Your living room isn’t just a place to sit in your free time. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic called for work and school to take place at home, a living room has always been a family gathering space, location for entertaining guests, movie-viewing center and homework spot.
But no matter how many times you’ve moved your sofa or angled your TV, you can’t quite master the furniture layout that meets all your needs.
U.S. News is here to help. Here’s a breakdown of the things you should keep in mind when arranging living room furniture, and some of the furniture layouts that may work best for you:
Find Your Focal Point
Before you start pushing your current furniture around on the floor, determine the focal point of your living room. This is where the eye is drawn to first, and seating is often arranged with a view to this focal point.
“Sometimes they appear naturally, such as windows, mantel, etc. While other times you have to create them with a coffee table (or) media unit,” wrote Jessica Harris, an interior designer and production designer for furniture retailer Living Spaces, based in Southern California, in an email.
A fireplace or showcase chandelier may be the focal point for your room. You may hesitate to make the TV your focal point, but in a casual living room where watching movies or shows is a primary activity, it makes sense to start there, says Gala Magriñá, designer, principal and founder of Gala Magriñá Design, an interior design agency in New York City.
Measure the Room in Advance
If you’re starting with new furniture or moving into a new home, it’s a good idea to plan ahead for how to make the space fit. Take measurements of all the furniture, as well as the measurements of the room itself, and plan out options.
Keep in mind that you want clear pathways so people aren’t tripping over furniture on their way in and out of the room. The best way to do this is to map out where you would like to put the furniture in advance. “Write their dimensions down and take some blue tape and mark it down on your floor … and take a step back,” Magriñá says.
This test will also tell you if the furniture you have in mind is too big for the room, explains Eilyn Jimenez, interior designer, creative director and founder of Sire Design, an interior design firm in Miami. In a 20-foot-by-20-foot room, for example, the sofa should not be 18 feet. “You should have at least 4 to 5 feet around to be comfortable,” Jimenez says.
Before you order any piece of furniture, Magriñá says there’s one more thing to measure: “Measure the width of your front door.” If new furniture can’t get into your house, you’ll have to end up sending it back and starting over.
Keep Your Sofa From Being a Wallflower
Go ahead and get out of the habit of thinking that your sofa is best located along the back wall of the room. “I don’t know where that became a rule to push your furniture up against the wall,” Jimenez says, noting that furniture that’s away from the walls gives the space more fluidity.
Bringing your furniture in from the walls doesn’t mean you have to be able to walk behind it, though, which can be tricky in a small living room. Harris says even a few inches away from the wall makes a difference: “This little bit of space actually makes rooms feel bigger.”
Make Room for Conversation
Even if you’re watching a lot of Netflix in your living room, you want the space to encourage conversation between your family members, or between future guests who will spend time in the room as well.
Sofas facing each other in parallel lines are a common way to make conversation the main purpose of the room, or you can angle chairs toward each other to make conversation easy, while keeping the layout open.
If you set up your living room for the primary purpose of watching TV, but you don’t want that to be the focus when guests are there, Magriñá recommends placing an armchair in the corner normally, and moving it to face the sofa when entertaining. “It’s really easy to pull that up and get additional seating if you have guests,” Magriñá says.
Delineate Separate Spaces
More than ever, you need your living room to serve more than one purpose. Especially if your living room has a large footprint or is part of an open concept floor plan, create unofficial barriers to separate spaces within the room that serve more than one purpose.
You can have your primary TV-viewing area with a sofa and chairs or loveseat, but you can also have a separate seating area geared toward conversation or reading. A desk setup at the window can make for ideal working or studying conditions.
“The back of the sofa is generally a good divider,” Magriñá says. She adds that different, but complementary, rugs can also help mark the different spaces.
While creating these separate spaces can give your living room the multipurpose feel you need, you also want to make sure it’s cohesive with the whole space that the eye can see.
“The open concept is an excellent layout for homeowners who are looking to create a versatile space to entertain friends and family,” wrote Gregg Hicks, vice president of home improvement resource and contractor network Modernize, who is based in Portland, Oregon. “For open concept designs, make sure to choose wall colors carefully within the same tone family to ensure a seamless flow from one space to another.”
When your living room shares an open concept with your kitchen, Jimenez recommends finding the “center line” of the kitchen that often serves as a focal point — typically a range hood or island. “Take that center line and follow that into the living room, and have your sofa line up with that,” she says.
Living Room Furniture Arrangements to Consider
No single furniture arrangement is perfect for every living room. “Every home is unique, so homeowners should feel inspired to take different approaches when deciding on a living room layout,” Hicks says. “Your layout may depend on your personal style preferences, or simply the room size you are working with.”
Here are four popular living room furniture layouts that may work for you:
— Parallel conversation layout. Consider two matching couches facing each other or a sofa facing two chairs, with a coffee table in between, with your fireplace focal point at one end. Harris says the matching sofas are ideal for narrow living rooms because it naturally divides the space. “Having symmetry in a smaller space will create balance and allow the space to not feel cluttered,” she says.
— L-shaped entertainment layout. This layout can work as a useful transition between watching TV and having conversation. It’s also the natural shape of a sectional — though Jimenez warns against a sectional that’s too large for the room. If you do have a right-size sectional, and the space, Harris recommends bringing two armchairs to the missing fourth corner. “This will complete that natural rectangular shape while allowing you to easily move through your living room,” she says.
— Different sections for different uses. If your living room has nooks or cutouts, these spots are perfect for designating as a space for reading, doing work or even taking a quick nap. “Nooks can also be used to showcase … favorite art, collectibles and photos,” Harris says.
— Kid-friendly layout. With this option, the exact placement of the furniture can shift depending on your needs, but the goal is to keep plenty of open space for kids to play, clear of sharp edges on coffee tables or chairs. Upholstered coffee tables and ottomans over hard-back chairs may make for a more fluid, kid-friendly space.
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