Tag Archives: Conversation Areas

Furniture Arrangement: First Function, Then Form

In fact, lining the furniture up along the walls doesn’t work well even if the space actually is a doctor’s office/waiting room.


Furniture arrangement can be baffling, but don’t just give up and line the furniture along the walls.

The space will look like a waiting room and won’t be functional…

Your (feeble) justification that at least the room looks more spacious, is analogous to thinking the upside of going to Hell is all the interesting people you’ll meet.
Dude, you’re still in hell…

Believe it or not:  An attractive furniture arrangement combining functionality with comfort isn’t hard to develop. The key is in understanding that good home design has its own irrefutable logic.

Your furniture should do something besides just sit there. What is its purpose besides the obvious? Be clear about how you intend to use your furniture. Otherwise, without an end result in mind, you’re not accomplishing much besides storage.

Make sure all the furniture in each area serves a purpose before you start “making arrangements”.  Slackers (that means the odd, seldom used piece that provides no accent, interest or sentimental value) should be required to leave the room.

Rooms with too much furniture feel crowded because they are.

Form actually does follow function in this case: Before you get yourself in knots over which way the sofa should sit, take a beat and consider all the things you would want to have or do in any particular area.

Think it about it like this: Let’s say you would love a place to curl up with a good book. A largish upholstered chair is a comfort basic for good reason. Add an ottoman if you are more the “lounge” than “curl-up” type. Next, a good reading lamp is essential to avoid eyestrain. Standing floor lamps are great for task lighting. They don’t take up space if you don’t have much. Or consider a lamp on a table. You’ll want at least a small table in any event, because you will need a place to set your drink or anything else you’ll be using while you sit.

Recipe for creating conversation areas worth talking about. Your living room is often the most important room in the house because of its frequent use and multi-functions.  Your 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.

Start with the biggest piece, which is probably the sofa.  Have two chairs flanking or opposing and a coffee table in the middle close enough for everyone to set drinks or food.  A sofa and a love seat at right angles and a chair or two opposite can work as well. Keeping the sofa and chairs within eight feet of each other is a good measure.   Allow 14” to 18” between the coffee table and the front of the sofa for easier access.

Small tables as end pieces can be added as extra surfaces for convenience. Drinks set on floors have a way of becoming future messes to mop up. Always have some sort of flat surface handy for this purpose.

Where the rubber hits the road. It should be obvious but it’s often overlooked. Your furniture plan should relate to the architecture of your home and use it to best advantage. What are the best features in the room and how can they be used?

Good decisions come from Wisdom. Wisdom comes from Experience. Experience comes from Bad decisions.

Good furniture arrangements come from Good Planning. Once you have an outline of which furnishings you will need per area, per function, it’s time to consider placement.

Oh, and how do you make this high functioning arrangement look great too?

The easiest and most effective method to develop your best plan is by either using graph paper and templates or any one of a number of online furniture planners available.  Show where the doors, windows, radiators, and fireplace etc. are positioned. Draw in the electrical outlets too.

Next up: Create templates of furniture to scale on paper or use the options available in your online planner to simulate the intended furnishing. Using markers or crayons, color them as close to reality as you can.   If your online furniture planner allows, color each piece in your drawing. Otherwise, print your plan and color accordingly.

One of the most important pieces of information you’ll get about how the completed room arrangement will look is whether the colors of the room are spread around in a balanced way.

You’ll get the best effect by mixing color and pattern, as well as by mixing the tall and/or big furniture with smaller items. You don’t want to wind up with all the big brown pieces on one side of the room.

No matter what room you are planning, always place the biggest pieces of furniture first because they take up the most floor space.

Meeting scale with scale, deliberately. Don’t put a dinky table next to an over-sized chair.  However, two small armchairs and a small table can be grouped to balance a larger piece, such as a sofa.

Counter-intuitive inspiration. Investigate the idea of using only a few large pieces of furniture in a small room.  This gesture can actually make a small room seem bigger.

Create more visual flow, floor to ceiling,  by varying the elevations of the different pieces you are using.  The exception to this is that it’s best to keep most of your light sources at relatively the same height to prevent a “carnival light” effect.

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. Without a built-in focal point, a wall unit will serve well. Otherwise, try positioning the sofa on the longest wall away from the entry door.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, the focal point includes a view of the radiator. This vision is hardly “uplifting”. See if the furniture arrangement you have in mind can be flipped so that a major piece, the sofa for example, sits with the back to the radiator.  Pull it out about a foot for good air circulation and arrange the other furniture around it accordingly.   If that doesn’t work, there are other solutions such as a draped table, perhaps with a large flower arrangement or lamp on top. Folding screens are great.  They can hide so much, anywhere.

The floating world, redux. When the room is large enough, 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.  Or consider if the area can be placed on a diagonal.

About the well lit home: Most people tend to under-light their homes by having only a few sources with too high wattage. For the best effect as well as comfort, you want fixtures that will provide good overall illumination AND light sources that best enhance the types of activities you’ll be doing in that area. Sconces, table lamps and standing floor lamps are all good options. Think about using pairs because a few pairs in a room help to “ground” the overall scheme.

Too many “one-offs” and your home will look like a clearance sale.

Then again, don’t over-do the number of pairs either or your home will have a “Noah’s Ark” look to it…. not really optimum, design-wise.

Whichever way you position your arrangement, it should look inviting. You don’t want to obstruct the entrance of your room with furniture. The traffic paths coming into the room should be able to flow around the area, and not through it, unless there is no alternative.

A word to the bruised.  Be mindful of any sharp corners on tables in areas people are likely to pass close by and move them from harm’s way. Better yet, use tables with rounded edges or round tables in these areas.

Give me some space. Good space planning takes into account human dimensions as well as the space needed for doors and drawers to open easily. For that reason, allow at least 24 inches walking space in every instance. In your dining room, allow at least 3 feet from the table edge to the wall.  Space is needed to pull out a chair and sit comfortably without feeling cramped. In bedrooms, leave 24 inches between the bed and the wall and at least 36 inches between the edge of the bed and any door that opens into the room.

Selective inattention is not your friend. You may notice once you sort out workable furniture arrangements that some of the pieces look a little “tired and out of sorts”.

If you have been lugging those milk crates around since college, it may be time for a change.


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Large Article Photo: 3D Floor Plan
Article photo: Doctor’s Office