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Furniture Arranging Dos and Don'ts

Tips to get your set-up in sync with your floor plan and your style of living

Written by Sally Finder Weepie
  • Eric Roth

    The right furniture arrangement makes your living space comfy, cozy, and oh-so conducive to great conversation. Take a tip or two from these rooms to get your set-up in sync with your floor plan and your style of living.

    Don't fence anyone in—no one wants to feel like they have to perform acrobatics by somehow managing to wriggle through your door while simultaneously avoiding a chunky chair or console table. 

    Do welcome family and guests inside with a clear path from the front door into an inviting conversation zone. Also allow enough space to easily move between sofas and chairs. The standard suggestion is 30 inches of walk-through space between pieces of furniture. 

    Bonus tip: While you don't want to clog your entry, it is smart to include an entry drop spot, like the airy x-base table in this room, tucked in a niche that doesn't block the swing of the door or traffic in and out of the room.

    Interior design: George Nunno and Jon Marato

  • Don't leave anyone out of the conversation in your living space.

    Do invite interaction by cozying up your furniture pieces around the fireplace, with the sofa and chairs facing each other. It's a good idea not to have more than 8 feet between your sofa and chair pair so people feel connected and no one has to raise their voice to be heard. 

    Interior design: Andrew Howard

    See the rest of this Florida home.

  • Gordon Beall

    Don't turn a blind eye to the architectural hand you've been dealt.

    Do embrace features like French doors. Here, the furniture layout emphasizes the symmetry of the room's architecture with seating that flows in a natural line from each door and frames the fireplace. The rectangular lines also mimic the coffered ceiling. But at the same time, small change-ups keep things interesting: Use two chairs on one side of the conversation area instead of bringing in a matching sofa. Include contrasting shapes too. Here, the end tables throw the room a welcome curve or two. A side chair picks up on their shape while also giving a pleasing crescendo to the blue in the room's palette.

    Interior design: Kat Liebschwager

    Check out this Richmond redo.

  • John Bessler

    Don't leave guests stuck holding a glass all evening.

    Do place a table within easy reach of each seat, convenient for setting down a drink or a book. Here, the coffee table is large enough to serve the entire seating group, yet its glass top keeps it from feeling massive. (A good rule of thumb is 14–18 inches between coffee table and sofa.) Side tables are also stationed at each end of the sofa and next to a side chair that parrots the lush green of outdoor views. 

    Interior design: Lisa Hilderbrand and Sarah Hamlin Hastings

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Don't block views to other rooms or throughout a great room when you want people to feel connected, even if they might be doing their own thing.

    Do consider furniture choices other than a high-back sofa, such as this low-slung daybed. It provides a couple of extra seats in this conversation grouping, yet it leaves clear sight lines. 

    Interior design: Vern Yipp

    This showhouse sizzles with bold color.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Don't let your furniture pieces float untethered in the vastness of a great room.

    Do delineate a great room into comfortable, livable zones. Here, a rug gathers a sofa, a pair of armchairs chairs, and a coffee table into one welcoming chat spot near the fireplace. A table and side chairs create a separate gathering area, where another group of friends can gear up for a little game night action while still feeling like part of the bigger party.

    Interior design: Carolyn Kendall


  • John Bessler/Werner Straube

    Don't skimp on furniture in a large-scale space, such as an expansive great room.

    Do call on a variety of seating options: a sofa, a pair of armchairs, a lounge chair, and a couple of soft ottomans that can be used for seating or as tables. Mix things up with tables too: Team a good-size coffee table with end tables in a slightly different style. Use a rug to unite the large grouping.

    Interior design: Patrik Lönn

  • Werner Straube

    Don't feel forced to shove your sofa up against a wall.

    Do consider placing your conversation zone away from doors and windows to keep things airy and allow for better traffic flow. Use a rug to anchor the furniture grouping. Then call on wall space as a home for high-function perimeter storage cabinets. 

    Bonus tip: If you "float" a furniture arrangement away from walls, consider adding in-floor electrical outlets to avoid a trail of light cords.

    Interior design: Summer Thornton

    See more of this updated Tudor-style home.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Don't consider yourself bound to buying a sofa for your living room.

    Do think about what suits the way you live and entertain. Especially in a smaller-scale room, a quartet of chairs pulled up to a drum ottoman can make a lot of sense. Everyone gets his or her own comfy perch in a sociable chat zone.

    Interior design: Susan Bohlert Smith

    Click here to see the rest of this beach retreat.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Don't be intimidated by high ceilings—or let them dwarf your furniture.

    Do bring a tall room down to human scale. Here, high-back chairs work with soft vertical-stripe draperies to celebrate the room's soaring proportions. An ample sofa, lavished with pillows and paired with a substantial wood end table, fills the width of the window nook, balancing the room's proportions. 

    Interior design: Patricia McLean

  • Nancy Nolan

    Don't think your living room is doomed because you don't have a fireplace. There's no need to rip out a wall and renovate.

    Do create your own focal point—or take advantage of great views. Here, the sitting area gives glimpses of nature through a gently arched window on one wall and offers views of a colorful art piece on the other. Go big with art. It should fill a space, not be one small blip on a huge, otherwise empty wall. Pull out colors to highlight elsewhere in your room's palette, like the rich blue here, also used on upholstery and pillow fabric.

    Interior design: Tobi Fairley

    See how Tobi updated the rest of this home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Don't let your entry rudely intrude on your living room.

    Do make your gathering zone its own space—cozy and inviting. Delineate the living space by siting the sofa parallel to the entry, but with its face firmly to the conversation area. That will make the two spaces feel separate—no wall, door, or screen needed.

    Bonus tip: Large ottomans are an on-trend, contemporary take on the coffee table. They're adept multi-taskers, serving as both a spot to place a tray of food and drinks or an easily movable perch for a couple of extra guests. When buying a large ottoman, consider one with an airy base to ensure it's light enough to slide around and won't look bulky in your room.

    Interior design: Katie Rosenfeld

    This Atlanta home boasts colorful Florida style.

  • Dominic Blackmore

    Don't block hallways.

    Do move the sofa and chairs away from interior doorways and hall pass-throughs. Cuddle your grouping up to a fireplace or art wall—or both! 

    Bonus tip: Looking for a new take on the end table? Try a piece of outdoor furniture like this garden stool, which adds a dash of color and modern flair.

    Interior design: Jack "JJ" Reese

  • John Bessler/Werner Straube

    Don't think the living room is the only place you can create an intimate conversation spot.

    Do consider the possibilities offered by a large foyer. Just an entry table can look lonely. But add a sofa and a pair of slender armchairs, and you have a great spot for a few friends to escape a big gathering in the great room. A chic screen brings down the sclae of the staircase and cloaks the stairs to the lower level.

    Interior design: Denise Rinfret and Missy Rinfret Minicucci

  • Werner Straube