Arrange Furnishings

Living rooms, family rooms, great rooms…..they all serve similar functions and present the most challenges and opportunities for inspiring decor.  The two words form and function should always enter into your design plan. Form refers to the aesthetics or appearance of the room, while function refers to its practical use. Attaining a pleasing blend of these two elements is your goal, and doesn’t that just sound so-o-o simple?

Always, always start with function.  How do you want the room to be used?  We’e heard raging debates over the years as to whether or not the room should have a TV, just to throw one issue onto the table.  Is the room for entertaining small (or mid-sized) groups?  Is it just for family to watch TV?  Is it sometimes for work, sometimes for dining, etc.?  You can add your own functions not included here.  In the majority of cases it will be some combination of these things and sometimes all of the above.  The point is, get that set in your mind before any other decisions; if you’re partnered, work it out and come to an agreement, especially if some compromise is needed.  For example, if one of you is adamant about not including that TV, you might compromise by adding a hidden TV.  There are some very clever and beautiful ways to do that now.

To experiment with room layout without destroying your back while moving pieces back and forth, purchase an inexpensive kit that lets you be creative with paper and pencil, computer or tablet. offers several choices at different price points.  Just go to the site and search for “furniture arrangement” to see the options.

Form is where the fun and even more creativity come in.  The sky’s the limit, but first give some thought to the look you want.  Most mistakes are made because of not having a broad vision in mind; instead, too many people go along buying individual pieces without truly considering how they contribute to the overall look and feel they’re pursuing for the space.  If you’ve ever worked with a professional decorator you know that this is the starting point, even if you’re working with some existing furnishings.  Do you want it to reflect traditional, contemporary, island casual, African, Asia, etc.or an eclectic look (Note: if you say eclectic, be sure it’s not an excuse for just an unrelated jumble; eclectic looks require a lot of talent to pull off successfully)?  The point here is that your goal should be to craft a thoughtfully considered final product that is unified.

As you work it out, here are some important tips:

  • Scale is important.  Furniture has to reflect the scale of the room. You’ve probably seen homes with furniture that’s way too big for the room or even just the wall a piece is on.  There needs to be a generous amount of room between the item and walls, doorways, corners, and other pieces of furniture.  The more open space you create the more spacious the look.   If the scale is out of proportion with the room it just won’t feel right and you’ll feel it.  The key is to know that before spending your money. Most blunders are made with furniture that’s too big, but the opposite can happen as well, especially with very large spaces like great rooms.


  • Dimensions are important.  Everything has three of them: length, width and height.  Consider varying height especially, to avoid a boring two-dimensional look.  If you choose seating with lower backs, consider incorporating tall chests and/or bookshelves.  Placing one of these between two widows is a great option when flanked by lower seating.


  • Balance is important.  If you’re working with a very small room, balance may not be that big an issue; but the opposite is true.  More spacious rooms have a real need for balance. What this means is you have to ensure that the weightier pieces are distributed evenly throughout the room.  If your larger, more substantial pieces of furniture are skewed to one side the room will feel lopsided.


  • Unity is important.   How does the placement of your furnishings create a unified, inviting look.  When you enter a room do you naturally want to be there and use the space?  The room should invite conversation or quiet solitude, and the pieces should therefore relate to one another easily.  A chair stuck in a corner just because it’s an open spot doesn’t accomplish that.


  • Walls are important.  We’ve all been in living/great rooms where all the furniture is slavishly arranged around the walls, boring in terms of form, and often deadly in terms of function.  Small rooms, found in many apartments, condos, and row homes cannot avoid this, but they also don’t face the pitfall of stranding pieces too far apart from one another.  Anything placed against a wall should not be all the way against it.  Depending on the scale of the room, allow a 2-4 inch gap.  Nothing in the room should appear jammed in, whether it’s against a wall, pieces near corners, and certainly not pieces close to one another.  If you find that difficult to avoid, perhaps you either have the scale of the furnishings wrong or you have too much furniture.  Experiment with floating your seating; that’s a big way to provide interest, movement and functionality.  By grouping your seating this way you create an inviting gathering spot that promotes conversation.


  • The journey is important.  Rarely do we get to decorate a home from scratch; that only happens when it’s a second home. Mostly we’re starting with what we have.   Taking your time with the process can be a reward in itself.  Know before you start if you want to keep and update the same look, or go for a new and altogether different style. Do you want to keep or change the color scheme?  Do you have the budget to do it all now, or do you need a gradual approach that means replacing things a little at a time?  Here’s the thing:  if you need to do this over time it can get very tricky.  You’ll be finding replacement pieces and accessories that you love for your new look, and that will work with what you already have.   If it becomes too daunting to pull off on your own, you can consult with a professional decorator on a strictly hourly basis to get tons of great, creative ideas. It’s astonishing what a talented and experienced decorator can toss out to you in a mere hour.  Just be ready to take copious notes!