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Homes with open floor plans need good traffic flow and areas designated to specific activities.  How do you accomplish that? Nope, not by taping signs to the wall that read “eat here” or “walk here” or “sit here”.  You do it by coming up with a sensible furniture layout.

CREATE A SENSIBLE FURNITURE LAYOUT

Think about it.  When you’re in an unfamiliar {or familiar, for that matter} house, you take clues from the way furniture is placed.  Indirectly, the furniture tells you where to eat, walk, sit, stand, play, cook and look.  And the better the layout, the more comfortable you feel in that house.  Likewise, an arbitrary furniture arrangement can make the people who live and visit there feel like something just isn’t right.  Like something is a little off kilter.  Or worse yet, a bad arrangement can make cooking, walking, sitting, eating, etc {yeah, all those things you do in a house} difficult.  Not good.

So, how do you find the best furniture arrangement for your space?  First, you need to determine what activities will be taking place in the area.  In my own home, the main living space is where we cook, eat, play, watch TV, entertain and converse.  Thus we have areas designated to those actions…albeit most areas multitask.  {We play and watch TV in our family room, for example.} Once you have a good idea of what’s going to happen in your open space {this could take you minutes or months to determine}, then you can start arranging furniture conducive to those activities.  Set up zones within the open floor plan.  You’ve probably heard designers and decorators refer to this as “rooms within rooms.” That’s what I’m talking about here.  Be sensible and take cues from architecture, built-ins, fireplaces, windows with views and other focal points. Place furniture accordingly to highlight those main attractions.  Don’t worry, this may take several tries before it feels/looks right.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t cost money to move furniture around. Play with different setups and live with them for a while to see what’s working and what isn’t.  This may require you to edit your furniture pieces.  Just because you have that side table {or whatever piece of unnecessary furniture} doesn’t mean you have to use it if there’s not a functional spot for it. Or you may find that you need to acquire a piece {or three} in order to complete a zone.  If that’s the case, then you can take measurements easily and define what size/shape/height/width you need that new piece to be…and be on the lookout for it. Please don’t start buying stuff until you know what you need and where it will go!

A key point to keep in mind when creating zones is to pull furniture away from the walls.  {In children’s bedrooms or playrooms, having an expanse of open floor space is okay for encouraging playtime.  I’m mainly talking about a common living space here.} I don’t know what it is about us humans {this is a total generalization in which I’m including myself} but, for some reason, we tend to want to shove our furniture against walls to leave a large, open floor space.  Why is that?  Sure it’s great for practicing gymnastics but it doesn’t really do much else.  I’ve been guilty of this, too. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home where all the furniture was placed this way.  Our family room had a TV console on one wall and all the furniture for sitting was lined up on the wall opposite the TV.  What ended up happening was a lot of “Hey!  Get out of the way.  I can’t see!”  That’s because the furniture arrangement left no other path for traffic.  It may have helped {by lessening the number of sibling squabbles} if the furniture was brought in closer to the TV, allowing traffic to flow around the seating area.  If you’re working with a smaller area, you may have no other option than to place your largest piece of furniture {let’s say the sofa} along a wall.  To close in the seating area, place a chair perpendicular to or opposite {and angled in towards} the sofa.  Voilà!  You’ve completed a seating area.  In tighter areas, consider using some round pieces…like a round dining or coffee table.  They usually have a smaller footprint and are great for allowing traffic to pass by easily.

Let’s take a look at an open living area for some inspiration, shall we?  This is an oldie but goodie – and a great example of separating one long room into several zones.  Candice Olson transformed an attic into a workspace for a filmmaker but I can see it working as a family hangout as well.  It’s got an office, dining area, media room, bar and ‘playroom’ packed into one space.  Wow!  It’s one busy attic.

Notice how the shorter side of the sectional juts out into the center of the space dividing one end of the attic into a media room.

A smaller loveseat and armchair placed perpendicular and opposite the sectional completes the seating area.  The seating area is formed around the theater screen…the focal point in this part of the attic.

Behind the sectional is a round pedestal table that sits far enough into the space so that it’s not up against the wall BUT it’s not impeding walk-through traffic either.  The table is centered along a waist-high built-in to accentuate this architectural detail.  This area can be used for playing board games, eating, doing homework or watching some regular ol’ TV…OR meeting with big wigs if you’re a film producer like this homeowner.

Finally, the other end of the attic can serve as an office, meditation spot or open play area.  Even though there isn’t any furniture right in the middle of the room, the desk chair {if turned around to face the center}, bench under the windows and built-in seating ledge form a “U” configuration that cozies up the space a bit and draws your eye to those gorgeous windows…yet a third focal point. Notice how Candice also stuck to a cohesive color scheme by painting all the walls in a light, creamy neutral and adding in pops of green and blue throughout.

Along with a cohesive color scheme, the right furniture arrangement can get you that much closer to creating a comfortable and appealing open space.  Finding the perfect setup can be tricky so take clues from inspirational rooms, play around with your arrangement and kindly remind your significant other that you’re not spending a dime.  Take some time to figure out how you want your space to work for you.  It took me nearly 2 years to come up with the layout we have today!  For a while there, Handy Hubby was coming home to a new furniture layout on a weekly basis.  At one point, I had our dining table in the sunroom and it was awful…too far from the kitchen and too cumbersome to pull chairs out to sit down.  Needless to say, that setup didn’t last long.  What about you?  Are you constantly dragging your sofa from wall to wall?  Do you have a particular layout conundrum? Or maybe you’ve found just the right arrangement?  Share your furniture placement woes and wows.

images: 1) OldNewAgain via Etsy  2-5) Candice Olson for Divine Design & Brandon Barré photography

14 Comments

09.November.2010

I love open floor plans…when we moved from our 1980’s subdivision into an older area of town, I was so hemmed in by all of the small rooms in the 1950’s homes we looked at…we were lucky enough to find a house where they had removed the walls between the living room and dining room to create a truly amazing great room (kitchen/dining/living.)

one counterintuitive hint for planning smaller zones within an open space (especially a small one like the one above) is that a sectional can be your best friend. they tend to be larger scale relative to a sofa and chair, so I think a lot of people shy away from a large piece in a small space…but they free you from dealing with awkward corner spaces between multiple pieces of furniture, and provide natural divisions within the larger space that can be used in lots of creative ways…

our sectional went from the living room to the sunroom to another wall in the sunroom, back to the living room, and now back to the sunroom. good thing it comes in, um, sections, or we’d be needing a chiropractor…now it’s set where it is (for now :)

great post, I love Candice Olson!

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09.November.2010

Dana
Stumbled on your blog as I am writing a post on Steer hides. Used one of your photos that really is fantastic! Love your blog and am so happy I found it. I must admit I am dying to know your breaking news!! You must share at once!
xo
amanda

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replied on November 9th, 2010

Amanda – I’ll be sharing the news in a few short hours. {I’m trying to be patient!} Stay tuned…

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09.November.2010

I think I know what your news is!!! I am a long time reader and I wanted to say I love your home.

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09.November.2010

I found your blog last week and spent all weekend reading the archives. My husband and I are in the process of buying our first home, and despite our color sensibilities being on the other end of the spectrum, I have loved gathering all sorts of ideas and inspirations from your home. I’ve even decided that, once we close, we should paint a room gray.

Today’s post brings up a conundrum that I’ve always had with furniture planning, and I was hoping you might have some insight.

I love the coziness created by pulling furniture off the walls and closer together, but I also need lighting next to the couch to do my crafts. Other than hanging pendants and ugly cord covers, how can we camouflage the cords that then drape across the floor?

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replied on November 9th, 2010

Regenia – I’ll be addressing lighting options for open spaces later in the week. If you still have questions after that, just let me know!

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[…] SENSIBLE FURNITURE PLACEMENT […]

11.January.2011

Ahhhhh I need help! I love what I read(your article came up when I was googling for the millionth time, ‘large, open living rooms’) but I still can’t figure out MY living room. When you walk in you have a long, high wall on the right,a-to-tall-of-fireplace-to-hang-tv-over directly in front of you(with two tall windows flanking it) open stairway to left and then to the left left it is open till you reach the kitchen bar. Sink is in that bar and faces the living room. It is to open to do anything with when your husband has to have a tv!! I can’t even begin to describe how incredibly juvenile this all looks. So sad. What can I do? I can’t think of any option that includes tv. Right now it(tv) is in the middle of that long wall. Long couch against stairs. Love-seat couch near fireplace. Long coffee table right in front of fireplace all by itself like a rejected moron. You can’t reach far enough to put your coffee on it but if you pull the long couch closer there is not really enough walking space between it and the stairs and the tv looks stupid off to the left of the wall.

Please help. It’s been a year and a half. I have 3 scratches on my wood floor,

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replied on January 12th, 2011

Julie – Email me some pics from all angles of your space. {Don’t feel like they need to be pretty or anything.} I could try to help.

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12.January.2011

I am emailing right now. ummmm we’ve been snowed in 3 days here and you’d think I’d have the dishes done, but I don’t. My bad.

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09.June.2011

If you don’t mind, I’m going to email you some pics of our “open floor plan” too! We just moved into our house 2 months ago and I am struggling with our family room layout. Any advice you give would be GREATLY appreciated!!!

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09.January.2012

I love the use of a sectional to define the space. My floor plan is C-shaped with a kitchen in one nook and a small TV area in the other. We’re trying to figure out how to define the dining area and make another separate sitting area outside the kitchen for reading/entertaining.

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20.January.2012

Hi..finally, I found a blog that mirrors my concerns. I, too have a home with an open floor plan – too open, I realize now. The kitchen and living room are all in one space, there’s not a single wall, no breakfast bar, just a small kitchen island. The space is not big either, so by the time I’m done with arranging furniture pieces, it feels cramped. There’s a formal dining area that’s totally separate from the kitchen/living area, we hardly use it, though. Any help would be really appreciated.Thanks! :)

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15.November.2012

Hi,
I’m looking for ideas on how to lay out furniture in a huge open dining room without spending a ton of money on furniture to fill the space. It’s approximately 25 x 25′. Looking in at the space, there are only three walls. The back wall contains a set of double glass doors (somewhat off center), leading into a similar sized great room. The wall to the right has approximately a 6′ opening which leads into the kitchen. From the back wall, this opening starts approximately 7′ from it. The wall to the left has another glass door (single) leading into a huge bedroom. This opening starts approximately 8′ from the back wall. The ceiling is approximately 11-12′ high. How can this space be used as a dining room for future home buyer(s)?

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