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The layout of your furniture does more than facilitate where people sit. It plays a part in the flow of conversation, influences the mood, and impacts the space’s perceived size.
To coordinate living room furniture, choose a focal point for your living room, whether it’s the TV, fireplace, or coffee table. Keep furniture away from the walls to make your space seem bigger. Create a clear pathway to each seat and make sure each has a nearby surface to rest a drink or snack.
These are some basic tips when it comes to living room layouts. However, there are so many interesting design elements that influence the way your home feels and serves you. In addition to these tips, continue reading to learn the core elements of design and how to apply them to the layout of your living room.
Creativity & Design
We all have some sort of natural assumption of what design is, a vague idea of the creative eye it takes to make something come together. In general terms, design is the act of conceiving and pursuing the invention of something new.
Whether that’s a work of art, a company logo, a fashion line, or a building layout, it all begins with the idea that, in turn, becomes the creation of the thing.
In many areas of creativity, proven design rules have come to be relied upon repeatedly so that people who aren’t ready to invent something new can lean on the tested elements of other creations.
Four Elements of Design
Many design elements can be studied for years on end, like the history of a certain pattern and how using it in your project will influence the viewer. We’re going to pare these vast amounts of options down to four key elements that you can use in your living room to create an intentionally crafted space.
The size of a thing affects the impact it has on us. Think of a spider, for instance. A tiny spider no bigger than a pinhead is hardly a point of fear, but enlarge that same spider to the size of the family dog, and suddenly it’s terrifying.
When it comes to size and your living room furniture, you must consider each object in the room and how they relate to the size of the room itself. There also needs to be a balance between each piece. Two oversized couches with a 6-foot wide coffee table will quickly make the room feel overstuffed and imbalanced.
The shape of each piece of furniture is greatly influential in your living room. If most of the items in your room are curved (a curved couch, an arching chaise lounge, a round coffee table), you can offset the roundedness with a rectangular rug and triangle side tables. This balance keeps your living room from feeling like a round playhouse.
One of the most powerful and playful elements of design is color. There are so many different options when it comes to bringing color into your living room, and not just because of your choice of pigment.
You can choose to use a white room as your base with only a few pops of a single color throughout. You can stick with a monochromatic scheme that utilizes many different shades of the same color. You can make your living room vibrant with complementary colors that go together and contrast each other at the same time.
Texture is extremely fun to play with within your home design. This element encompasses every part of the room, whether you know it or not. The fabric of your couch will influence texture, the material of your coffee table, even the finish of the paint on your walls will have a say in the texture of your room.
Different textures keep a room balanced, as with shape, size, and color. If every item in your living room has a high-gloss or shiny finish, your space will take on an ultra-modern feel that can be easily overbearing. To soften this, matte finishes on fixtures and a plush rug can keep the space contemporary but homey.
On the other end of the spectrum, a room full of soft textiles can feel frumpy and suffocating. Mix in some glass or glazed ceramics to lighten up the space. Swap out the tapestry on the wall for a large mirror and remove the area rug altogether to lighten things up.
Pull Your Furniture Away From Your Walls
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to push all of their furniture up against the walls. Many people think this makes the room seem larger, but it does the opposite. The shape of the furniture appears to become one with the walls, which draws the walls closer and makes the room seem smaller.
By pulling the furniture away from the walls by afoot, you elevate your design, showing that the furniture is placed with intention, and you have enough room that you don’t need to shove your couch to the side of the room.
Have a Focal Point
Your living room should have a focal point, the main item that all furniture works around. This point naturally creates synchronicity, as all objects work together to share the space.
Keep a Clear Path To Every Seat
To make your life easier on a daily basis, and to create a seamless room to host guests, ensure that each seat has a clear path to it. While you may be used to the exact turn-and-shuffle that allows you to sneak between the couch and coffee table, your guests surely won’t be,
Hosting is already stressful enough; make a clear path to each seat and have one less thing to think about.
Every Seat Should Have a Nearby Table
With all of the seats now easily accessible, take your layout up another notch by giving each sitting area a nearby surface for drinks, snacks, or phones. If you use the coffee table as your focal point, your job is likely already done. If your living room is more spread out, make sure every chair and bench has a side table nearby.
Tip: A side table’s height should match the arm of the furniture it sits beside. If nothing else, it should be a bit higher.
All Seats Should Touch the Rug
The placement of the carpet can be very troubling: Where exactly should it go? The key to having a rug that ties the room together is to get a large enough rug that all of your main furniture can rest upon it. At the very least, the couch’s front legs and any side chairs should sit two inches into the carpet’s edge, with the coffee table in the center.
Low-pile rugs are better in the living room, as high-pile rugs will quickly become worn by the furniture’s legs.
Things To Consider When Placing Your Living Room Furniture
Now that we have a grasp on four of the key elements of design and how to design your living room’s layout, let’s take a look at things you should consider when designing it.
The number of people you want to host in a space will influence the layout; it will also determine the size and quantity of the furniture. If you decide to keep your living room paired-down with a couch and single armchair, you’ll only be able to have three or four people visiting comfortably in the space.
To create more seating in your living room, you aren’t locked into purchasing a bigger couch or more side chairs. You can find creative solutions to your seating problem that allow you to keep a unique flow to your room. By purchasing easy-to-move pieces like poufs and benches, you can pull out the extra seats when you need them but leave them at different areas of the room on a day-to-day basis.
You can also choose pieces that allow for more luxurious lounging when you don’t have guests but can offer extra seating when needed: like a roomy L-shaped couch.
Think about the objects that will be in your living room– and we don’t mean the furniture. Throw blankets, magazines, remote controls; all of these things will likely be in the room. Now consider their placement. Would you have all of your throw blankets out all the time, or would you rather have a bench with storage to tuck them into?
Your magazines can live on your coffee table. Still, you can also take the opportunity to make magazine storage a style choice, like with the MyGift Wood and Metal End Table that has a leatherette sling for magazines below a wooden tabletop. This industrial-style piece is the perfect example of how to include storage in your living room design.
Also important to the layout of the room is flow. It may seem like a hard thing to define but think of it in two ways– the room’s visual and physical flow.
The visual flow of the room will be the way your eye wanders throughout the space. Is your eye constantly drawn to the corner with the large dark bookshelf beside the black leather armchair? Does that part of the room seem to weigh down the whole space?
The key to creating visual flow is to have balance throughout the room. Spread dark pieces around so they don’t create a “design dead spot.” Space colors throughout the room as well; avoid throwing them all on one wall.
For physical flow, think of the way you move throughout the room. Your living room should be easy to move through, with a clear space to every seat and a pathway behind furniture, if needed. Whatever you may need to access in the room should be easy-to-reach, like light switches and fireplace controls. By thoughtfully laying out your furniture and accessories, you’ll increase the livability of your home.
After you’ve decided how many seating areas you need in your living room, you can start to organize the layout. To begin with, determine what the central activity of the living room is. Is this your everyday gathering space where you watch the news every morning? Is this the sitting room that you save for special guests? Is this the secondary living room where parents go after dinner for a drink while the kids watch a movie in the other space?
Whatever your primary activity is, this should shape the room’s main focus, with the secondary activity being the next influence.
The secondary activity of the room will be the next deciding factor in the layout of your furniture. For instance, if your room has no second activity and it is only used for watching movies, you would end up with a theatre room with rows of elevated seating so every person can have an optimal view.
However, this is not very conducive to socializing, which, for many people, would be a natural second activity. So, if you take your secondary activity into account, you’ll have to rearrange the furniture so that people can face each other while they talk.
Let’s take a look at how some primary and secondary activities will affect the layout of your room.
If your living room’s main purpose is to watch television or movies, then the TV will be the focus of the room. As discussed, if this was the only purpose of the room, all furniture would simply point at the TV. By taking the secondary activity into account, we start to see how we should arrange the furniture.
For instance, if you host watch parties, you’ll want every seat in the room to have some vantage point of the television, as the viewing is the primary activity. The secondary activity is socializing, so you’ll also want your guests to have the ability to talk to each other.
Your living room furniture, in this case, will play with shapes, like a semi-circle around the TV that allows guests to watch and discuss simultaneously. You can also play with different levels, offering high-top seating at the side of the room and a few luxurious sitting-pillows on the floor. You create different eye lines and add little zones where people may talk and still view the show.
What do you do when the dinner portion of a dinner party is over? Move to the living room for some more drinks and games. The primary activity here is the conversation. You want to keep all furniture pointed directly at each other, instead of facing a TV or fireplace. This way, guests can focus on each other and the topic at hand without getting sidetracked by CNN.
For evening get-togethers, you should also have a stable surface within arm’s reach of each seat. This will minimize the amount that guests need to reach over each other and lower the chance of spillage. It will also make your guests feel looked after as you’ve thought of their needs.
The secondary activity of this situation could very well be games. You might want to keep space for charades or purchase a large coffee table where everyone can play a game of cards. Truly consider the things you and your friends like to do and work your furniture around that.
If your living room is saved for formal meetings and business discussions, your furniture layout should reflect that. Guests should have their own space, with furniture being farther apart than that of an evening party set-up geared for close friends.
A coffee table that is reachable from each seat is imperative, whether it serves as a place to rest, a cup of tea, or a surface to spread out papers. Keep the floor area around furniture clear so that guests may put down their briefcases or purses.
You can elevate your layout by setting up a bar cart or beverage hutch where you can easily pour your guest an alcoholic beverage or top up their water without leaving the room. Incorporating these thoughtful touches into your decor will make your life easier and your meetings more streamlined.
Your secondary use of this room could be as a quiet reading area or small study. Once the room’s meeting area is spaced out, you could easily set up bookshelves with a leather reading armchair in one corner that will help fill and familiarize the space.
As we’ve learned, there are many things to consider when organizing your living room’s layout, but here are some of the key takeaways. Determine the room’s primary purpose, and then decide on its secondary purpose to help guide you. Keep furniture away from the walls, and create a clear space for each seat.
Use the pieces you currently have to the best of your ability and buy new pieces overtime to make the space more livable. Above all, balance the four design elements throughout the room: size, shape, color, and texture.
- Strate School of Design: What is Design?
- Apartment Therapy: Color Theory 101
- Smashing Magazine: Design Principles: Compositional Flow and Rhythm
- Wired: How to Host a Virtual Watch Party
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Giovanni Valle is an architect, designer, internet entrepreneur, and the managing editor of various digital publications including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place. He is the founder of BuilderSpace LLC.