Today I thought we would have a look at arranging furniture because it’s not just about where the sofa goes but if you are planning a new room – from scratch – you need to know where the furniture will go before you can work out where the lights will go. And your builder will be asking about electric cables well before the walls are plastered, and sometimes even built.
And even if you aren’t building but are just moving, there are a few tips worth bearing in mind to make sure you get everything in the right place so the room functions as you want it too. And looks good as well.
1 WHERE IS THE FOCAL POINT?
We’ll deal with the sitting room for the most part as that is the room where most of the furniture can move around. Arranging kitchens and bathrooms raise different issues which we can look at later and, in most cases, there’s only one place for the bed to go so you’re basically working around that.
Now in the sitting room it’s easy if there’s a fireplace. Because that’s it. It’s not the telly. And I’m going to say that if you can avoid putting the tv over the fireplace that is better. Not least because in most cases it will be too high for comfortable viewing – you want it to be a eye level when you are sitting down) and also because you are detracting from the more attractive focal point of the fireplace. So put it to one side. The point being that, unless it’s an actual TV room you don’t want that to be the first you see when you come into the room.
Of course not everyone has a fireplace. In which case you need to find something else. Is it the view through the window? An amazing piece of art or gallery wall? A large piece of furniture – an antique cupboard or desk? The point is not that that everything needs to be arranged round it but that you notice it when you come in and the furniture is arranged to take it into account. So the a cupboard could take up most of one wall with the seating in front of it and with its back to it but it remains a focal point of the room.
2 IMAGINE YOURSELF LIVING IN IT
You will need to do this if you are to have any hope of getting the furniture in the right place. So take a moment to decide where is the spot that you would most like to sit. How many people will need to sit with you or at any one time. What will you be doing in that spot? And from there what will you need to have in the room to enable you do to those things – books, a tv, a table to rest a drink, a drinks trolley etc.
3 WHERE DO THE LIGHTS NEED TO BE?
As I said at the top, builders always want to know where the lights will go ages before there’s anything to light. If you are starting from the beginning then there are certain things to bear in mind. Only once you have placed the furniture can you work out where the lights will need to be. If you want to have downlights in a sitting room ceiling then a) they do not need to be in a symmetrical grid and b) try placing a few round the edges of the room, about 30-40cm so they will create an ambient light. Position them in the middle of windows rather than walls. That way they will wash light down the curtains or blinds.
If you are having a coffee table then you can put another one over that to illuminate the items that will be on it. You don’t need one over the tv – you don’t want to draw attention to it, it’s not pretty. But otherwise you will need lamps in dark corners, on tables near the seating areas so you need to think about sockets as well as lamp placement. Make a drawing of where the seats will go and add lights accordingly.
4 KEEP THE FURNITURE AWAY FROM THE WALLS
Not always possible I know and in the case of my narrow Victorian terrace and the sofa not possible at all. But if your sofa is backed up against the wall then try to give the other piece of furniture room to breathe. If you have a bay window can a chair sit there with space all round it. If you have a double reception room (classic Victorian) can you put a chaise longue across the middle? In a modern square room just pull the furniture away from the edges a little – perhaps you can bring the sofa forward and put a narrow console table behind it?
All this creates the look of a space that was made for living in and not a doctor’s waiting room or old people’s home where there is a huge space in the middle of the room that looks like everyone is waiting for the cabaret to start.
It doesn’t have to be a large space – a few inches will do. In my recently decorated office, for example, it was suggested, by The Mad Husband and two Mad Sons, that I should put the desk under the window. But that would mean not only that I would get distracted by the view but also that I would have my back to the door. Which I hate. In addition that would also create a pointless empty space in the middle of the room which wouldn’t be right for anything. Instead, I have put the desk in the middle with the focal fireplace behind me, a perfectly visible window view to the left and the door in front of me. There is an armchair next to the window for siestas/navelgazing/shortbreaksfromthegrind.
5 THINK ABOUT THE TRAFFIC FLOW
This is key to making the room work. Roughly speaking a metre is a comfortable distance to walk through. So make sure that there is a metre on at least one side of the coffee table for people get past. I like to have the coffee table a leg length away from the sofa for perching purposes. You need to work out how people will get form the door to the various chairs/shelves/things they will need without feeling they have to shimmy past and worry about breaking something en route. Bear in mind too that people will always take the shortest route from A to B and it’s very hard to persuade them to do otherwise.
6 WHY A COFFEE TABLE IS GOOD
There isn’t always space but if there is it provides another focal point for the room. Stops the feeling of imminent cabaret that I mentioned earlier and gives you somewhere to put your dinner/drinks/fancy books. It doesn’t have to be one large one, you can have a group of them in a cluster if you like but you probably want something in that space. Don’t forget you can also use an ottoman with an upholstered top or even a couple of pouffes.
7 THE RULE OF ARM’S LENGTH
It’s not lazy but basically you need to make sure that there is a table within arm’s length of the chairs so people can rest their drinks or books etc. If they have to get up and stretch every time they will either put their drink on the floor – where it risks getting knocked over – or hold it and inevitably drink more, which leads to the previous point and a lot of clearing up to do. Side tables don’t have to be very big but it’s useful to tuck one away at the end of the sofa or beside a chair. I don’t have room at the ends of my sofa – doors and walls being somewhat inconveniently placed but, as I said, the coffee table isn’t far away.
8 GET THE RUGS RIGHT
We’ve spoken about this before so not much to add. Buy the biggest one you can afford and make sure the front legs of the furniture are sitting on it. This creates a zone and will make the space feel more conversational. A small rug island will create a path to the other parts of the room as people will feel compelled to walk around the edges of it but it won’t be very relaxing.