Home Décor 101: Changing Up a Room through Furniture Arrangement - Christmas Tree Market Blog

Home Décor 101: Basics of Arranging Furniture

August 26th, 2013

In our previous Home Décor 101 post, Painting for Beginners, we talked about how a new paint color can really pull a room together. But of course, there’s another huge way to impact a room without knocking down walls or pulling up floors: furniture arrangement.

In our latest post from the Home Décor 101 series, I’m going to show you:

  • How to arrange a room based on its purpose and focal point
  • How to determine how much furniture can fit in a space
  • How to achieve balance when arranging furniture
  • Various furniture arrangements for quick spruce-ups

The beauty of moving furniture is that it doesn’t cost anything, just a bit of time. For those of us looking to make a quick update, arranging furniture is a quick, cost effective way to do it! Since I love entertaining friends and family, I’ll focus on showing you how to achieve a uniform, balanced look in your living room and dining room. Before long, you’ll be able to give your room a facelift without breaking the bank.

Step 1: Define the Purpose of the Room


Furniture Arrangement - simple furniture placement


Proper furniture arrangement depends on the purpose of the room. Identifying the purpose of the room makes it easier for you to determine what type of furniture you want in your room, as well as how you want to arrange it. For example, if the main purpose of the room is watching TV, most of the seating should be oriented to face the TV. If you plan on entertaining large groups of people, consider creating various conversation areas in your space so people can gather in clusters around the room. If your living room is mainly for personal relaxation and quiet conversation, a bookshelf for a small reading nook, no TV, and closely spaced seating for intimate conversations will probably do the trick. Once you’ve figured out the purpose of your space, you’ll be able to arrange the furniture in a way that not only suits your needs, but also looks well put together.

As for me, we are in the midst of incorporating and changing around a bunch of furniture in our living room/dining room. Up until now, we’ve only had living room furniture in this space. But my mom just gave us her dining room table and 6 chairs. What once was a living room with extra space, now feels very full, so we’ve been playing with the arrangement. I think we’ve found the best location for the table, but still need to open up extra space in the room, especially since the table has four leaves in it! Since dining will now be one of the major functions of this room, I believe our next step will be moving our Ikea bookshelves into another area of the house to accommodate the room’s new purpose.

Step 2: Measure the Space

One of the most important things to keep in mind when placing furniture in a room is to leave enough space for movement and foot traffic – something I’m definitely taking into consideration for my new living/dining space. By taking a few measurements of your space and your furnishings, you’ll be able to determine how much furniture can actually comfortably fit in the room.

For the living room

Furniture arrangement in your living room is always tricky, because the space is more likely to end up overcrowded. However, there are measurements you can follow to make sure the room doesn’t end up feeling cluttered. You’ll probably have to adjust these measurements to suit your family, but here are some general guidelines:

  • 24” to 48” for traffic in and out of the area
  • 18” to 20” in front of seats to allow easy movement within the area
  • 18” between the sofa and the coffee table


Living room furniture arrangement - u-shape


However, you can still place your sofa flush against the wall, especially if you have a narrow living space. Then, orient the rest of your furniture around that sofa to create a “floating” furniture arrangement that still allows for easy movement within the room.

For the dining room

Now, the dining room requires more space in between the walls and the furniture to ensure comfortable seating for you and your guests. The guideline is 36” to 72” between the wall and the dining room chairs (measure with the chairs tucked underneath the table). This lets you pull a chair out, sit, and still have space for foot traffic between the chair and the wall. Each person sitting at the table should have at least 24” of space for maximum comfort.


Dining room furniture arrangement - traditional


Now, let’s say you want to rearrange the furniture in your living room, so you take out every piece of furniture in that room. To make sure you like your arrangement before you start placing the furniture, use a roll of masking tape (or any tape that you can pull off without a hitch) and mark the lines where you want everything to go. Take a stroll around the room to check accessibility. Another good way to lay out your furniture is to plot everything out on graph paper first.

This article also provides more detailed information on basic measurements for furniture arrangement.

Step 3: Identify the Room’s Focal Point

The focal point in a room is the area or item that immediately draws your attention. Entertaining areas, such as the living room, have natural focal points, like the fireplace or an entertainment center, while the dining table is the focal point for the dining room.


Living room furniture arrangement - fireplace as focal point


If your room doesn’t have a focal point, you can always create one. A large bookcase or beautiful piece of artwork can also work as your focal point when placed along the largest or widest wall of the room, also known as the dominant wall. However, your focal point doesn’t always have to be huge ― a collage of your family photos can also do the trick.

Step 4: Think of Balance when Arranging Furniture

In designing a room, balance means the visual weight of items in any given space. In furniture arrangement, balance refers to the visual weight of your furniture along with your accessories. How do you balance a room?

Use something to balance the focal point


Furniture arrangement with sofa to achieve balance
Use the couch to balance the focal point.


After establishing the room’s focal point, place furniture to balance that area. For example, if the focal point for your living room is the fireplace, place your couch directly opposite that area to create visual balance. A sofa, a long couch, or a bar (for the dining room) usually works well for balancing a focal point.

Bring in the rest of the furniture

Now that you have created balance using your focal point and a piece of furniture, it is time to place the rest of your home furnishings inside the room. Let’s say that you already have the following items in your possession:

  • 1 loveseat
  • 2 circular ottomans
  • 1 oval coffee table
  • 2 lamps
  • 1 small chest/dresser

How do you arrange these in the room? Go back to balance.


Living room furniture arrangement - U-shape


  1. Your loveseat creates the perfect balance for a couple of windows in the room, on the side of your long sofa. And since it is perpendicular to the sofa and the fireplace (focal point), it also creates a cozy conversation area for your living room. A conversation area is the grouping of furniture that allows people to talk comfortably.
  2. The two ottomans go directly opposite the loveseat.
  3. Since the loveseat is still visually heavier than a couple of ottomans, the arrangement doesn’t look balanced. Place a small chest or dresser between the ottomans to give the space equal weight.
  4. The coffee table goes in the middle of the arrangement.


Balance also applies when it comes to lighting. Lamps are commonly placed to the right or to the left of the sofa, chair, or couch for task lighting, especially if your family does a lot of activities in the living room. Take note of the colors and kind of lighting you have (general, accent, task lighting), because they affect the atmosphere of the room.

  • General lighting or ambient lighting – refers to the main light source of the room, like a ceiling light fixture
  • Task lighting – used for definitive functional purposes, such as reading on the sofa or writing
  • Accent lighting – refers to decorative lighting, mainly used to accentuate key pieces or spaces, such as a painting and photos

Using our listed items above, you still have two lamps that you can place inside the living room. The first one can be placed on the small chest between the ottomans.


Living room furniture arrangement - lighting placement
Place lamps on a small table or chest for balanced task lighting.


As for the second lamp, you need to find a place where you can create balance. As mentioned, lamps are usually placed beside chairs and couches for task lighting. In our plan, we have two spaces available: between the couch and the loveseat, and between the couch and the ottoman. So, which one?


Living room furniture arrangement - 2 lamps placement
Place lamps beside chairs and sofas for better lighting.


The space between the couch and the ottoman is 1) near the window, and 2) near the first lamp. This means that lighting from both the window (sometimes light from the outside seeps in) and the lamp will make the other side of the living room brighter than the rest ― hence, an imbalance. Place the second lamp between the couch and the loveseat to bring illumination to that side of the room, keeping your lighting balanced.



Living room furniture arrangement - with rug
Rugs are placed underneath the furniture.


If you have a rug you want to place in the living room, make sure it goes in before the rest of the furniture does. If you’re using a large area rug, make sure at least the front two feet of the chairs rest on the rug. Also, allow about the same amount of floor space between the wall and the rug on all sides of the room to maintain a balanced look.

Step 5: Rearrange Elements to Create a Whole New Look

This is the moment we put together all the elements to give our rooms a facelift. Remember, figuring out your ideal configuration takes a lot of trial and error, so play around with the arrangement until you find something that works for you. Hopefully, these examples of living room arrangements will help.

U-Shape Arrangement + Balance

The sample design we have above is called a U-shape because it creates a U pattern opposite your focal point. However, when you have grown tired with that arrangement, or you have new additions to your furniture, you can still create balance. Below is a list of furniture that would work with the main furnishing opposite your focal point.

  • 1 long couch = 2 cushy chairs, then add coffee table
U-shape furniture arrangement 1
  • 2 long couches = 4 cushy chairs, then add coffee table/s
Alternative u-shape furniture arrangement 2
  • 1 long couch = 2 ottomans, then add coffee table
Alternative U-shape furniture arrangement 3 - with ottoman

V-Shape Arrangement


V-shape furniture arrangement
A simple V-shape arrangement


The V-shape design is when the furniture still faces the focal point, but this time, they’re arranged in a V pattern. A general example is when a couch is placed 45 degrees from the focal point, with two cushy chairs placed side by side adjacent to the sofa.

There you have it: simple and inexpensive ways to redo your furniture arrangement for a refreshing look! If you’re curious about how my own living room and dining room turned out, I’ll be posting the results of our arrangement next Wednesday, September 4.

And of course, stay tuned next month for the next installment of our Home Décor 101 series!

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