room planning : arranging furniture in a space

Lately, I’ve received quite a few messages from you awesome peeps regarding the layout of a space, and how to arrange furniture in a room. Laura P. in particular, writes:

“Help! I have a great space with great pieces, (I have been collecting for a really long time) but we recently moved. Now nothing seems to work! I’ve rearranged and rearranged and rearranged again, and I’m at a loss. I have no clue what should go where. Do you have any tips on the spatial planning for a room? Like, are you allowed to move furniture in front of a window? Can I really have big furniture in a smaller space? I would love to hear what the rules are, and what you do with them!” 

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Hey Laura! So glad you wrote! First things first: There are no hard and fast rules. I’m pretty sure if you read this lil site from time to time, you probably already know that. Because this is no longer 1990 {thank goodness} and because each person and each room is different…I simply have no use for rules. That’s what makes the world of modern day design such an interesting place, right?

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So, planning a space with the layout of furniture, much less the design elements that go into a space, {the two are intertwined} can hinge on the person’s taste, and the functionality of the space. Functionality, however, always comes first and foremost. The room HAS to work for its purpose.

I could look at a room on the screen all day, and can make great suggestions as far as arrangement. But until I’m actually standing in the space itself, it’s a hard call to make. This corner may jut up against this edge. And this wall is actually kind of awkward in real life. If I’m using this area to entertain, this space needs more of this…and so on.

So, I wanted to share a little bit of my thought process I like to go by, as general guidelines for what makes a space really work. But just remember, sometimes, I joyfully toss them all out the window, as well.

• Plan it out
Be sure to join pinterest, {if you haven’t received an invite, let me know and I’ll be sure to shoot one out to you.} not only for pure inspiration, but for furniture layout ideas. They have loads of beautiful spaces at your fingertips, with plenty of great blogs just waiting to be uncovered by you. Search long enough, and you’ll find just the layout you were looking for.

A note on professional photography: One thing I have noticed, however, is that sometimes in photography, the ones professionally done, will have slightly turned furniture. Or, the couch will be placed in a rando spot, because it worked for the shot, even though the owner never used it that way. In the photograph, it makes sense. In real life, not so much. Just be sure to take that into consideration when searching, and applying it to your real life spaces.

From there, I start sketching. In my real life {as opposed to fake life? Not sure why I used that?} sketchaholic notebook. You’ll never find me without it, as its a place where I just write it all down as it comes to me. I’m a lists and visual gal, so I’m kind of obnoxious like that. The more mockups, the better the options are for you. Write all our ideas down and try them out.

Need a space planner to get those tricky proportions right? Try this and this: {warning: more potential time sucks ahead}

• On planning:

Being a graphic designer, I follow the elements of art and design when styling and planning a space. They apply to both the world of art, and in styling a room. Here are a few guidelines I like to go by, when establishing a room’s feel: {as applied to arranging furniture and planning a space}

balance : In potential problem areas, it’s that thing that may feel “off” to you when you look at it all. If you have something feeling too heavy on one side of the room, move it. If it’s interrupting the room’s flow, change it. Make sure certain areas are balanced out.

symmetry: Can apply directly to balance. When working with even, identical pairs, it helps to make sure they feel equal. I usually like to have at least one symmetrical spot in my spaces, so that when mixed in with an eclectic feel, the space may also feel controlled. This sometimes helps to anchor an area, and keep the feel of the room grounded. This however, does not apply to all spaces. It’s just an element you can consider when arranging your furniture.

contrast: When I have one thing, it helps to switch it up a bit to also have some of another. For example {and this applies to fabrics, also} I like to have at least one organic piece, and then a geometric shape to balance it out. Or one masculine piece, and one feminine. Where there are busy spaces, contrast them with areas for the eye to rest. {see above? they’re all intertwined}

flow: In our own homes, creating a real live space for our families to live, and serve its purpose well, while making it beautiful, is our ultimate goal.
All these elements begin working together for you, and contribute to the flow of the space. Remember the idea of form vs. function? Keep the necessary areas open, and visually appealing. Leave the eyes room to rest.

I truly believe we can have both a beautiful room, AND a two, three, and five year old…and a big dog… Its all about making it work.

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• Live in it

The more you practice a few of the applications used in art, the more they become a part of your basic instincts. Don’t think too much. Play with it and then live in it. You’ll know what feels good after you leave it a certain way for a while. Think about what you don’t like, and what could possibly be throwing it off. And don’t feel guilty about changing it up. Just do it.

Need help? Invite your friends over for a pair of fresh eyes. Have a girls night and make it a furniture rearranging partay. Maybe I’m the only dork who thinks this could be fun, but why is it that we can be stumped in our own homes, then immediately spot the disfluent look of our friends’ homes if they ask us to take a look?

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• Break the rules + be flexible

Don’t those make the most interesting spaces?

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Don’t like it? Then switch it around. The queen of flexibilty: The Nester is fully responsible for the fact that “shopping” my home is now a full time hobby. Don’t be afraid to move it if its not working, and switch out one piece with another. Just because you originally placed it there, doesn’t mean your grandkids have to move it out for you from that exact spot when you die. Gone are the days of rigid rules and limited thinking based on what our grandmothers would approve of. This is our home. Our space. And if I want to have my bed in front of a window, then sweetlemonade, I will.


Oh, one quick priceless gem (insert sarcasm here) of what I think, regarding purchasing pieces for your home: If I like the piece, then I make it work. Never EVER pass up something you are absolutely in love with, and will regret passing by, at a reasonable price, all because of the current room you have in mind. You can make it work-and chances are, you won’t be living there, or even using the space in the same way… forever. FOR. EV. VER. {Sandlot. Am I the only one who does this?}

These are just a few of the things that help me. For more of my take on following “the rules” be sure to check out my guest post on Homestories A to Z, here. FREEEEEEEEEEEDDDOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!!

What are some of your tips for arranging furniture in a space? I think we can always use new ones! Teach me, oh masters. ;)

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18 Responses to room planning : arranging furniture in a space

  1. Danielle says:

    This is a great post…thanks! I would love an invite to pinterest.

  2. Laurie says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been thinking things along these lines, but it’s just so good to hear it from someone like you. Also, I’d love an invite to pinterest. Thanks!

  3. Kimberly says:

    Haha. I just had to say, I do the sandlot thing too. Love that movie. I agree about breaking rules. I had my bed in front of a window for 8 months and loved it.

  4. sherry w says:

    Hey Ashley, thanks for this info. We are still trying to figure out our great room. This huge brown monster is hitting the road and making room for two new chairs (already ordered) and a new sofa (haven’t decided yet). I want to send pictures but my camera is not that great. I’ll have to poke around pinterest

    We love that movie. My daughter and I say that all the time! So you are not alone. In fact, my family quotes movie lines daily. :o)

  5. Great information! I’m just in the stages of re-decorating my home and have monsterous furniture and a not so big livingroom.. Also, I’d LOVE an invite to pintrest if you don’t mind :)

  6. mqndy at eight is enough says:

    Lol..I actually read your comments. Maybe even posted one when one of your readers used sweet lemonade…lol…I have watched you grow into this term..lol…I loved it at the point of reading too…hee hee hee…its going to be one of mine ad well…how cool is it…aNyhows…I love this post…I am so with you….move it around she days…my poor family get sick of me doing that but they say a change Is as good as a holiday right…lol…take care…xxx

  7. mqndy at eight is enough says:

    Ps…i am sure it wad your blog about thd sweet lemonade…otherwise it was someone elses and then i’ll feel like a complete idiot…lol…xxx

  8. mandy at eight is enough says:

    PPS…I am hopeless at phone typing…seriously…lol…xxx

  9. Everyone who has commented at this point and expressed an interest in pinterest {I’m a poet and didn’t know it} has been sent. Let me know if it doesn’t come through!

  10. Jessica says:

    This is great! I have just started the redecorating process…. I also would LOVE an invite to pinterest. Thanks!

  11. Hannah says:

    Yay!! Now I can follow you on Pinterest, too! Also, thanks so much for those links; I have an awkwardly sized/oriented/whatevered living room, and I’m constantly polling people to see what I should do. I think having something that can help me visualize will help.

    Thanks!!

  12. Melissa says:

    Adding to the balance section; deciding if your space is formal or informal helps with deciding where and how accessories should be placed but its a better idea to mix it up with each of them and have one the more influential choice. Another trick I like to do is move as much furniture out of the room as possible and walk in the room from all different entries and see what the natural flow of traffic would be for you and your family. Use some string (streamer, whatever you have on hand) and a little piece of tape and mark the spots from one doorway to the next. That way, when you go to place your furniture, you know where they are. Hope that helps some :)

  13. Jaime says:

    Great, great advice! It all makes sense! I am trying to make our home more functional and yet increase its beauty at the same time – tips like these are golden!

    Also – if you really could send me an invite to Pinterest – that would be so incredibly awesome!!! Consider it my birthday present (it’s tomorrow)! :) Thanks again!

  14. amy says:

    I am a total sicko and am never satisfied with my furniture arrangement. I move my furniture around at least every 3 months…including rehanging all of our “art.” I swear, it’s an illness. But on a positive note, I’ve become a pro at patching all the holes in our walls ; ) I’ve heard of pinterest, but have never checked it out. I wonder if this site would cure me? Would love an invite…..I didn’t even realize that was necessary. : )

    P.S. i really enjoy reading your blog.