How To: Arrange Furniture
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 and function their very best.
Anything’s possible in an empty room. You can fill it chockablock with traditional wood furniture, or you can favor a spare, modern aesthetic by sticking to the essentials of daily living. Between those extremes stretches a virtually infinite spectrum of possibilities, the number and variety of which can be intimidating for average homeowners. For professionals like Robin Long Mayer, however, few things are more inspiring than a blank canvas.
In her work for Country Living and New York Spaces—and as the principal of Robin Mayer Design—Mayer has learned how to arrange furniture in ways that maximize not only visual impact, but convenience as well. Though much depends on the particulars of the room itself, Mayer maintains that in any case, observing a set of simple design principles can help just about anyone, in just about any circumstance, determine the best possible layout.
No matter the purpose of the room you’re designing, certain rules of thumb almost always apply. There are exceptions—times when it makes sense to break the rules, or times when the circumstances make the rules impossible to follow. Still, simply knowing the best practices—and bearing them closely in mind—helps many homeowners figure out where to begin.
Find Your Focal Point
If there is a focal point in the room—a fireplace, for instance, or a bay window—orient your furniture so that it emphasizes and draws attention to the feature in question. “Put your best foot forward” isn’t just good advice for meeting new people; it applies equally well to interior design! Remember that the ideal is for the focal point to be immediately visible to anyone entering the room.
Keep a Clear Path
A well-designed room invites you in, and as you enter, places no obstructions in your way. So be mindful of the number and bulk of pieces you’re adding. Use only what you need for comfort, storage, and utility. Everything else? Find another place for it, be it in another room or on the trash heap. It’s as simple as this: If you can’t circulate freely about the room, you’re never going to be satisfied with its layout.
Avoid the Perimeter
Placing furniture along the walls tends to create a stagnant, even lifeless look. But most rooms aren’t large enough to accommodate any other arrangement. Fortunately, there’s a compromise: Set up the largest pieces of furniture on the perimeter and float smaller pieces closer to the middle of the floor. (Picture a wall-hugging sofa paired with a pair of free-floating armchairs.) The result? A feeling of balance.
Don’t let clutter compromise your design vision. Take a stand against it, right at the outset, by designating places for collections, keepsakes, and family photos to live. Resist the temptation to blanket each and every surface with stuff. Instead, plan to cordon off would-be clutter on a table, or on the shelves of a wall unit—anywhere your belongings can stand out visually without getting in your way.
There’s nothing abstract about furniture arrangement. You may love the idea of a certain furniture piece, but if it’s not going to fit snugly in the space, then it doesn’t belong. Before buying or hauling anything, therefore, it’s wise to take measurements. Understand the room dimensions you have to work with, as well as the relationship between the larger space and the size of the individual furniture pieces you’re considering.
ROOM BY ROOM
Certainly, universally applicable advice helps homeowners avoid some of the biggest pitfalls in furniture arrangement. But since different rooms exist for different purposes, Mayer recommends taking a further layer of room-specific best practices into account. The right recipe for a high-traffic, utilitarian area isn’t likely to succeed in a private space devoted to comfort. You need to let the context dictate your approach.
In the living room, aim to include at least one seating area with ample room for at least three people. Position a couch and two chairs near the room’s focal point, or opt instead for the combination of two love seats that face one another.
Dining Room Dynamics
In the dining room, put the table and chairs in the middle of the room and if space permits, locate a sideboard, hutch, or console (or even a chest of drawers) along a wall for much-needed storage of linens and flatware. No need to reinvent the wheel.
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a lovely view from your bedroom, position the bed so you can see out the window, even when lying down. Include nightstands on either side of the bed and ideally, at least one dresser or armoire for clothes storage.
Be honest about how you are likely to use the kitchen. If you love to cook and entertain, invest in an island—preferably one with built-in space for bar stools—and consider a banquette. If you rarely cook and entertain but work from home quite often, consider allotting available space to a desk. Don’t rush: take stock of your habits but most of all, your pain points.