One great thing about getting my Interior Design master’s degree is that I have learned a lot! But, that wealth of information can be a bit humbling! You know, like when a professor, who is a 30-year design veteran, points out a common interior design mistake that people make, and you realize you have made that mistake (or are making it right now!). But, I guess that’s how we learn, right? Sometimes, we need someone to point out our mis-steps, so we can learn what not to do. That’s what today’s post is all about…recognizing our mistakes and learning from them! Specifically, I’ll be sharing six space planning mistakes for living rooms that people commonly make, and how to fix them!
“Space planning, that sounds pretty technical?” Well, you can think of it as the furniture layout for a room…what furniture you choose and how you place it in the room is very important! It affects the entire look and feel of the room! If you find that your room just doesn’t “feel” right, you may have a space planning issue. Let’s see if you are making any of the following design errors in your home…
#1 – Pushing Furniture Against the Wall
This is, perhaps, the most common mistake people make in their living rooms. I mean, look, I’m not telling you that you can’t have any furniture against the wall, but just not all of it! The only justifiable reason to push all of your furniture against the wall is when you are having a dance party! Something tells me this person is not having a party anytime soon…
Now, there are lots of rooms where you really have no choice but to put your sofa and other furniture against the wall, but let me show you a few examples where bringing your sofa out into the middle of the room really makes a huge impact! Keep in mind, the goal is to create an intimate seating area, where people are encouraged to have good conversation. You don’t want to be shouting across the room to each other, right? A close-knit seating area will make your room feel more cozy and result in a better energy balance (interior design speak).
Consider the room here. It’s a nice size room with a fireplace in the middle, surrounded by two beautiful windows. Now, this person clearly has “wallflower syndrome,” and all the furniture is pushed against the walls. See those green arrows? Those represent the traffic flow through the room (we’ll talk more about that later). The flow looks good, but is this room going to provide intimate conversation? No way! You’ll be shouting at each other across the room! You could have a great dance party in here though!!! 🙂
The Solution: OK, so here’s how you fix this room. Drag that sofa into the middle of the room, right in front of that beautiful fireplace! Move the chairs in closer to the middle of the room. And for that now blank wall on the left, perhaps a library shelving unit? Suddenly, you have a cozy, inviting, wonderful room! The traffic flow is still good, and you have your furniture around the focal point of the room – the fireplace!
Here’s another option, that works just as well!
Let’s look at another real-world example. This wonderful client had a huge living room, and the fireplace was located in a very awkward place! They had pushed their sofa against one wall, and their TV stand was against the opposite wall. But, when people walked to the outside space, they had to walk right through the seating area (and right in front of anyone watching TV). The traffic went right through the TV viewing sight line (the red arrow)…boo! And, to make matters worse, that poor fireplace was left all by its lonesome on the right side of the room.
The Solution: So, what’s the solution here? Move the sofa to the middle of the room! Add a few chairs on either side of the TV stand for improved conversation, and a sofa/console table on the back side of the sofa. Now you’ve incorporated the fireplace into the living space, and no one is walking in front of the TV to go outside. You’ve also balanced out the room visually, and provided a little space for a game table! Bonus!
#2 – Not Considering Traffic Flow
Traffic flow is the pattern that people repeatedly use when walking a path from one room to another, or to an outside space. You can see the traffic flow, in the rooms I showed above, represented by green arrows. Traffic patterns are really important to consider when space planning, and most people don’t even think about it! The most important things to remember are to keep traffic flow patterns free from obstacles, and create as direct a path as possible from one space to the next. Common mistakes when it comes to traffic flow are:
- forcing circulation through conversation or television watching areas
- not allowing enough space for circulation to take place (i.e. paths between furniture are too tight)
Let’s take a look at the following living room…
The problem here is that when you enter this room, you have to walk all the way around the huge u-shaped sectional sofa to sit on it. It creates an awkward obstacle course to navigate, and is just a big ‘no’ for space planning.
The Solution: It’s best to position your furniture such that it creates an entrance into a space rather than a roadblock. In this case, it would be better for space planning purposes to separate the large sectional into smaller pieces.
#3 – Not Measuring the Room and Furniture
Furniture can be expensive, right? It’s important to buy what you love, buy good quality, and buy something that actually fits in your space! One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your living room is to buy furniture that is too small or too big! Buying furniture that is too large will make your space feel cramped, and buying furniture that is too small might make the room look more like a dollhouse. Take a look at this room…the furniture is just huge! This poor room feels small and awkward with these enormous sofas!
The Solution: Sorry to break it to you, but you absolutely must measure your room and make a plan before you go furniture shopping. I know those of you who like to just buy a little more impulsively will cringe when you read this, but trust me, it can save you a lot of heartache (and money) if you do a little preparation before you shop. Take a measuring tape, and measure every wall in the room. Make sure you know what size sofa or table will fit in the room before you go shopping. If you are still unsure what size furniture is right for the space, you can place some painter’s tape down on the floor to mark out the area that the furniture will occupy. Try it out for a few days. Does the traffic flow work? Does the space feel cramped? Once you feel comfortable with the sizes you’ve chosen, write down the measurements you need for each piece and go shopping. Now you can buy furniture that is guaranteed to fit your living room!
#4 – Too Much Stuff!
I’m just gonna say it…these two rooms are hideous! My eyeballs start to move around in wonky circles when I look at these pictures. These are classic examples of way too much stuff!!
A well-decorated space has a sense of calm and balance. When you clutter up the space, you create a visual distraction. It doesn’t feel cozy, it doesn’t feel clean…and it certainly isn’t a space you want to spend much time in.
The Solution: The solution to this is simple…remove the excess stuff! Keep removing things until you have paired it down to what you need for comfort, storage, utility. When it comes to accessories and furniture, less is usually more.
#5 – Not Having a Focal Point
Take a look at this next room, and tell me where the focal point is. Is it the window? The mirror? The blank wall?
I don’t know either because this room isn’t telling me!
The Solution: Your room needs to find a focal point and highlight it! Perhaps it’s your fireplace, or a feature wall, or the beautiful view out the window, or perhaps even a fabulous gallery wall of artwork or pictures. Now, place your furniture around that focal point!
#6 – Disproportionate Scale
Scale is the interior design term for the overall size of a piece of furniture or object. Disproportionate scale means that the size of one object or piece of furniture is out of whack with the size of another or with the room itself. Let’s take a look at an example.
Ummmm…no! I feel like I’m in a dollhouse when I look at this room. The furniture is just way too small for the otherwise large room (not to mention it’s all against the wall!). When you have furniture that is proportional in size, the overall result is a pleasing space. When the furniture is out of proportion with each other, or the room size, the space feels awkward and uncomfortable. For example, you don’t want to buy a massive, chunky sofa and then place a dainty little table next to it. The proportion of those two objects will be off, and the room just won’t look right.
The Solution: Measure your room, and purchase furniture that is appropriate for the overall size of the room. Make sure the pieces you buy are complimentary when it comes to scale. Think of it not just as buying similar size furniture, but also furniture that has similar “chunkiness.”
If you find that you are making any of these mistakes, keep in mind that you are not alone. These are common design issues that most people make. Recognizing it is the first step toward fixing it! Give some of these solutions a try and see if you can improve the look and feel of your living room.