An Expert Reveals the Rules for Arranging Furniture

Stripped of its contents, an empty room can be intimidating, or it can be 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 everything else that makes a home. While the ideal arrangement of furniture depends on myriad factors—the size and layout of the room, for staters—these guideposts can put you on the right path. Bon voyage!

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  1. Find Your Focal Point

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    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, with the goal of drawing eyes in that particular direction.

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  2. Keep a Clear Path

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    A well-decorated room visually invites you in, and as you enter, it places no obstructions in your way. Be mindful, though, of how many items you are putting into the space. Use only what you need for comfort, storage, and utility. Find new places to put any extraneous pieces.

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  3. Avoid the Perimeter

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    Placing furniture along the perimeter of a room creates an unattractively stagnant look, but most people don't have enough space for a different approach. Make the most of a modestly sized room by locating a large piece (e.g., the couch) against the wall; meanwhile, float smaller pieces—like a pair of comfortable armchairs—in the middle of the room. What results is a feeling of balance.

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  4. Encourage Conversation

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    No matter the size of your living room, aim to include a seating area with enough room for yourself and a couple others. Position a couch and two chairs near the room's focal point, or opt instead for the combination of two love seats facing one other.

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  5. Dining Room Dynamics

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    In the dining room, it's simple. Put the dining table and chairs in the middle of the room. 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.

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  6. Kitchen Kismet

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    Be honest about how you are likely to use the kitchen. Acknowledging your habits can help you determine what's most important to include here. If you love to cook and entertain, an island or movable workstation is a sensible investment. Seating, often overlooked, can be a vital addition. And if you have the space, don't hesitate to add a compact table and chairs. Alternatively, find comfortable stools that can tuck under a counter when not in use.

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  7. Bedroom Basics

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    If you're lucky enough to enjoy a lovely view from your bedroom, position the bed so that you can see out the window, even when lying down. Then, of course, are the practical considerations: I find bedside tables to be a must, even though on paper, they don't seem so essential. Also hard to live without is a dresser or armoire (or for that matter, a closet). Overall, the ideal arrangement of furniture in the bedroom depends on two factors: your lifestyle and the square footage.

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  8. Measure Mindfully

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    Take accurate measurements of your room (and the doorways and entrances) before you start shopping for furniture. To get an idea of what's going to fit, you can mark off the dimensions of a prospective piece, using masking tape. Allow plenty of room for walking about or pulling out a chair.

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  9. Clear the Clutter

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    In my work staging homes and apartments for sale, the advice I give most often is this: "Clean out the clutter!" If you want to display collections or family photos, keep them stabled in one place—be it a bookcase, hall table, or family photo wall—so  look neat and unified.

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