Friday, December 21, 2007

Arranging Living Room Furniture

I am catching up on my list of requests for articles. I am not sure if I really know anything about the subjects people ask for, but I try at least to research them and see what I can come up with. My own home is the place where I have experimented with the arrangement of furniture. I have observed other people's homes while visiting and picked up a few ideas.

The first thing you have to do is get the furniture situated in the living room and live with it for a few days. You really can't tell from drawings on paper or from photographs. You have to experience the view and the temperature and the traffic flow. You will need time to understand the effect of light on the living room and the comfort of heating and cooling. It may look good in a glossy magazine photograph, the arrangement of furniture and pictures might be a disaster when really living with it. I've tried to make some categories to consider here:

Traffic flow: When you are sitting in your living room/lounge area, and talking to someone in another chair, you will be most disturbed by the action of people walking in front of you. If you find yourself dodging these people and having to move your head about to look at the one you are conversing with, you will need to rearrange the furniture. Sometimes there is a path to the hall, that goes right down the middle of the living room. Sometimes there is a path to the kitchen from the living room. It is best if you create a hall space from the entry door, that guides the traffic to other places in the house. You can group your furniture in an area where no one will be walking through it to get somewhere else. A little grouping in front of the fireplace or a picture window is ideal. No one will use that small space as a path. A corner seating area is also very homey and comfortable and people don't usually walk back and forth in that area. You will notice how the arrangements in these paintings create private spaces and prevent interference from people walking in front of reading areas and conversation areas.

Arrangement: Even in small living rooms, it is not necessary to push the furniture flush against he walls. It is prettier and homier to pull the couch and chairs away from the wall. A book case behind a couch, with a narrow table in front of it, is ideal. The bookshelf will not fall on any little people if for some reason it is tugged on (we bolt ours to the walls with heavy hooks and eyes). The bookshelf is a nice background for the couch. It is quite nice also to angle a couch or a bookshelf or a piano against a corner of a room instead of flat against the wall. It seems to add more kinds of little spaces like nooks and crannies.

Placement of Pictures: Imagine your wall divided into thirds. There is the top third, the middle third and the lower third. The lower third is where your biggest piece of furniture will be, probably your couch or setee. Just above that, in the middle third, place your pictures. If you get them too high it is like visiting a museam. Pictures should be low enough to enjoy while seated. In fact, they can be at eye level when seated across from them.

Size of Pictures: You have to experiment with the pictures and stand back and see if you like the balance of space. A small picture will need other things beside it to fill up the wall space. Things like wall sconces and flower holders and other small groups of pictures can fill up the space. Some of these paintings how how this is done.

The View: Whether it is a fireplace or a front window, you can make the furniture face the view so you can get full benefit from it.

The Furniture: I don't know if there are any rules about this, but generally you would not put two end tables next to each other or two chairs next to each other without something inbetween. It might be a chair, a small table, another chair and another small table. A couch is flanked on each side by a table with a lamp on it.

Accessories: Doilies and table cloths, table toppers and runners add softness and comfort to a living room. They also protect wood surfaces from damage. I visited someone whose home was absolutely beautiful and yet comfortable and she told me that she only keeps one thing on a side table or end table because she likes to lift with one hand and clean with the other. Therefore she picks up a lamp and dusts the table, and puts the lamp back down. She had many ornate things in her home and it always looked clean. You can get these small squares and circles to cover surfaces, made of tapestry, silk, or any fabric, to suit your home and family.

Atmosphere: Candles and centerpieces add light and life and warmth to a living room. I hollow out the top of pillar candles and put a battery operated votive light inside of them. That way I don't have to worry about putting them too close to a wall or catching anything on fire. I light scented votives while I am cleaning house and I use scented votives as scent, without lighting them.

Observe: Take note of where your husband is most comfortable and where he likes to sit, and what sort of thing he likes to look out at. This is a great guide for where to put your furniture. I know of one family whose husband always wanted to look out on a garden he planted so his wife arranged the furniture so that he could sit toward it. Others have a favorite picture they like to look at. My husband likes to hear our children play his favorite tunes on the piano so his chair faced the piano for years. It all depends on the kind of things you will be doing in your living room. We have divided ours up into several different sections within the room. We did this by placing furniture as dividers. We have a writing area, a music area, a craft area, a visiting area, and even an entertainment area all in a small living room. You can see in the Stephen Darbyshire painting of the afternoon tea, how several areas are created out of one room, but they do not interefere with the function of the other, nor would there be disrupting traffic in any of the areas.

Light: You definitely do not want light to hit you in the face. It is best to have indirect light. That means you may want to place a chair where the light can come over your shoulder when you are reading a book or doing needlework. If you have a view that you like, you will not want to block it out with furniture, but if you don't want to look directly into your neighbor's house, you might consider blocking that view by placing the couch or setee with its back to the window. It is important to observe the way in which you live. If you like to write letters in the morning, you might have a look at which way the desk is facing. Generally, northern windows get the best light all day and are an ideal place to put a desk or artist board. I quite like the way the light shines in the multi-paned door and casts a shadow of those panes across the entry floor, so I do not put furniture there. It is all a matter of deciding what you value in the way of light and sunshine, etc.

Seasons: Light and life change seasonally so you may want to experiment with changing your furniture and pictures arround to accommodate the seasons.

Certainly, there is much more to arranging a living room than this, and I will add to the article when I have time.


Lydia said...

Just an observation about centerpieces. Whether on a coffee table or a dinner table, keep them low enough to see a persons face across the table. It is most disturbing to be peeking around a huge centerpiece or a large tiered plate holder.It just doesn't seem to work well.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Lady Lydia,

This is yet another excellent, commonsense article. Upon extending their home 14 years ago now, my father and step mother (using the same building methods as were used for the original house; a 1929 cottage) the set out their new plans as follows; living space at the back of the house (open architecture kitchen/dining/living room were grouped into corners with thoroughfares left clear. The television was moved into a new room made vacant (the original living space) and set into a built in wall-unit book case that gave the room the feeling of an old fashioned library or drawing room. the telly is very small and doesn't detract from the rooms atmosphere. In the living area, they had a craftwood cabinet built for their stereo and CD storage. Speakers are those little ones, wired through the wall cavities that sit on the picture rale (BOSE: a bit of money but invisible and with concert hall sound quality). French doors open onto the back deck, leading into a long, narow garden partitioned into rooms; from the deck one moves to a small paved barbecue area with pots and border gardens. Through a lattice one passes into the grassed area (with clothesline and herb/vegetable gardens leading finally into a little paved outdoor 'studio' with beautiful hardwood timber seat, overhanging shade treas and the like. Though they remodelled their kitchen with the industrial look (I preferred the soft tones of the previous kitchen) and went 'plain' for their chairs and tables (plus shaker-style coffee table and side tables) it is indeed effective. Back to the television, some folk have cabinets made similar to the stereo cabinet mentioned that can be closed up when not in use - some with slide doors etc. Their guest room is also nicely appointed; a very fine Victorian desk and chair serving their computer needs.They've highly ornamented their small front garden (lots of tiny square box hedges about 2 ft high - very Japanese in style) and have a comfortable cane chair on the front verandah. Topury trees stand by the front door.

With permission, I may take photos for the site. My own humble home is broken up into tiny areas due to its design. We don't even have room for a living room suite, so guests sit about the dining table when they come.I may however take pics nonetheless to demonstrate that even with nothing and no possibilities, one can make the most of what they've got. We unfortunately have the television at the centre of our wall unit (I can't remedy this (regulars will understand my constraints) but with the lovely antique mantle clock on top of the wall unit along with family photographs, ornaments and keepsakes, we do what we can.


Mrs. E.,

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear Lady Lydia, I can imagine you are overwhelmed with requests for articles. What you do is always excellent. I'm thinking now I might need to rearrange the furniture - and if I do, I'll post the result on my blog.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the lovely ideas... there is definitely an art to arranging furniture and decorating a home! I love "playing" with our chairs, tables, decor, etc., until I find what suites each room best.


Sue said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
I am honored to have you reference my blog in your lovely post and look forward to having your readers drop by for a vistit.
Your blog has been such an inspiration to me over the years. I have added you to my favorite places to visit and would be honored to be added to your blog role. Stop by any time to see me, you are always welcome!

Lydia said...


I put your link in the "Other People's Homes" section. I would love to see more pictures of your rooms! I only have about two presentable rooms at a time at my house, so I am very limited as to what I can show in interiors, but your house looks like it has a few more appealing areas!