Arranging Furniture

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you walk into a room and something doesn’t feel quite right? There’s a disturbance in “The Force,” but it’s often hard to pinpoint the source of your discomfort. Well, over time, we absorb a lot of visual information that we use to develop a framework for assessing color, proportion, perspective and space on a subconscious level. When we enter environments that conflict with those ideas, we experience tension. In psychology, it’s referred to as cognitive dissonance, which differs from personal taste in that dissimilar styles can still adhere to common idea of visual harmony. We might not like someone else’s style, but it can still “work” in a room.

Got it? Me neither. I’m totally confused, so I’d better simplify things. There are many obvious and subtle considerations to ensure that your room is functionally and aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, arranging sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and other furnishings should be planned, rather than haphazard. Arranging furniture properly can improve the traffic flow and organization of a room, while helping to highlight whatever aspect of the room is most important to you. For the sake of sanity, we’ll forget about Feng Shui, which has its own esoteric perspective on interior design, and focus on a few concrete things.

Measuring Up – Floor Plan
First, we have to figure out how much space we have and how much room our stuff needs. Draw up a floor plan of the room and be sure to note the location, heights and widths of doors, windows, heaters, electrical outlets and switches. Use lined graph paper to help ensure that your scaled drawing is as accurate as possible. A quarter to a half-inch per actual foot is a pretty good scale to use. Next, measure each piece of furniture that you plan to use in the room. Focus your attention on the largest and most important pieces. Draw a basic outline of each table, sofa, bed, desk, chair, lamp, TV and dresser on different colors of construction paper. Use the same scale as your floor plan, so that you can see how much relative space you have. Label them and cut them out.

The Three “F’s”– Function, Focal Point and Flow Considerations
Function – What kind of room is it? Arranging furniture in a dining room is much different than in a living room, bedroom or office. Does the room need to accommodate a lot of people or just a few?
Focal Point – What do you want to emphasize? If you have a big bay window that looks out over a scenic vista, perhaps you want to highlight the view. Maybe your pride and joy is a majestic decorative fireplace. Orient your furniture to direct attention to the focal point. If viewing a widescreen HD television is important to you, the optimal distance between the TV set and any seating is roughly three times the size of the screen.

Flow – Can people move easily from place to place? Notice at how people enter and exit the room, and how doors open and close. Cluttered pathways can make you feel like you’re in a pinball machine, so avoid placing large pieces of furniture in the natural lane of traffic if at all possible. Allow at least 3 feet of open space for your primary traffic routes

Placing Furniture
First, place the larger pieces of furniture (e.g. couch, loveseat, desk or bed) facing the focal point. To ensure a cozier, more intimate setting, move seating in from the walls, placing pieces within 8 feet of one another. Angling a few pieces of furniture can give a softer, more casual feel to a room, while geometric alignment conveys a sense of formality and seriousness. Sofas and chaise lounges make great dividers, if you need to separate areas of a room.

Next, arrange related pieces (e.g. tables and chairs) accordingly. Place tables within easy reach of all chairs and make sure that coffee tables allow 14-18 inches of legroom. In dining rooms, be sure to account for the fact that people will need to pull their chairs out from the table before they are seated and that someone may need to walk behind the chair.

Last, add accents to make your room more functional or aesthetically pleasing. Shelves, table lamps and floor lamps improve storage and general visibility, while wall art and rugs add to the ambiance of room. Accents also help you direct how people’s eyes move up and down as they scan the room. You can balance a room by placing furniture of similar height (with or without accents) across from each other.

Optimizing Space
The smaller the room, the more concerned you should be about using the available space efficiently. People who favor a Spartan décor have a distinct advantage over those with luxurious tastes - the less stuff you have, the easier it is to accommodate. Additionally, multifunctional furniture can provide invaluable benefits. Futons are ideal for small apartments, since they serve two functions - sleeping and seating. Ottomans, tables and beds with hidden storage compartments help keep a room uncluttered and stylish at the same time. And don’t forget about vertical space.

Shelving provides a home for books, photos and other accents, while wall or ceiling-mounted racks can store bikes and save precious floor space. Wall mirrors can give the illusion of a larger room and alleviate claustrophobic feelings, especially if there are few window treatments (e.g. curtains or blinds). The brighter the room is, either from natural or artificial light, the more open the room will appear.

Styling it Up
This is where it’s really up to your own sense of décor. Metal, stone and straight edges convey a rigid, but orderly feel, while woods and curves are softer and more casual. Solid colors tend to complement, while complex patterns draw attention. It’s okay to mix contemporary furniture with traditional, but look for items that can complement each other through shape, color or texture.

Arranging furniture is more of an art than a science, so try a few different arrangements on your paper floor plan before attempting the real thing. It’s a lot easier moving a paper sleeper sofa than a real one. Modular furniture (e.g. sectional sofas and stackable storage units) allows for an endless array of arrangement possibilities and provides a cohesive look. Keeping in mind the concepts outlined above should help you avoid major problems and enhance the “feel” of any room.