Victoria Smith Interiors – Interior Designer Portland Maine – Tel: 207-865-6609


Decorating Step #3: Furniture inventory and placement

Decorating Step #3: Furniture inventory and placement

[ Blog - POSTED: October 1, 2010 ]

Ready to furnish that room? Before you run out to the showroom, stop—my guess is you have enough stuff already. Your time is better spent sorting through what stays and what you’ll pass on to other unsuspecting “bargain hunters.”

You need a clear understanding of the function of each room before placing furnishings.

Taking stock of all your furnishings—all the “stuff”—can be a challenge. Sometimes all the things you own become what owns you, whether they’re under your roof or any other. If that “other” place is a storage facility, empty it. Use it or lo$e it—coy, but a good rule anyway, because storage fees pile up. Many of our clients have added up the cost over the years and found that what they paid in fees to memorialize Aunt Bessie’s bureau could have purchased the cool thing they wanted in the first place. So drop the guilt, grow a backbone and get rid of things. It is a bad economy; you can’t afford to waste money saving things for ‘some’ day. Note that items being held hostage by a friend or relative must be retrieved by you and/or your attorney or hit man, not your designer.

What makes the cut?
List all the furniture you absolutely love, no questions asked. List all the furniture your significant other refuses to part with, no matter what threats you have lobbed. You may need a referee (the “keen eye for the furniture shy”) to help.

It’s OK to consult a trusted friend or designer, but do not take a consensus of everyone you talk to or you will end up having a house that looks it was designed by a committee or government entity—or both. If you are not looking for the airport hotel lobby look, choose the furniture that means something to you. What should be left is functional and/or beautiful- one or both. To quote William Morris:

“Do not keep anything in your home that you
do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Get rid of the tired stuff. If a piece of furniture fails to be useful in any room, be honest and give it away or sell it. Perhaps you can trade furniture with friend, neighbor, or relative. The Salvation Army would love more donations.

Furniture placement
There are entire books written, and courses taught, on furniture space planning. This post only scratches the surface on the bare-bones basics. But if you keep function and comfort as your top goals, your rooms should serve you well. Here are a few common-sense tips:

Each room needs to have a visual focal point, which is the primary focus of the main furniture grouping. This can be a fireplace, a window with a view, a TV, or your favorite piece art, or it can be the furniture grouping itself. Plan to place the biggest things first, balancing the visual weight of sofas and larger case goods like bookshelves, armoires, and pianos around the room. (For example, placing a larger sofa opposite a window or a seating grouping opposite a piano avoids having the room feel like it is “tipping” towards one side or the other.) Consider placing larger pieces parallel or at right angles to the walls. You can “float” furnishings in the center of a room by arranging a conversation area of seats facing each other—say, a pair of club chairs opposite a sofa. You may be able to place this grouping on the diagonal to the four corners of the room- to help break up the medical waiting room effect of furnishings pushed against the perimeter walls.

Next, place smaller items like side tables within easy reach of seating to provide a resting place for a book or a drink. Try to use a smaller coffee table or a small grouping of tables in front of larger upholstered items such as sofas. It can be a table or an ottoman, as long as it gives you a flexible place to put whatever you want to keep at hand. An old solution is to place a tray on an ottoman to turn a footrest into a table. Try to avoid an enormous coffee table that looks like you used a crane to set it in place—it is impossible to move and it strains conversation because it forces a widely spaced seating arrangement. Try to stay within eight feet of length (inside dimension) of a grouping or you’ll need a bull horn to be heard.

Let there be light
Appropriate lighting on tables (or floor lamps) helps improve the task function of the arrangement for reading, dining, television, and conversation—more on the specifics of lighting in my next blog post. For now, place table and floor lamps next to or slightly behind your seating. Remember, each seat should be comfortable, have a place near by to set things down, and a good light. This is 98 percent of successful design.

Keep in mind the location of entry doors and how people traverse the room. You can control traffic by how you place the primary and secondary furniture groupings. Allow a 36-48-inch minimum width between walls and/or furniture groupings for easy walking, 30-36 inches between groupings for passage, and 15 inches between the sofa and cocktail table. Allow a 3-4-inch space around a smaller table, and plan 30 inches between the hearth and any furniture. For dining rooms, allow 48 inches from the edge of the table to the wall to allow passage behind seated guests.  Allow a 24-inch width for each seated guest and 6 inches from the guest to the corner of the table. A good table setting depth is 18-24 inches.

Never stretch an electrical cord across a passageway, even under rugs. It is a safety code violation for a reason. You may consider putting a floor jack beneath the sofa or a club chair to power your lighting needs. Some contemporary homes forgo table lamps for overhead recessed lighting, but I find a single source of light to be limiting. It is hard to read a book, and overhead lighting alone is not flattering—it gives everyone dark circles under their eyes, as the light hits the bridge of the forehead. Table lamps help create softer pools of light and shadow and help ameliorate the “Frankenstein” effect of ceiling fixtures. Additional details about the basic rules of lighting to follow.

If you need additional information on space planning read:

Mark Hampton On Decorating by Mark Hampton
Interior Design Illustrated by Francis D. K. Ching

All books on interior design will feature a chapter on space planning. The basic rules have not changed over the years. Many library resource books are helpful for home owners.

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