Do you know the best way to plan your furniture arrangements to look great, be comfortable AND convenient too? Did you know there are smart solutions even for those weird shaped rooms that don’t even seem meant to be lived in? Read on. This is how a great furniture layout can improve the quality of your life at home more than you imagined.
are you Mystified about how to plan your furniture layout?
key clue: lining your furniture along the walls is not a good default solution
You might think that, if nothing else, the room looks more spacious, when actually it looks like a waiting room. It’s not the most functional solution, either.
An attractive, welcoming furniture layout, combining both functionality with comfort, isn’t hard to develop. BUT it does require thoughtful planning and a reality check here and there.
A good furniture plan is more layered than just positioning the sofa in front of the flat screen.
The better question is “What does a good furniture layout dO besides just sit there?”
Your furnishings are there to serve you. Planning your furniture layout to provide more comfort, convenience and greater livability at home, is a very achievable endgame.
Step 1. plan furniture layouts for the bigger picture
Think of this as a “pre-game warm-up.
By considering all the things you need, before you begin, you will be prepped for Home Design Victory.
how to assess room function effectively
Waaaaay before you get yourself in knots over which way the sofa should sit, take a beat and think through all the things you would want to have or do in any particular area.
there are basics, of course
- Comfortable seating. Period.
- Surfaces. You want to be able to set down food/drinks without over-reaching.
- Lighting. A really good lighting plan is a must. Especially, good reading light where you need it. You may want to head over to this great lighting guide:
can your rooms be multi or re-purposed?
Gone are the days when “a Formal Dining Room” was something to be aspired to. Great to have if you love hosting large, lavish dinner parties, but not so much if you and yours would rather dine and Netflix. In the same way, the notion of a “Master Bedroom” is also dated. Unless, your home has so many bedrooms they’ve been named for easier identification. Formal Living Rooms have a tendency to never be used unless a “Guest” arrives with whom you are only on more Formal Terms.
no doubt, you see where I’m going with this…
don’t overlook questions like these:
- Do you need a dining room? Would you be better served if the space were used as another type of room instead?
- Could your library serve double duty for a dining room COMBO?
- Have you always wanted a quiet place to curl up with a good book? Where in your home could this be?
the most important room is where you do the most living
Is your living room also your family room?
The more modern term is the family living room, probably.
whatever you call it, you will want:
- Conversation areas worth talking about. A well appointed Family Living Room is more than a place to sit. The primary goal is to create a great looking seating area that allows for comfortable conversation without raising your voice or twisting to make eye contact.
- Add a few more seating options then you need now. The Family Living room is where you lounge for binge watching (or not) your favorite programs, with or without your friends and family.
Even if you are somewhat of a hermit, it’s smart to plan for the unexpected and a potentially larger life.
step 2. Edit, edit, edit
how to view the principle of “use what you have”
Sometimes one gets to start with a clean slate: new furniture for empty rooms. But for the most part, for varying reasons, we work with what we already have, BEFORE we add or replace necessary pieces at a later time.
This situation is not always ALL GOOD. Some of your existing furniture might have a pre-existing condition.
Unattractive, worn out, or whatever-else-could-be-wrong, you still might have to keep Granny’s favorite chair…or she will be heart broken.
Before you start “making arrangements”, edit ruthlessly:
- End tables that are too small
- Coffee tables that are too low
- Chairs so old they are lumpy, uncomfortable AND unattractive
“SLACKERS” are those never used things that don’t provide interest or even sentimental value. They SHOULD be required to leave the room.
These are just a few of the obvious reasons.
Live with anything long enough and anyone can develop “Selective Inattention.”
Head over here for more about “extra stuff” and general clutter.
step 3. take Complete measurements of rooms aND furniture
First things first: You MUST measure your doors, hallways and elevator (if you have) before placing any new furniture orders. Some companies offer what is call a “Fit Appointment”. Take advantage of this. Don’t assume these areas ARE big enough, just because they LOOK big enough.
There is no getting around it. get ALL the measures, ALL AROUND any given room.
The only way to plot furniture layouts for real is with real measurements of all the furniture too. Height, width and depth for every piece.
Ceiling height and window dimensions are important, too. Low slung pieces will work better in rooms with lower ceilings, while higher ceilings can handle taller items.
Don’t try to do this in your head. Guesswork can kill your vision before it’s even installed
what about planning the furniture layout with an app?
There are several good, easy to use on-line apps that you can plug your room measurements into. Usually, there are furniture templates you can scale to your furniture measurements too. This one from Spoak is a favorite of ApartmentTherapy.com.
Here’s a spiffy tool to use for planning before you visit stores too. Photo Measures is a third party, stand-alone visualization app. It makes is possible for you to write your floor and wall measurements down ON your room photos for easy reference later. You will be able to note the locations by measure for doors, windows, radiators and fireplaces, etc. It’s smart to locate the electrical outlets too. It’s good to know how many extension cords you might need and how you might hide them or make them less noticeable.
the higher octave of planning furniture layouts
It’s hard to imagine what an 84″x 40″ sofa is going to look like, in terms of volume, once you get it home. Actual visual evidence beforehand is very helpful. You can mark out the dimensions of any items in play with blue painter’s tape (available at any hardware or paint supply store) on the floor.
I’ve often made “paper doll” furniture pieces using exact measurements out of brown kraft paper and packing tape. The advantage here is that you can move your “furniture” around to see if there are better locations or angles for final placement.
I know of some designers who will make FULL SCALE MODELS from foam core, when the space itself is particularly complicated. You can get large boards in different thicknesses at art supply stores. Use a box cutter/mat knife for cutting.
A more manageable way to go is to build a small cardboard model to scale. You might enjoy this little art project and for scale to real life, it’s quite accurate.
at last: a practical use for all those amazon boxes!
Then again, if you just want a quick, dirty, old school planning method, don’t forget graph paper and a pencil with a good eraser.
Step 4. planning furniture layouts to your advantage
Regardless of which room(s) you furnish, the notion of form follows function will always be your guiding principle. Think through how you use any area. For example, a well appointed reading corner would have:
- Comfy chair
- Good reading light
- Table for drinks/snacks
- Potentially an ottoman for your feet
- A fluffy throw, if you really want to go all Ralph Lauren.
are there rules or a “proper” way to lay out the furniture?
The only rule and proper way to plan a great looking and efficient layout is the way that works best for you.
Assuming of course, that what works best fulfills YOUR VERSION comfort, convenience and beauty. No judgements.
The furniture arrangements described below are classic.
Start with the biggest piece, which is usually the sofa.
- Have two chairs, flanking or opposing, the sofa and a coffee table in the middle of the arrangement. It should be close enough for everyone to set down drinks or food.
- A sofa and a love seat at right angles along with a chair or two opposite can work as well.
- Use pull-up seating options like benches, stools, floor pillows if your room isn’t large but you like entertaining more than a couple of people at a time.
- Small tables as end pieces can be added as extra surfaces for convenience. Always have some sort of flat surface handy for this purpose.
Drinks left on floors have a way of becoming future messes to mop up.
play up the architecture
See how the architecture of any room might be used to your advantage. What are the best features in each room and how can they be highlighted? Is there a natural focal point?
What is a focal point?
- In practical terms, a focal point is where your eye first lands when you enter a room: the center of interest in other words.
- In design terms, a focal point can be your best friend because if you position your furniture and accessories to highlight that area, it almost guarantees a foolproof great result.
If you don’t have a built-in focal point, a wall unit will work well too. Otherwise, try positioning the sofa on the longest wall away from the entry door.
The smart play is to plan your seating arrangement around a focal point, where possible.
It’s the no-fail foundation of a great looking room.
Make the best use of bad design rules
It’s an old wive’s tale (also known as a Bad Design Rule) that you aren’t supposed to put beds under windows. It’s a clearly missed opportunity, see above photo.
To have a sense of open flow and spaciousness, plan for the longest lines of sight to the windows and from room to room.
I’m sure you know that blocking doorways, or placing furniture so close to one, that you have to wiggle to get in or out of a room is not an optimal solution.
Avoid that. Better no furniture than a big bruise.
If anything can ONLY be placed in front of windows or a window wall, make it look deliberate. A bed/beds between a pair of casement windows can look great, as shown above.
If the best (only?) location for your sofa is going to block a window, put a console table behind it. The console will also give you a convenient surface for a pair of lamps and perhaps a small vignette of books/flowers in between.
More, not fewer lighting options, work to your advantage.
Move the sofa forward roughly 12″: it won’t block the light, or give you the feeling you had NO CHOICE but to SHOVE your furniture to the walls to get everything in.
position your furniture layout to look inviting
Avoid the visual obstruction of any large/tall pieces in front of smaller/shorter ones.
Place Your bigger, heavier furniture, such as the sofa, away from the main entry point. Arrange the lighter items, such as chairs, coffee and end tables, etc. to create the rest of the seating planned for that area. Your room will then have a more open and welcoming feeling.
Also, plan good sized pathways between any settings. The foot traffic coming into the room should be able to flow around the area, not through it, unless there is no alternative.
Major pathways should be at least 36″. Use 48” if you like it airy. You can get away with a few inches short of this but consider 30” to be your bottom line.
Don’t forget to allow for doors that swing open into the room.
No point in planning a Furniture layout that might cause injury, especially to little people.
how do you plan an attractive furniture Layout in huge rooms?
It’s been said that “space” is the last great luxury in modern times.
Have you been Blessed by The Housing Gods?
- Think in terms of creating a variety of seating groupings for conversation, or perhaps for flat screen viewing.
- The sofa and chairs that make up the conversation area can “float” as long as there is at least 3 feet behind the sofa for passage. This is an especially good idea when your focal point is a fireplace.
- Can the arrangement be placed on a diagonal? Easy Wow Factor.
- If your room is very deep, add a console table behind the sofa if the walk space is wide enough. This idea is a “no-brainer” when the back of the sofa sits directly in front of the opening of the room.
- Use folding screens with a round table to help demarcate different areas.
- Large area rugs also demarcate areas effectively. The rugs don’t all have to be different. Sometimes it’s a better tie-in and less busy looking to duplicate the same rug in designated places around the room.
- Place desks perpendicular to walls rather than facing them. Obviously a view of a lovely room is preferable to a view of a wall.
Scratch that idea if you can place the desk in front of a large window.
how do you do plan an effective furniture layout for very small rooms?
The phrase “less is more” is especially true in small spaces. Determine the short list of what that room needs.
Then consider these ideas:
- Lower-slung furniture in small rooms with the attending increase in air-space is a good idea.
- It seems counter-intuitive, but using only a few large pieces of furniture in a small room can actually make a that tiny space seem bigger.
- Can the pieces you need also do Double Duty? Look for coffee tables, end tables and nightstands that have built in shelves or drawers. Bed frames with storage drawers (known as “captain’s beds) are very useful too.
- “Floating” pieces” such as a free-standing vanity in the bathroom have the same effect.
- A big piece, such as a sofa, on long or thin legs, is especially effective for this.
- Furniture on long or thin legs create more open visual space by letting light be seen underneath.
Watch out for too much of a good thing, however.
Too many things, on long spindly legs, will make your room will appear “nervous”, ungrounded aND still small.
General words of wisdom For Furniture Layouts
- Whoever said size doesn’t matter is an idiot. Don’t put a dinky table next to an over-sized chair.
- However, you can use dinky to your advantage. Two small armchairs and a small table can be grouped to balance a larger piece, like a sofa.
- Pairs are good, but not Noah’s Ark good. A few pairs, such matching lamps, end tables or chairs, help to “ground” the overall scheme. Too many “one-offs” and your home will look like a clearance sale.
- Sometimes space for a coffee table is limited. Consider Bunching Tables. This is the term for 2-3 matching tables that are about 18” square or round. Looks great and solves the problem elegantly.
- Your home is not a Fun House. It looks a little crazy when your chairs and sofa are wildly different heights. An inch of two difference is ideal.
- The end table height is best (and most convenient) level or a few inches below the arms of your furniture.
- Avoid overlapping your furniture at right angles. It will look like a sloppy arrangement and feel “off”
A beautiful space, in your own style, that functions effectively will do wonders to enhance a real sense of well being.
Over To You…
I’d love to know what you think...
Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!
are there other topics you might be interested in?
Setting out to create the best version of beautiful home design, tailored especially for you, has a lot of potential questions built in. Please let me know. I’m here to help.
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about the author
Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it woh9rks and how to make it work for anyone.
Nearly 30 years experience as a design consultant to private clients in addition to consulting with clients for well known, high end furniture retailers proved to be invaluable training.
In 2010, Decoding Decor won a $1000 cash prize as one of four editors top pick for best content from Demand Media, the largest media content aggregate in the country, with access to over 45 million articles.
She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed.
She lives in New York City with Olivia, The Cat. When not writing for the Library, she can be found cycling though Central, Riverside and Hudson River Parks, watching way too much film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.