I’m excited to show you guys Jill’s flash-mob surprise makeover results! But I thought we’d start with a little chat about how we handled her room layout.
Let me just forewarn you that the furniture, rugs and finishes in these little layout sketches are all horrible and not at all representative of the design for her room. Before you proceed, you must swear to me that you understand that and that you will not judge any leopard print rugs you might encounter today. Check the box that you agree to these terms, please.
Here again is Jill’s living room, the before:
This is the layout before:
It’s a long, narrow room with four hundred doors, pass-throughs and windows to account for. I’ll walk you through our process for figuring out a space plan that made sense for Jill’s family, and if you’re working on a floor plan, hopefully it’ll help you settle on something functional too.
Start with function: analyze how you use the room
This is the room that Jill and her family use to entertain company, so we knew we needed a layout that facilitated easy conversation. They also use it as a reading room. And they own some books, like a billion, which we needed to store. Finally, they keep some toys and games in this room so storage for those things was a must as well.
This will be controversial, but if you use your living room primarily to watch television — this is a safe place and you can admit that — it’s okay to lay out your furniture for that purpose. The point of design is to create spaces that work for the way they’ll be used. However, if you’ll also be entertaining, you’ll have to work a little harder to create a dual-function layout that can support conversation, laughter and the playing of Taboo and Balderdash, or other board games of choice.
Not Chess or Risk though: no one wants to play that boring crap.
Especially in long, skinny rooms like Jill’s, sometimes you need to split the room into different zones. If you can’t sit in one part of the room and easily converse with someone sitting in another part of the room, it’s safe to say your room needs separate zones.
That’s what was going on in Jill’s living room. It was too long and narrow to create one conversation space:
So we needed to define one area – the conversation area – and use the rest of the room for a different purpose. Once you split the room and think of it as two separate spaces, it gets much easier. We essentially thought of these two zones as two different square rooms.
I think Jill’s living room would’ve been really nice with a table on the other half, since their kitchen is on the opposite side of that half-wall:
But functionally, they didn’t really need a table there, and we didn’t have time or budget to go find another one anyway, so we just went with a little reading area with the recliner that was already there. (The Husband requested that the recliner stay, and I was not going to be the one to take his recliner, yall. I’m not a monster.)
IGNORE THAT LEOPARD RUG. I’m using this floor planning software that only offers ugly rugs and furnishings. I’ve been backed into a corner.
Get the room’s full dimensions, obviously, and the placements of all the doors and windows, plus the dimensions of any furniture you’ll be keeping. I use floorplanner.com (and its ugly rug selection) to play with layouts, but ain’t no shame in going old-school: you can also just measure and cut things out with paper and play with the layout that way, like this:
And try anything
Get crazy and try weird layouts. Just move stuff around. Can’t hurt nuthin, yo. I recommend commenting to your husband how much you enjoy watching his muscles ripple while he moves the sofa for the sixth time. Decorating keeps marriages strong.
Create traffic flow
A good rule of thumb I use is that you need about three feet of walking space around the furniture. Plus you want an easy route for your wild children to run through the room. I mean for adults to slowly walk through.
Orient toward the focal point
What’s the focal point of the room? If it has a fireplace, bam: the decision is made for you. Nothing is worse than a room where the furniture is not oriented toward the fireplace.
The easy start for laying out a room is to orient your largest piece of furniture toward the focal point. You can start there and then play around with other arrangements if necessary. If we did that in Jill’s room, it would look like this:
Which is not a terrible starting place, but it’s not where we ended up.
If you don’t have a fireplace, your focal point might be architectural, like large windows or bookcases, or without something like that, you can create a focal point with large-scale art or mirrors, or even patterned curtains. Don’t be intimidated by deciding what’s the focal point of your room. It’s really just whatever you want people to see FIRST when they walk in. (But if you have a fireplace, it’s the fireplace. Kelly’s Rule.)
Try symmetry first.
If you can create a symmetrical layout, more times than not, it’s going to be the best option.
That doesn’t mean an asymmetrical layout can’t be awesome and perfect in your space! Just know why you’re doing it.
And if you’re not sure? Try symmetry first.
Go off the wall!
In most rooms, the layout looks better when the furniture isn’t all clumped up on the wall like 13-year-old Kelly at the junior high dance. Bring it out into the room and float it. Jill’s room, especially, would be super weird will all the furniture against the wall:
You’d break your neck trying to have a conversation with someone sitting on the other sofa – plus it would impede the traffic flow through the room – so we pulled some of it off the wall and floated it.
We landed on this arrangement:
We used the pair of chairs to separate the zones and the rugs to define them, and we left the wall opposite the fireplace open for easy traffic flow. If we’d filled that space, say with a console table, you can see how it would’ve been harder to walk from one pass-through to another:
The reason why we went with this layout and not this one:
…is that we liked how when you walked into the room through the pass-through, you could walk right into the seating area and plop right down wit yo bad self.
With the first option – the sofa facing the fireplace – you would’ve walked right into the back of the sofa. Plus, it felt a lot more crammed with that option in real life than it looks in these pictures, for some reason. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it?
Orienting your largest piece of furniture toward the focal point is a great starting place, but it’s not necessarily always the best option. We considered the focal point (the fireplace) and the traffic flow and landed on this layout.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Measure your room and your furniture.
- Use paper that you’ve cut to scale or a floor planning software to play with different layouts.
- Analyze how you actually use the room, in real life and not fantasy world.
- Decide whether you’ll need different zones or just one.
- Define your focal point and orient the largest piece of furniture toward it to start with. Lay everything else out symmetrically, with the seating facing each other or floating off the wall, if it works in your space.
- Consider the flow of traffic through and into the room. Leave about 3 feet of walking space through the main pathways.
- Begin tweaking from there until it feels right to you. You’ll know you’ve hit on the right layout when it functions well for what you need and it just feels right.
Have you ever had to deal with a tough room layout? How would you have done this room? What’s your least favorite board game? (I hate Scrabble. Can I still be an American?)
P.S.: Check out the rest of the Decorating 101 posts right here!