, or a TV. A focal point informs the purpose of the seating group. If you’re facing a TV, then you know this is a space for relaxing with a game or movie on; if you’re facing a beautiful view, then you know to grab a glass of your favorite drink and watch the sunset. It doesn’t mean you can’t do other things within that space, it just gives the arrangement a sense of place; it anchors the furniture within the room. “Floating furniture” is always uncomfortable - that’s when a furniture grouping drifts randomly in the middle of a room, with no ties to the rest of the space. If you find yourself in this situation because you don’t have an obvious focal point, try adding a rug to ground the grouping and/or add art over a credenza (maybe a gallery wall) to create a focal point.
When a room just “feels good,” a lot of the time it’s due to good balance. Lopsided furniture arrangements can literally make you feel like you’re leaning. You don’t have to exactly mirror two sides of a room like the two sofas facing above, but if you draw a line down the center of the grouping, you do need roughly equal masses on each side. Here are a few examples: A classic layout is a sofa facing two chairs and a side table (second floor plan above). The visual weight of the two chairs and table is roughly equal to the sofa, so it feels good; it’s balanced. Another situation is a sectional with a chaise facing a fireplace; add a lounge chair opposite the chaise to counterbalance the arrangement and allow people in conversation to face one another (last floor plan above).
Map out the circulation routes in your room and respect them. Meaning, figure out where you usually walk to get from one important point in a room to the other, and place furniture in a way that allows that flow to happen naturally. Also, leave enough room to walk INTO a seating group. Please don’t make anyone shimmy between furnishings in order to sit down on your sofa! You should leave enough room that no one has to turn sideways to get in and out. In small spaces, the circulation route may be through the middle of a room, and that’s okay as long as you leave enough space to walk comfortably and don’t separate furniture meant to stay together (like a set of two lounge chairs).
Circulation is how you can control how people experience your home. Place a table in the middle of the entryway and people will stop beside it rather than come fully into the house. Turn your sofa so it’s facing the doorway (instead of back to it) and guests will feel more comfortable coming in and sitting down. In the floor plan below, I anchored the main seating group near the fireplace, which allowed the circulation routes to flow around it. The sofa is placed facing the doorway with a low bench opposite to welcome you into the room and persuade you to sit down.
My last tip is to use places you like for ideas of how to lay out the furniture in your own home. Write a list of your favorite places to be, whether in a home or a public building. Then visit those places and look for the three principles above in the way the furniture is arranged. Why do you like to be there? What is the focal point? How close is the furniture to the focal point? How have they balanced the arrangement? How does the flow of traffic work within/around the arrangement?
Then go home and experiment with rearranging your own furniture. Try a few different layouts and think about how they make you feel within the space. Does one layout feel more spacious and another more cozy? Does one feel super uncomfortable and another relaxes you? You might find that, with very little change, the arrangement feels worlds better. You also may discover that you like your room better with less furniture in it.
When we moved into our current house, I had planned to place our two sofas on an “L” facing the fireplace and back sliding door. Then for a party I flipped the arrangement so that the sofas faced into the room and realized that it was loads more comfortable and open that way, and it’s stayed the same ever since. People used to stop to talk standing by the dining table because having the back of the sofa facing into the room left them unsure whether they could sit down. Now guests feel more relaxed and welcome when they walk in and rarely need an audible invitation to sit down. You don’t need fancy furniture or a huge room to have a comfortable home, all you need is a good space plan.
Do you have any questions about space planning or layouts that I can help you with? Let me know in the comments!