The 30 Do’s and Don’ts Of Arranging Furniture

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By: Heather Boag
Published: November 5, 2014
Last Update: February 13, 2023
There are few things more exciting than the day you decide you need a change in a big way - by rearranging your furniture. This activity makes a room, and its furnishings, feel almost brand-new and gives a great sense of satisfaction. To aid you in your rearranging enjoyment, we have 9 do's and don'ts of arranging furniture. 453936923

1. DON’T Shove It All To The Wall

Pushing all the furniture against the wall can make a space seem bigger, but this method lacks intimacy and coordination. Arrange “zones” for your couches and chairs with a focal point. In this image, the couch and chairs are in the middle of the room, but the arrangement visually makes sense because the fireplace is a strong focal point.453936359

2. DO Consider Your Space

No matter what you do, you’ll never will your room to magically grow extra square feet. Keep that in mind when buying and arranging furniture. Don’t use big, chunky pieces in a small room that can’t handle the space. Make sure you do use the space you have to its fullest potential. Don’t let space be wasted, but don’t make the room look cramped, either.140402043

3. DON’T Block The Windows

Natural light makes your home feel lighter and fresher and can make small spaces feel larger. Blocking windows with tables, couches or headboards can steal valued light from your room. Besides, furniture poking above the window looks just strange from outside! stk314043rkn

4. DO Keep Furniture Balanced

Putting two couches on one side of a room and a simple chair or table on another is going to throw viewers off visually. Keep in mind, achieving balance doesn’t mean furniture needs to be symmetrical. If you have a couch on one side of the room or area, have another couch or two chairs on the other.186627551

5. DON’T Ignore Traffic

How furniture looks isn’t the only thing to consider – you need to think about traffic flow and how people navigate the room. If you have a grouping of couches and chairs, or a dining room set, make sure people can easily move in and out of the area without too much navigation. 186968416

6. DO Prepare For Anything

Think about all the purposes the room you’re arranging has. Thinking single-purpose can cause problems later. Yes, you might want your living room to look a certain way when you have guests over, but will that arrangement suit your young children dashing from one end to the other? 482329423

7. DO Consider Décor

Consider how you plan to decorate the room. Added elements such as light fixtures, area rugs and artwork can impact how you place your furniture. Hanging light fixtures look strange if they are off-center. Try putting a piece of furniture directly under one, such as a coffee table or dining room table.167245338

8. DO Have A Focal Point

Every room should have a focal point, whether it’s a seating zone, a dining table or an impressive feature. This is the first place someone’s eye will go to when they enter the room. Consider this focal point when arranging your furniture so that it will have the maximum impact on viewers. 177284880

9. DON’T Junk It Up

It’s common to see rooms with too many small pieces of furniture that clutters a space and hinders the purpose of the room. Remove items that don’t contribute to the look you’re going for, and try to unify small items by placing them close together. 120872941

10. DO Place Tables At Arm’s Length

Wherever you have your seating within the room, it should be possible for anyone sitting down to reach over to a table or other surface, so that they can put a drink down without having to get out of their seat.  Otherwise, that person may have to place their drink on the carpet near their feet, where it could be easily knocked over and spilt.

10. DO Place Tables At Arm’s LengthSource

11. DON’T Put All Of Your Wooden Furniture In One Place

Having a clump of furniture together made from the same material or with the same exterior finish can have an unbalanced appearance – certainly, too many ‘hard’ furniture pieces in one place can look cold and inhospitable. Instead, try to mix up wooden furniture with upholstered pieces to create interesting contrasts that offset and draw attention to each material’s best characteristics.

11. DON’T Put All Of Your Wooden Furniture In One Place Source

12. DO Position The Largest Furniture Items First

It’s easy to identify the biggest pieces of furniture in a room – often the sofa and tables – not least because of their importance. Whatever items those may be for your given room, by positioning them first, you can quickly determine which supporting pieces are or aren’t needed in the room.

12. DO Position The Largest Furniture Items First Source

13. DON’T Overdo It With The Matching Pieces

Yes, matched pairs of tables, chairs and lamps can help to unify a room, but having too many of them will leave your home looking like a furniture store. A sense of order is important when you are arranging furniture in your home, but so is a bit of unpredictability and idiosyncrasy.

13. DON’T Overdo It With The Matching Pieces Source

14. DO Think About Symmetry

The general rule of thumb is to arrange your furniture symmetrically for a formal room, and asymmetrically for an informal room. A dining room, for instance, is much better-suited to symmetrical furniture placement than a gaming or lounge room, where slightly scattered furniture may be very much part of the look.

14. DO Think About Symmetry Source

15. DON’T Forget The Three-Foot Rule

How much space do you need around your furniture to ensure you can walk around your room comfortably, without knocking constantly into tables or bumping into walls? Three feet is a great rule of thumb – and don’t forget to also allow that much space for any doors or drawers that need to be opened.

15. DON’T Forget The Three-Foot Rule Source

16. DO Make Liberal Use Of Light

When we say ‘liberal’ here, we don’t mean without paying any real attention to how it all looks – proper thinking and planning is definitely needed. However, it’s also important to add interest in a room by mixing up your lighting sources, coming up with interesting combinations of overhead lighting, table lamps and floor lamps – and some sconces as well, if possible.

16. DO Make Liberal Use Of Light Source

17. DON’T Use Disproportionately Sized Artwork

By ‘disproportionately sized’, we mean items that are much smaller or larger than the furniture items near it. So don’t have a tiny photo hung above your wide three-seater sofa, for example – or if you do want to use smaller pieces in such a setting, at least use a group of them or give that treasured smaller piece a bigger frame with a suitably large matte.

17. DON’T Use Disproportionately Sized Artwork Source

18. DO Create Conversation Spaces

Your room will be a nicer place to be when the furniture is positioned in such a way that everyone can participate in the same conversation without having to shout across the room or crane their necks. Sofas and chairs should be placed close together accordingly, facing each other – although not necessarily straight on.

18. DO Create Conversation Spaces Source

19. DON’T Only Have Sofas As Seating

As great as high-back sofas are for providing support to those sitting down, complementing the ones that you already have in your room with a low-slung daybed or two will give additional places for your visitors to sit while also freeing up sight lines, so that everyone can better appreciate your wider space.

19. DON’T Only Have Sofas As Seating  Source

20. DO Give Your Furniture ‘Room To Breathe’

Even if you aren’t trying to shove all of your furniture against the wall, it’s easy to end up with a dead empty space in the middle of your room. To combat this, consider pulling your sofa, chairs and tables at least 12” away from the wall – it’ll provide them with ‘room to breathe’ and in the process, give your space a more inviting and cozier vibe.

20. DO Give Your Furniture ‘Room To Breathe’  Source

21. DON’T Necessarily Buy A Sofa At All

It’s easy to think that a living room must always have a sofa, but you won’t necessarily upset the users of your space by mixing things up a bit. A smaller space, in particular, may be better-suited to four chairs surrounding a coffee table or drum ottoman, which will still ensure your living room is sociable, while also giving everyone their own comfy seat.

21. DON’T Necessarily Buy A Sofa At All Source

22. DO Create Livable ‘Zones’

When you have an especially large room to populate with furniture, it can be made more engaging by the creation of separate ‘zones’ that nonetheless feel like part of the whole. A table and side chairs, for instance, could be all that you need to create a separate gathering area for some of your friends, while still not being too far away from the sofa and fireplace.

22. DO Create Livable ‘Zones’ Source

23. DON’T Ignore Overhead Lights

Your hanging light fixtures shouldn’t be completely ignored – ideally, your furniture placement should be coordinated with them. An obvious thing to do is to place any large tables or other ‘focal point’ furniture directly below the lights. However, this isn’t always easy to achieve if the lights are off-center or your room is small – in which case, you shouldn’t force it.

23. DON’T Ignore Overhead Lights Source

24. DO Use Art As A Cue For Your Wider Space

Art is supposed to be inspiring – in most circumstances, anyway – so why not have that big canvas inspire much of the aesthetic of the rest of your room? Pick out some of its defining colors – whether they are seductive reds or deep blues – and have them echo across your room’s upholstery and pillow fabrics.

24. DO Use Art As A Cue For Your Wider Space Source

25. DON’T Place Your Dresser In A Corner

It’s such a traditional thing to have a dresser placed up against a wall that you may try to do something a bit ‘different’ by angling it in a corner. However, not only does this usually look bad, but it also wastes space, thanks to the dead, unusable area left behind the dresser. Basically, your dresser belongs up against a wall, ideally centered.

25. DON’T Place Your Dresser In A Corner Source

26. DO Play With Contrast

No room will ever be completely bereft of curved or straight lines, so why not have some fun experimenting with the two in how you arrange your furniture? It’s a similar story as far as ‘solids and voids’ are concerned – a solid side table can work really well with a leggy chair, for example.

26. DO Play With ContrastSource

27. DON’T Ignore The Headboard

When you’re arranging furniture in your bedroom, it can be easy to forget just how much visual ‘weight’ your bed’s headboard can have – indeed, it may also be your cue for the rest of the furniture and décor you choose for the room. Solid, taller and heavier headboards are best suited to large bedrooms or those with tall ceilings.

27. DON’T Ignore The Headboard Source

28. DO Aim For Subtle Variety

It can be so tricky to create a sense of variety in your room with the furniture that you lay out, without it all simply looking like a jumble of random pieces. A good way to strike the balance between variety and coherence is to choose items that look similar, but don’t exactly match – for example, two non-matching lamps that are of a comparable shape and size.

28. DO Aim For Subtle Variety Source

29. DON’T Be Unsympathetic To The Surrounding Architecture

Distinctive architectural features of your room – such as French doors – shouldn’t be something that you have to merely ‘work around’. Quite the opposite – they should be embraced. That might mean echoing such features with the shape, size and finish of the materials that you choose, but some subtle and interesting contrasts might work, too.

29. DON’T Be Unsympathetic To The Surrounding Architecture Source

30. DO Go Big With Your Choice Of Rug

While you won’t want to completely conceal an appealing-looking floor, as a general rule, you should go for an area rug that is as big as possible – almost as big as the seating area. At least the first set of legs of your couch, bed or chairs should be placed on the rug, to help to create a sense of connection between the rug and the rest of your space.

30. DO Go Big With Your Choice Of Rug Source