Furniture Arrangement Series {Very Irregular of Course!}

28 Jun 2011
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

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