Layout Tips That Make Every Room In the House Work Harder

Hadley Mendelsohn
·5-min read
Photo credit: Lisa Romerein
Photo credit: Lisa Romerein

From House Beautiful

Some rooms are just built better than others—with stellar floor plans that lend themselves to wonderful flow, but there are also subtle changes in furniture placement that can make an existing room that much better. It all boils down to the layout. Caitlin Laskey, a preservation specialist and designer with a keen eye for spacial awareness, knows how to create a layout that makes every room in the house work just a little harder. Ahead, discover five layout tips to keep in mind while you arrange your furniture.

Study Window, Door, and Vent Placement

Just because you've been in love with a certain layout doesn't mean it'll be the best one for your space—considering where your room's basic foundational elements (like outlets, vents, windows, and doors) actually fall. So before you decide where all your furniture is going to go, make sure you've really studied the room itself. "For doors, take into account whether it swings in to the room or out, and whether you think you’ll have it open all the time, or will want to close it often," Laskey advises. If a door is inhibiting flow or making a room feel closed-off, you might even find it easier to take it off the hinges.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

"With windows, consider how much light they provide and whether you’ll want to be near that light for something like reading," says Laskey, "or whether the window will cause any glares on a TV. There are solutions to these issues if you don’t have much choice for a certain piece of furniture—such as a large sectional—but thinking about whether the window creates a glare or draft when you’re watching TV will help you decide on the best location for seating and if curtains are a must."

And now for working around common eyesores: "You will also want to be similarly mindful of heating and cooling elements, whether you have radiators, floor vents, or window units," Laskey explains. " You don’t want your sofa ending up right in front of a blasting air conditioner in the summer."

Generally speaking, Lakey says, "people are uncomfortable having their backs to the entry of a room," so don't set up a sofa with the doorway behind it. Consider how the room will be used and how furniture placement can facilitate that: "Think about an area of focus, whether it’s to have conversation with guests, to watch movies with a partner or kids, or to lounge around with a good book. With a focus in mind, it’s easier to hone in on what works and what won’t for that particular goal."

See the Best Layout Ideas for Every Room

Don't Block Popular Pathways

Aside from making sure the layout works visually, you'll also want to think about how you'll actually use it and move throughout the space. Laskey to says to consider paths around the furniture, not just the furniture itself. "It’s pretty annoying when you have to always go around a table or chair because it’s blocking the path you really want to be able to take," she explains. "It’s also how you end up stubbing your toes!" This is especially important when you're decorating a family home "with little kids who will run into and over things, regardless of how you arrange them," she adds.

Specifically, Laskey recommends that "travel paths should be at least 30” wide, although 36”-42” is much more comfortable."

Break Each Space Into Activity Zones

"I like to anchor spaces with area rugs," says Laskey, who typically leaves 18-24 inches of flooring exposed around the rug so it looks proportional to the room. For bigger rooms, don’t be afraid to establish different "zones.” Particularly in older homes, you’ll find it may make sense to break up seating areas for TV-watching vs. reading or playing a board game.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Just because a room is big, doesn’t mean everything in it has to be big. For expansive blank walls, I like to either do a single, large piece of artwork that can be a focal point, or to do several smaller pieces of various sizes mixed together. I like to stick to odd numbers, such as groups of three or five, when doing this sort of arranging."

Consider the Architecture

How you arrange furniture can also be heavily influenced by the architectural style of your home. For example, if you live in an older home, chances are there will be more small, separate rooms, whereas a more modern home might feature a more open floor plan in the shared spaces. Laskey says, "You don’t have to go totally minimalist, but bulky over-sized furniture, even in a large room, can be overwhelming. Just like a well-tailored suit, I like furniture to have crisp, clean lines, without a lot of puffiness at the arms or lumpy cushions that will make the furniture look worn out well before it actually is."

You might also play off the architecture to create contrast; Laskey lives in a Victorian townhouses with stained-glass and dark wood, so she chose modern furniture so it doesn't overwhelm the space. "If I went with all traditional furniture taking up all the space, it’d be overkill," she points out. "Allowing space for pieces to breathe is more calming to me than to jam every corner with something."

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Play Around and Take Your Time

And, last but not least, try not to rush the process. If you're starting from scratch (i.e. not working with any preexisting pieces), take your time collecting items that will work well together. "I think people feel a lot of pressure to fill their rooms right away and be done with it," says Laskey. "This tends to lead to a hodgepodge of items you don’t even really care for, and some overcrowding." Plus, she points out, "it’s really hard to know how you’re going to live in a room right away when you first move in." Spend some time in the space, noting where the early morning sunlight hits for a work area and what room has the best golden light for a reading nook. Says Laskey: "Good furniture and décor isn’t cheap, and you should love the pieces you put into your home!"

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