In this post: Are you often stumped by how to plan your room? Understanding room layout is an important skill to hone to create an ideal furniture plan.⇒
I’m a classicist.
I like to be as appropriate as possible.
I wear florals to garden weddings and long to black tie. I decorate rooms for their function and let the setting drive the style. Libraries can be dark and tweedy, while sunrooms must be light and airy.
It’s not that I don’t like creativity. Quite the contrary. But I prefer the most natural solutions to decorating and find they’re most conducive to pleasant daily living.
This is particularly true when it comes to room layout, where the simplest and most obvious formation is often the best. If you look carefully, the room will tell you where things belong.
I have long avoided contrived room plans, which I find to be forced, at best, and downright ridiculous in the worst cases. Understanding room layout is an important skill and it’s the focus of today’s post. Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly.
I think my very first lesson in room layout came during my early teen years.
I went to a new friend’s house for the first time and as we came down the staircase from her room to the first floor, the stairway landing split in two directions. You could go left into the dining room or right into the den, but you had to choose one as there was a wall straight ahead.
My friend chose to go right to enter the den, but I was shocked to see there was a large round ottoman at the foot of the stairs and she literally stepped onto it to climb into the family room.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why they put the ottoman there. But we’ve all seen decorating infractions that are equally strange. Yes, there are homes that were not designed perfectly for decorating, but there are generally solutions that are reasonably logical.
The overarching goal when it comes to placing furniture in a space is to create a unified whole that serves a purpose, offering comfort and convenience while looking aesthetically pleasing.
If you keep your sights set on harmony and balance, along with a respect for proportion, you’re more than halfway there.
Following are some key principles to keep in mind when planning the layout of the furniture in your rooms.
Define the Function of the Space
Without a doubt, the very first place to start with any room is to determine its purpose or what function it will serve.
A living room is generally built around a conversation area, a dining room around the table where meals will be served. A bedroom is centered around the place where you’ll sleep, while a family room is focused on entertainment for a group. If you dedicate a room to another specific purpose, the furniture will need to accommodate that intent.
Keeping the primary function at the forefront of your mind while setting up your spaces will ensure the room serves you in the best possible way. Resist any temptation to make it harder to use the room to suit your needs. No matter how ugly you think the TV is, if you use it every night, keep it accessible and visible. Likewise, don’t place the dining table in a spot where you need to walk around other furniture, holding a plate of food, to get to it.
Determine the Traffic Flow
A space can only function optimally if you can get to it and through it. The traffic flow of a home is critical, as is the walk space within each room.
The through path should always be the most obvious route, generally starting at the entrance and leading straight through to the next room. Consider where you place things that might get in the way, particularly in entries and hallways, but within the rooms, as well.
Next consider the flow around the room. Can you walk directly to the seating, or do you need to squeeze between tables and clutter? Must you walk around a bed to get to the desk you work at every day? Is there walk space around the entire dining table, or will the people on the other side be uncomfortable and inconvenienced?
Always allow a minimum of 36″ for walk space, 42-48″ is even better for main hallways.
Select a Focal Point
Every room should have a focal point, toward which the furniture is oriented. It might be a fireplace, a television, or a large window with a great view. Where no natural focal point exists, you can create one intentionally with a fabulous piece of art or with shelving and the like.
Once the focal point is selected, everything should be arranged in its direction and for the sake of balance, it’s best not to have other pieces fighting for attention.
But what happens when you have more than one natural focal point? In that case it’s best to choose one as more dominant and downplay the other to maintain harmony in the space.
In our family room, we have a stately fireplace with gilded mirror above, in addition to a large screen TV on an adjacent wall. We used an “L” shaped couch to face both focal points, but placed the TV lower, over an understated console, to allow the mantel to attain prominence.
In the bedroom, the headboard will likely be your focal point and in the dining room a china cabinet or buffet with dramatic decor.
Create a Central Plan or Zones
In most average sized rooms, you’ll want to establish a ‘center’ and bring most of the furniture into that space, which often means pulling the seating and tables away from the walls.
The goal is to have the pieces relate to each other, like a cohesive collection, rather than decorating the perimeter of the room.
Once you have your central cluster (which doesn’t have to be in the literal center of the room), you can then place accents outside the central arrangement and have them relate to an architectural detail instead. A bureau under a window, a desk in an alcove, a table between two columns, etc.
Two notable exceptions: in a very small room, you may have a central composition and still have all the pieces against the walls. And in a very larger room, you may need more than one center, which in effect means creating zones.
In any case, the key point is that your furniture groupings should relate to each other. There should be no one-off chairs or seating. A chair should have, at the very least, a tiny shelf or table nearby.
Know When to Stop
Probably the hardest skill to master is knowing when to stop.
Most rooms look best about a year or two into decorating, when you’ve added all the essential pieces but haven’t started squeezing in that one extra chair or cabinet that has nowhere else to go.
Almost every home could benefit by taking out one or two things from each room, more if you’re including the decorative items in addition to the furniture. Resist the temptation to add little pieces in between the main players.
An overcrowded space is not charming or eclectic. It’s an overcrowded space. And it takes away from the beauty of the pieces that belong.
In the end, furniture placement, like all things, is very personal and your tolerance for what looks done will vary from everyone else’s.
But keep experimenting and always keep in mind balance and proportion, and in time your eye will learn when a room is in harmony and when it simply is not.
Room Layout Resource Guide
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