Here's How: How to Design a Living Room to Complement Furniture
Dear James: I am designing my new home, and I am not sure how big or in what shape to make the rooms, especially the living room, which we will often use. Do you have some design tips to help me at this early stage? -- Dianne B.
Dear Dianne: This is an excellent question and the proper time to give this some serious thought. Architects and home designers often use a somewhat standard formula for the relative size of rooms and window placements and their shapes. But this method does not always yield the biggest bang for the building buck.
The living room or family room is generally the second most often used room in a house, after the kitchen. When functionality is considered, the shape of the living room can be as important as its size because this will dictate the traffic flow patterns through the room.
Design and size your living room first, and then fit the rest of the rooms around it. When designing the living room, consider how it will be used and the types of furniture, groupings and amenities you would like there. Will it have a large fireplace, a unique window with a view, a piano, a large-screen television? All of these items may be focal points or centers of activity.
Once you have determined the basic activities for the living room, consider the furniture you will have for each of these activities. For example, you may want to have a large sofa in front of the fireplace or in front of a large window, or you may want a comfortable chair near a window for reading.
The key to proper design and furniture placement is considering the living room as a grouping of various activities and keeping the areas separate. Each activity area should be arranged such that traffic patterns into and through the living room do not pass directly through an activity area. In this way, several people can be doing different activities without interfering with one another to a great extent.
Depending upon the activities of interest to you, the best living room shape may be square or longer and more rectangular. A square shape provides the most floor area with the least lineal wall area for lower building costs. A rectangular shape is better for large rooms because it provides adequate width to walk through without disturbing others.
If you select a square room shape, it is often best to have the entrance to the room in the center of the wall opposite the most unique feature, such as a large fireplace. This design provides space for two activity areas and furniture groupings on each side of the entrance and the main furniture grouping in front of the fireplace. A person can enter the room and access any activity area without passing directly through any of them.
There are some general guidelines for furniture placement and for traffic lane width. When you place chairs opposite a sofa, a distance of about 6 feet between them is good for conversation. The traffic lane into a room and to the primary activity area near the unique feature should be at least 42 inches wide. Minor traffic lanes to the other less-often-used activity areas can be as narrow as 24 inches, but 30 inches is preferable.
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