Furniture Arrangement Series {Very Irregular of Course!}

Furniture arrangement can be challenging.  There are so many things that need to be taken into account:  traffic patterns, focal points, activities, seating needs, lighting, etc.  The last thing most people want is a crowded room, but it's important to walk the line between having a room with too much stuff in it, and having a room that doesn't have enough furniture/ functions.  Fear of overcrowding often keeps floorplans (and as a results rooms!) a bit dull.  I thought it might be helpful to do a series (irregular of course!- don't want to feel like it's homework ;) of posts with examples & tips on floorplans & furntiure arrangements that work and cases in which the "rules" are beautifully broken. 

When I walk into a room for a job, I typically mentally begin rearranging it and I have an idea of how I think it will work best, but I still take the measurements back to the office and we draw it out to scale.  Some flooplans are much more obvious than others and are "easy" while others can be seriously tricky.  There are usually mulitple ways to create a good floorplan, and sometimes it seems there's only one right one.  We "play" with different furniture arrangements until we come up with one that will work best for the room & for our clients.   

I thought it might be helpful for me (and hopefully you too ;)  to outline some of the thought processes, "rules" and ideas/ tips that are rolling around in my head when I'm working on floorplans.  I'm starting out with walkways/ traffic patterns & then get a teensy bit into seating placement & bookshelves.  (This is by no means comprehensive but I thought it might be fun to share.)

1.  Traffic Patterns are important but so is the room's function:
I find that I always want just a little more room when working on floorplans.  Living rooms & family rooms are some of my favorite rooms to do but they often have multiple doorways/ trafficways cutting through them which can make furniture arrangement tricky.  The rule of thumb is to allow at least 3 feet for walkways, which can really take off a lot of space in a smaller room.   (Following the rule would often mean not including certain necessary pieces of furniture.)  

For example, in the room below, there isn't a clear-cut traffic way through the TV area to get to the {amazing} nook area in the back.  For that traffic lane to be open, they would have to remove the chair in the left, which I think would really take a way from the room. 

{I can't remember where I found this image- sorry!}

To me, it seems more important to have the chair there rounding out the seating area, than it is to have the pathway open.  When working on floorplans, sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils.   

When I run into this I often think...  "Should this room be a destination or a pass-through?"  Most homes have rooms that need to function as both (especially homes that have additions) and of course the goal is do do both well.  But the reality is that sometimes you have to lean more towards one or the other.  Whenever possible, I like to lean towards the "destination" end of the spectrum because rooms are enjoyed the most when you're in them.  Of course we notice a room when we're passing through it or entering into it, but the most important thing is what we notice when we're in it, experiencing it. 

{I love this room above, but take a look at how much furniture is in it...  It's more than in most houses but look how enjoyable/ cozy that room would be for a  group of people.  The chairs flanking the fireplace foten wouldn't make it into the floorplan but they add interest and additional seating to be pulled into the conversation. Image source: WALDO} 

2.  Seating should face goodness and shouldn't "be" the goodness: 
Distinguishing the room as a destination vs. a "viewing room" or pass-through room affects focal points and where you place your furnishings.  I find that upon first walking into many clients living rooms/ family rooms for the first time, they often have them set up so that you can see the sofa in clear view as a focal point and it's up against a wall, and the room looks nice upon entering.  (I call this a "viewing" room.  It's pretty at first glance but not truly enjoyable once you're in it.) Once you actually sit in the sofa, your view is often out of the room to a hallway and not on an interesting focal point.  The room is better enjoyed upon enetering when you're still on your feet than it is when you actually sit in the room and use it, which isn't good.   (The sofa / chairs should not be your first focal points, because the seating is where you're sitting when you're in the room, so it should be facing your focal points.)  

3.  Bookshelves aren't sacred: (but I do loooove them!!) 
Another thing I find people are typically a little afraid of doing is placing furniture & accessories in front of bookshelves.  Bookshelves can function just like walls, and if needed (to round out a furniture grouping or to add interest) pieces can be placed in front of them.  Without seating, you won't spend much time in an area of a room.  You might stand up to browse the books & enjoy them that way, but you won't be able to sit & relax, so if your goal is to spend time in that particular area of the room, it needs some type of seating, even if it's lined with shelving.  In the photo below,  the chair looks beautiful, adds interest, and provides seating.  Yes, it does block the books a little and would need to be moved to access certain books, but here, the pros -of actually being able to sit & enjoy the books- seem to outweight the cons. 

{Design by Lars Bolander, image via Cote de Texas}

Here are a few examples of sofas being placed in front of bookshelves.  It's a gutsy move and not something your avereage homeowner would do, but I love it:

{Design by Joe Nye, featured in House Beautiful}

And here a console has been placed between the sofa and bookshelves to provide a place for lighting & pretties:
{Design by Steven Grambrel featured in House Beautiful}

And in the room below, artwork has been layered over the bookshelves:

{Design by Markham Roberts featured in House Beautiful}

Again, it's something a homeowner wouldn't typically do, but it looks amazing.  I firmly believe that to create a great room, you need to be taking at least one risk, and the painting over the bookshelves is a beautiful one.  Breaking out of the box is something you see happening in magazines all the time, but many homeowners are a little bit afraid of it. 

In the photo below, a desk has been placed in front of shelving and artwork has been layered in front of it:

{Design by Mary McGee featured in House Beautiful}

And in this photo below, a bistro table & a few chairs has been placed in front of booksleves, creating a cozy little eating/ drinking area:

{Design by Frank DelleDonne featured in House Beautiful}

I've got to run for the day but will be posting more about furniture arrangement when I can.  To me, good decorating is fearless and breaks the rules or takes a risk when it's called for.  (not just to do it, but when it's appropriate.)  A great floorplan is just one of the many ingredients that go into a well-done room, but I think outlining how to push the limits can make taking the risks a little less frightening!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.


MissBliss said...

What a great post! So many tips and such great food for thought. I was a furniture re-arranger as a kid and still am :) My husband is too; we are always trying to get it just right and figure something else out as we move it around... good points here! Thanks!

Kristy @ I Design Love said...

A very insightful post! I really agree with you that it can be tricky when space planning a living room. You don't want to much furniture, but at the same time you don't want to little.

Mary said...

Great post! Love the idea of a sofa in front of bookcases.
What I struggle with is how much seating my living room should have.
Enough for my husband & myself? A sofa & chair?
Or enough for company? A sectional & a chair?
Right now it's set up for just my husband & myself. Fortunately, we don't have company that often.

pve design said...

Love for you to do a post on the proper placement of wall sconces for bed side reading. I am about to make the decision for the swing arm wall sconces which I have always wanted for reading in bed. It is the little luxuries that count, right!

JamieEvelyn said...

Simply beautiful! I love rearranging furniture.

Stephanie said...

Great information! I am currently working on a room in my house that would traditionally be a formal living. It has great natural lighting (total of 10 windows) and opens to the long hallway. However, I want to make it a library with some comfortable seating for reading or enjoying a glass of wine. I am having bookshelves made for one side (maybe both) and plan to place a love seat right in front of it. Everyone insists that I need to leave at least 3 feet between the seating and bookcase...thank you for showing that I don't!

Leslie said...

Thanks for sharing a few of your insights! My husband and I were just talking about room arrangement yesterday. It truly is a work of art, and I enjoyed reading a few of your tips.

Leanbean said...

Great post! When we moved into our house we couldn't figure out how to arrange our very large living room with floor to ceiling French doors (four sets!). I thought he was totally nuts when he drew the room and then cut out furniture shapes to scale. Apparently, he was on the right track! Just don't tell him that!

home before dark said...

Such practical beauty in the works here. In my office I have broken SO many rules. My desk faces the closet because I did not want my back to the door. I have four bookcases which, indeed do act like walls. I love having two of antique wicker chairs in here, but I have to tell you if these weren't beloved family pieces, I'd chuck them in for chairs on WHEELS! That is the best way to handle having stuff in front of books that you do want to reach without having to do warm up exercises first!

anamanzana said...

love your post! was hoping you would cover my to place 2 sofas in a room where the fireplace is on one wall and the tv is on the opposite wall. putting them on the same wall isn't an option since the fireplace is flanked by 2 entries to another room. AND the other 2 walls? one is a wall of windows - bad for tv placement and the other is an opening to the front door.
have been trying to figure this out for months!
if you have a

The enchanted home said...

Such a good and interseting post. I am actually bookmarking it so I can come back again and again! Thank you.

Holly Irwin Fine Art said...

Thanks Lauren, great post! My favorite is the square coffee table with the large rustic bowl in the first photo. Love it!

dutchbritishlove said...

Love this and I look forward to more in this (irregular) series! I love your statement that to create a great room, you should take at least one risk. It's so true that it can feel scary to do it in your own home, but I will definitely keep it in mind.

Corey said...

Interesting post! I will definitely consider this when I have my own home. Right now I just lease furniture for work and at home since I'm always moving locations. I would one day like to own my own furniture though!

anonymous reader said...

I really enjoyed this post- especially the bit about traffic patterns and enjoying the room from different perspectives. Do you feel that there should be one statement making piece of furniture or multiple smaller pieces? I am in the process of arranging an office for Creations Studio and thought a second opinion would be nice. Great site! I will be checking back for more. If you are ever in need of antler furniture or western art, please visit our website:

Carla@DesignintheWoods said...

Nice post. I love that first's a House Beautiful, one of my faves. I love how the furniture is arranged in that room. I'm like you, I like the chair there. Without it to compliment the other seating it would seem unbalanced.

lisaroyhandbags said...

I love this post - great tips. I agree, I don't often see people layering their furniture in front of bookshelves (except in magazines of course). But it's a great solution to a really small space as well. :)

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under spanish moss said...

A great post and you definitely should keep up this series. Thanks for sharing such useful tips. Our family rooms have three entrances and we struggle to arrange the furniture. Lots of inspiration here!XO Angela and Renee

Sharyn said...

Love this post. Now I'm going to go and show it to my husband; he keeps moving the armchair I have placed in front of our bookcase.


Windlost said...

Enjoyed this post Lauren. Good point about the book cases - I have thought of that in my guest room, with its wall of shelves - that some day for a change I will have to put the bed in front of it! Now I know it is okay! : )

Also, I have a similar issue in my living room, which is small. To arrange things nice and symmetrical, it ends up blocking the path to the dining room a bit. But it is worth it to have the living room arranged nicely. David keeps moving the sofa over 1 foot and I keep moving it back. I just walk around the other way to the dining room, which has two entries.

xo Terri

Carmel @ Our Fifth House said...

Thanks for these tips! I love the look of artwork displayed over bookshelves!

Rachael said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. I love that you might not post as frequently as some other bloggers but that you clearly put a lot of time and thought into your posts. Quality over quantity in my book. Thanks for the insightful observations! I really value your blog and always look forward to spending time here!

Mer said...

love the post! we just moved into a new (olllld) house and it seems all of our furniture is the wrong scale for the size of the house. arranging it is making me bonkers!! i appreciate any tips you can give, wise one :)

My Notting Hill said...

Great post! Love the comparison of a viewing and destination room. Also - huge congratulations on being featured in Home & Design!!

Camille said...

One of the things I really enjoy about reading your blog is that you bring us inside your mind as you design. You are a teacher in addition to a designer, and I always learn so much from you.
P.S Still think a lot about your post on using natural items in rooms.

Ginger said...

Loved this post!