How to Layout Your Room Like a Design Pro
Let me tell you a quick story and see if you can relate:
You’re scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest and absolutely fall in love with a beautifully styled room – the furniture, the rug, the decor – everything about the interior design plan is perfect!
You turn to your spouse and say “OMG it’s perfect! I want our room to look like that!”
Then you grab your wallet, find all the pieces, and rack up a whole bunch of reward points on your card.
But, once you get the items in your home… well, they just don’t look or feel “right” together.
Something’s off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
“Umm, this doesn’t look like the photo I loved so much. What gives?”
Time to point some fingers!
It’s easy to blame your room for [insert any number of problems] or photo editing for why the pieces just don’t work together.
Does this story sound familiar?
If it does, you’re not alone.
I can’t begin to tell you how many decorating clients have called me to fix this exact problem. What’s the first thing I do?
Change the layout!
It’s usually all wrong and sometimes all you need is to move around the furniture.
A great interior design layout is SUPER important for a number of reasons:
- It makes any room feel more welcoming.
- It can allow you to better direct traffic and flow throughout your space.
- It can create the illusion of more space: By having pieces that relate to one another, the room feels as if it carries more weight.
So, when I’m doing a consult with a client who’s having a layout problem, I walk them through the 3 F’s – Focal point, Function, and Formation.
Design Layout Tip #1: Focal Point
When laying out a room, I begin by determining where the focal points of the room are located. Where are your eyes immediately drawn to when entering the room? Think architectural features, large windows with a view, fireplaces, built-ins, etc.
If you have a tract home, semi-detached, or bungalow your architecture may be lacking. In this case, maybe there’s a colourful piece of furniture, or an heirloom table that’s been passed down, or beautiful sculpture that grabs your attention.
Think to yourself: What is the star of this room? How can I really make it special?
At our studio, our Emily sofa is the star of the room. When people come in, they’re immediately drawn to it and love running their hands along the green velvet!
Don’t mind the cords. The music for the entire street runs out of our studio and unfortunately they ran the cords down the wall like that! One day we’ll have an electrician move that plug. Until then, it’ll be the bane of my existance.
We’ve laid out the room at the front of our design studio in Tilbury to focus on this beautiful green sofa by building shorter pieces in front to draw your eyes towards her. We’ve also selected a rug and side chairs more neutral tones to not take away the visual interest from Emily.
Notice that each piece from the carpet to the table to the sofa to the artwork steps upwards.
Additionally, we created symmetry with the chairs, lighting, and art so that the eye doesn’t get lost in an asymmetrical layout keeping focus where we want it.
Design Layout Tip #2: Function
The second F I talk about with clients is function. How you’ll use the space and how you want to direct traffic through the space are very important considerations when planning your layout.
Before purchasing furnishings — and even before laying out your space plan — write out ALL of the things that happen in the room.
For example, what happens in a living room? Watching TV, reading, napping, conversation, kids playing with toys etc.
How about a dining room? Obviously eating, but maybe the dining area doubles as a space for a home office, kids doing homework, or even playing cards with friends.
Let’s not forget the bedroom: Sleeping, reading, getting dressed, storing clothes, sexy time… hehe
Needless to say, there’s a lot that goes on in just one room, so the room itself needs to function properly given the way you use it!
The best way to do this is to create zones for different functions.
In this open concept space we defined the entryway with a runner, the dining space with a square rug and the conversation/TV zone with an 8X10. It makes it a lot easier to decide where to place furniture and how big furnishings can be knowing they need to live on those rugs!
Begin at your focal point with a rug and build it out from there. Rugs are the best way to define zones!
And don’t be afraid to cover up hardwoods. Let them shine with a 12” band around your rug, but always remember that a rug that’s too small will make your room look SO much smaller. A 5X7 rug isn’t really appropriate for many rooms unless your room is tiny (or maybe for a kid’s room under a twin bed).
When you place your rug(s) first you’ll naturally define the zones in your interior design layout. Then you can say “this rug is for conversation and watching TV whereas this smaller rug will define a place to do homework and play board games“.
Design Layout Tip #3: Formation
The third F is Formation. There’s A LOT that goes into it, so let’s break Formation down even further.
The 3 S’s of Formation are Spacing, Scale and Symmetry.
Why is spacing important? Well, if you have too much space in the room, then it won’t function well. This often happens when we push all the furniture against walls and it feels like we are yelling at our friend across the room.
Conversely, if you have too little space, then the room feels crowded and smaller than it is.
So, time to bust out the measuring tape! Here are some good rules of thumb to consider when it comes to spacing:
- Keep 18” between the sofa and coffee table. This allows for ease of passage when getting up for another glass of wine!
- Allow 36” between furniture pieces in a grouping. This helps with flow and proportion.
- Walkways should generally be between 36-48”.
- End tables should be within 1-1.5” of arm height to the piece beside it for ease of setting down items (like that wine we talked about above!)
- Coffee tables or ottomans within 1-1.5” of sofa seat height.
- Seat height of all pieces in a grouping should be similar (within 1-2”).
- Depth of a chair plus 24” around a table for ease of getting in and out.
- Bench at the end of a bed should sit no higher than the box. Any higher and you may end up kicking it at night!
- Nightstands within 1-2” of bed height.
- Chairs placed at the end of a bed should be within 4” of the height of the mattress.
- Coffee tables should be ½-⅔ the length of your sofa. No less than ½. Ever.
- Console tables on the back of a sofa no less than ¾ the length of the sofa.
- Buffets placed behind dining tables about ¾ length of the table.
- Art must be hung 4-6” above the thing it relates to in the grouping. No higher.
Notice how the rug extends significantly past the dining chairs allowing one to push the chair back without falling off the rug and becoming unbalanced! Use a felt rug pad to keep corners in place so no one trips.
In general, larger pieces of furniture make a small room feel…. bigger!
This might feel counterintuitive when marketers have told us to buy condo-sized furniture to fit our small rooms… but that’s just a ploy to get you to buy more pieces.
If there’s one thing I REALLY want you to understand from this article is that Scale Matters BIGLY.
While you don’t want a piece that’s too big for the room, you should try to buy the largest pieces available that suit your space.
Here are some important considerations:
- In a smaller room, rugs need to be large enough for the front legs of all pieces in the grouping to sit on.
- In a larger space, rugs should extend beyond all 4 legs of all pieces in the grouping.
- In the dining room, the rug size should equal the depth of chair + 18-24” all around the table. Otherwise, when you’re pulling the chair in and out, it will catch the side of the rug.
- Bedroom rugs should extend 24” out around all sides and sit ⅓-½ of the way under the bed at minimum.
- Artwork should take up at least ⅔ of the space it’s meant to occupy. Ex: Over a 90” sofa, art should be 60” wide. Otherwise, it’ll look less expensive. Use groupings of small photos to cover more surface area if needed.
- Draperies should be hung as close to the ceiling as possible – About 2” from the crown.
- Tall pieces in the room should go nearly to the ceiling. If they’re too short, you’ll get the feeling ceilings are lower instead of higher!
- Using furniture pieces with taller legs gives the illusion of more space. So does glass.
To demonstrate how important scale can be, here is one of our client’s homes. They wanted to fit a sofa, their oversized chair 1/2’s and a recliner along with a 65″ TV into this room…
No matter which way we arranged it the fact remained that those chair 1/2’s and recliner were just too big for this room.
It’s not that we couldn’t use any of them, but all of them plus a sofa just wouldn’t work!
In addition, the coffee table was too small amongst all of those giant chairs.
By replacing two of the large chairs with ones more appropriately scaled, we were able to solve this layout.
Plus, the client gained an additional zone in the room by adding this round dining table where they can play cards, layout snacks for guests, or place the kids during family holidays.
Now the big chair 1/2’s feel right. They’re still sitting full with both front feet on the rug and we were able to pull in some of the client’s other furniture pieces like their console and end table for a much more functional space that fits the same number of people!
One of the easiest ways to fix a room that feels out of balance is to use symmetry. Symmetry is naturally pleasing to the eye and feels pulled together without having to get too fancy with design.
Architects design houses to look good from the outside… but this often means that we’re left with windows and other architectural features that are a bit awkward on the inside. This is where a great interior decorator or designer comes in — our job isn’t just making things pretty. The vast majority of what we do is problem solving!
If you have a window on one side of your bed, but not the other… get a mirror the same size as the window to trick the eye into thinking it’s symmetrical! You can even add draperies on either side to really give the room balance.
Many people create an unbalanced layout thinking they need to buy a loveseat, sofa and chair. Loveseats are pretty well useless unless you’re getting two, and nearly always throw things off balance… Opt instead for a pair of sofas or pair of chairs for a far more pleasing look.
At our studio, we hung artwork in a symmetrical arrangement to give the corner of the room more depth and personality!
There are plenty of ways to add symmetry to a room, but it can take some careful planning.
These 3F’s of space planning will help you create a room much more like that inspiration photo you loved so much before!