Pro Tips: Furniture Arranging 101

While there are no hard and fast rules to decorating, there are certainly basics to consider when arranging furniture. Here a professional room-stager and designer offers tips and tricks to help you make your rooms look their very best.

Living Room

Country Living 2003 House of the Year. Designer: Robin Mayer / Photographer: Keith Scott Morton

Stripped of all its furnishings, an empty room can be intimidating—or inspiring! For design consultant Robin Long Mayer, it’s definitely the latter. In her work as an editor for Country Living and New York Spaces magazines and as the principal of Robin Mayer Design, she has learned a thing or two about the optimal placement of sofas, tables, beds, and all the accessories that fill our homes. While the ideal arrangement in your own rooms will depend on such factors as the size and layout of each particular space, there are certain guideposts that can put you on the right path. Mayer offers the following insights.

Find Your Focal Point
There are no hard-and-fast rules in furniture arranging, but if there is a focal point in the room—a fireplace, for instance, or a window with a beautiful view—try to place your furniture around it to draw the eye in that direction.

Keep a Clear Path
You always want to be invited into a room visually, without any obstructions in your path. Be mindful of the number of items you are placing in a room. Use only what you need for comfort, storage, and utility, and find new homes for extraneous pieces.

Avoid the Perimeter
Lining furniture along the perimeter of a room creates a very stagnant look. That being said, we don’t all have the luxury or space to float all our furniture in the center of the room. If a large piece like a couch makes most sense against the wall, float a few smaller pieces—like two comfortable armchairs—in front of it to balance the look.

CL House of the Year 2006 Dining Room

Country Living 2006 House of the Year. Designer: Robin Mayer / Photographer: Keith Scott Morton

Encourage Conversation
No matter what size your living room is, you should always consider seating that lets you share the space with a friend. Positioning a couch and two chairs near a focal point, or even two love seats or two chaises facing each other, is a lovely way to start.

Dining Room Dynamics
As a general rule, the dining table and chairs occupy the middle of a room. If there is a chandelier overhead, be sure it does not obstruct views across the table. A sideboard, hutch, console, or even a chest of drawers along a wall of the room can add much-needed storage for linens and flatware, and also provide a surface for additional ambient lighting.

Kitchen Kismet
To determine what pieces you’ll need here, think about how you use the space. If you love to cook and entertain, an island or movable workstation is a sensible investment. Seating is vital as well. Choose a table and chairs if you have the room, or find comfortable stools that can tuck under a counter when not in use. If space allows, I highly recommend a couch in the kitchen!

Bedroom Basics
It is always nice to wake up to a view outside your windows, so if you have something lovely to look at, place your bed to take advantage of it. Next, consider all the practical things you need in the bedroom—bedside tables and lighting, a dresser or armoire to store clothing, and a chair or bench. Although it isn’t necessary for the furniture finishes to match, I do like the look of soft neutral wall colors, matching lamps on side tables, and linens in natural fibers. Save the color for decorative pillows or throws; even the art can add a little zing to the space, but keep it simple. I also like to have a rug near the bed for warmth and softness underfoot.

Country Living 2006 House of the Year bedroom

Country Living 2006 House of the Year. Designer: Robin Long Mayer / Photographer: Keith Scott Morton

Measure Mindfully
Take accurate measurements of your room (and the doorways and entrances) before you start shopping for furniture. To get an idea of what will fit in the space that you have, you can “tape it out” with masking tape on the floor of an empty room using the dimensions of each prospective piece. Allow plenty of room for walking about, pulling out a chair, and accommodating whatever elements you need in order to function in the space.

Clear the Clutter
I do a lot of work staging homes and apartments for sale, and the biggest words of advice I give are, “Clean out the clutter!” Clutter distracts from the beauty of a room. When guests walk in, all they’ll see is a pile of papers on the counter, toys on the floor, or laundry in the corner instead of that amazing sofa or incredible table you worked so hard for. If you want to display collections or family photos, keep them “stabled” in one place, such as a bookcase, hall table, or dedicated family photo wall, so they look neat and unified.