Arranging Furniture

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you walk into a room and something doesn’t feel quite right? There’s a disturbance in “The Force,” but it’s often hard to pinpoint the source of your discomfort. Well, over time, we absorb a lot of visual information that we use to develop a framework for assessing color, proportion, perspective and space on a subconscious level. When we enter environments that conflict with those ideas, we experience tension. In psychology, it’s referred to as cognitive dissonance, which differs from personal taste in that dissimilar styles can still adhere to common idea of visual harmony. We might not like someone else’s style, but it can still “work” in a room.

Got it? Me neither. I’m totally confused, so I’d better simplify things. There are many obvious and subtle considerations to ensure that your room is functionally and aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, arranging sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and other furnishings should be planned, rather than haphazard. Arranging furniture properly can improve the traffic flow and organization of a room, while helping to highlight whatever aspect of the room is most important to you. For the sake of sanity, we’ll forget about Feng Shui, which has its own esoteric perspective on interior design, and focus on a few concrete things.

Measuring Up – Floor Plan
First, we have to figure out how much space we have and how much room our stuff needs. Draw up a floor plan of the room and be sure to note the location, heights and widths of doors, windows, heaters, electrical outlets and switches. Use lined graph paper to help ensure that your scaled drawing is as accurate as possible. A quarter to a half-inch per actual foot is a pretty good scale to use. Next, measure each piece of furniture that you plan to use in the room. Focus your attention on the largest and most important pieces. Draw a basic outline of each table, sofa, bed, desk, chair, lamp, TV and dresser on different colors of construction paper. Use the same scale as your floor plan, so that you can see how much relative space you have. Label them and cut them out.

The Three “F’s”– Function, Focal Point and Flow Considerations
Function – What kind of room is it? Arranging furniture in a dining room is much different than in a living room, bedroom or office. Does the room need to accommodate a lot of people or just a few?
Focal Point – What do you want to emphasize? If you have a big bay window that looks out over a scenic vista, perhaps you want to highlight the view. Maybe your pride and joy is a majestic decorative fireplace. Orient your furniture to direct attention to the focal point. If viewing a widescreen HD television is important to you, the optimal distance between the TV set and any seating is roughly three times the size of the screen.

Flow – Can people move easily from place to place? Notice at how people enter and exit the room, and how doors open and close. Cluttered pathways can make you feel like you’re in a pinball machine, so avoid placing large pieces of furniture in the natural lane of traffic if at all possible. Allow at least 3 feet of open space for your primary traffic routes

Placing Furniture
First, place the larger pieces of furniture (e.g. couch, loveseat, desk or bed) facing the focal point. To ensure a cozier, more intimate setting, move seating in from the walls, placing pieces within 8 feet of one another. Angling a few pieces of furniture can give a softer, more casual feel to a room, while geometric alignment conveys a sense of formality and seriousness. Sofas and chaise lounges make great dividers, if you need to separate areas of a room.

Next, arrange related pieces (e.g. tables and chairs) accordingly. Place tables within easy reach of all chairs and make sure that coffee tables allow 14-18 inches of legroom. In dining rooms, be sure to account for the fact that people will need to pull their chairs out from the table before they are seated and that someone may need to walk behind the chair.

Last, add accents to make your room more functional or aesthetically pleasing. Shelves, table lamps and floor lamps improve storage and general visibility, while wall art and rugs add to the ambiance of room. Accents also help you direct how people’s eyes move up and down as they scan the room. You can balance a room by placing furniture of similar height (with or without accents) across from each other.

Optimizing Space
The smaller the room, the more concerned you should be about using the available space efficiently. People who favor a Spartan décor have a distinct advantage over those with luxurious tastes - the less stuff you have, the easier it is to accommodate. Additionally, multifunctional furniture can provide invaluable benefits. Futons are ideal for small apartments, since they serve two functions - sleeping and seating. Ottomans, tables and beds with hidden storage compartments help keep a room uncluttered and stylish at the same time. And don’t forget about vertical space.

Shelving provides a home for books, photos and other accents, while wall or ceiling-mounted racks can store bikes and save precious floor space. Wall mirrors can give the illusion of a larger room and alleviate claustrophobic feelings, especially if there are few window treatments (e.g. curtains or blinds). The brighter the room is, either from natural or artificial light, the more open the room will appear.

Styling it Up
This is where it’s really up to your own sense of décor. Metal, stone and straight edges convey a rigid, but orderly feel, while woods and curves are softer and more casual. Solid colors tend to complement, while complex patterns draw attention. It’s okay to mix contemporary furniture with traditional, but look for items that can complement each other through shape, color or texture.

Arranging furniture is more of an art than a science, so try a few different arrangements on your paper floor plan before attempting the real thing. It’s a lot easier moving a paper sleeper sofa than a real one. Modular furniture (e.g. sectional sofas and stackable storage units) allows for an endless array of arrangement possibilities and provides a cohesive look. Keeping in mind the concepts outlined above should help you avoid major problems and enhance the “feel” of any room.

Buying a Table Lamp or Floor Lamp

You spent weeks intensely window shopping and surfing online, before you finally found the perfect lamp. But now that you have it at home, it doesn't look or feel quite right. It looked so cool in the photos on the website, so why doesn't work now? Manufacturers and retailers aren't stupid (well, most aren't). Beauty shots are meant accentuate the best visible characteristics of products, either by isolating them on a solid background or placing them in complementary decor. Photo stylists with a strong understanding of interior design and proportion ensure that everything coordinates. So, of course the lamp looks amazing in the photograph. Stylists also have an extra advantage - they don't have to consider the functional requirements for the lamp in the room, just the aesthetics. Do you need an advanced degree in rocket science to choose a simple table lamp? No, but you should be aware of a few things as you evaluate different lamps.

Location, Location, Location
Where are you planning to put the new lamp? Is it going to go on a table or on the floor? Will be in a high traffic area?
Table lamps are the right choice for placement on tables and floor lamps for the floor...shocker. If you're buying a lamp for an end table or desk, it's important to consider the strength and durability of the table. If the table is delicate or the top is easily scratched, you might want to consider a lighter weight lamp with a round or padded base. Obviously, the sturdier the table, the heavier a lamp it can accommodate.

Arteriors Bronte Lamp
High traffic areas can spell trouble for top-heavy lamps with wide overhanging shades. Be sure that the shade doesn't extend beyond the edge of the table. Not only does that make the lamp dwarf the table, but it also makes it more susceptible to being bumped into by passersby. A heavy base is less likely to be knocked over and should be used in areas where kids roam.

Form vs. Function
How are you going to use the lamp? Is it for general lighting or subtle ambient lighting? Is it a task light or an accent light to highlight something special? Whether it needs to be functional or just pretty makes a big difference in the type of lamp you should consider.

Go Home Head Honcho Lamp
Torchier lamps and other styles of floor lamps can provide a decent amount of general light to illuminate a room. Multi-purpose reading lights should cast enough light to allow you guessed it, read. They should produce a minimum of 100-150 watts of light. Many on/off lamps with a single socket use a light bulb with a maximum of 60 watts, so look for reading lamps that can handle higher wattages and three-way bulbs. If you prefer a stronger task light, look for something glare-free with tungsten, fluorescent or halogen bulbs to minimize eye strain.

If you simply want a lamp that complements your existing decor, ignore the previous paragraphs and get yourself something pretty...ooh, sparkles! A dramatic pair of Foo Dogs lamps from Barbara Cosgrove are a great way to enhance a Chinese or Asian style room.

Authentic Models Coast Guard Patrol Spotlight Floor Lamp

Size Matters and so does the Shade
Have you ever sat down and been blinded by the exposed light bulb in a nearby lamp? Unless you enjoy frying your corneas (I supposed there may be a few masochists out there), it can be painful and more than a little annoying. As a rule of thumb, the bottom of the shade should be more or less at ear/cheek level. So unless you hang out with a lot of basketball players or jockeys, use a five to six foot tall person as a gauge. If you're planning to read by the lamp, make sure that the height of the lamp and the angle of the shade allow for the light to pass over your shoulder and onto the page you're reading. This will probably require you to measure the height of the table, as well as the distance from the floor to your ear while seated. And you thought that you'd never use trigonometry again.

Barbara Cosgrove Patterned Porcelain Table Lamp

Traditional table lamps have avoided looking top-heavy, with their shades no more than two-thirds the height of the base (covering the harp and neck metal underpinnings). But more contemporary lamps adhere to less stringent constraints and even welcome design with atypical proportions. As far as shade shape goes, it's wise to follow the shape of the base, lest you face the whole square peg/round hole dilemma. A white or translucent shade allows for greater diffusion of the light, while darker colors and more opaque materials provide a subtler ambient glow.

For insight on selecting the right kind of light bulb for your lamp or fixture, take a look at our lighting guide.

I'd say that I hope this article shed some light on the subject of buying lamps, but that would be too corny.

Minimizing Moving Headaches with Modular Furniture and Slipcovers

Recently, I moved to a new apartment and it brought back a flood of memories – mainly of how much I hate moving. But, it was less stressful than past moves and it motivated me to write this article to help you minimize the pain of your next move.

Remember how easy it was to move in college? The university wouldn’t allow large pieces of furniture in dorm rooms, so the physical move itself wasn’t too demanding or require an advanced degree in spatial relations to make everything fit. You didn’t have much furniture aside from a bed, dresser, desk, chair and a floor lamp or two. What you did have probably wasn’t particularly nice any way, so a few nicks and scratches as friends and family hauled your stuff in and out of the dorm weren’t a big deal. You simply replaced whatever was ruined or (god forbid) uncool with something different the next school year.

Arteriors Kara Mirror
But times change, we get jobs, bank accounts grow and the difficulties associated with moving increase. You care more about what you have and want to keep things nice, since costs are higher and let’s face it - now you have to pay them. Your convenient old futon has been replaced by two pieces of unwieldy furniture: an actual bed and a sofa. To make matters worse, your bed now has a headboard, footboard, sides, frame, box spring and a mattress (Note: if you have a sleeper sofa, the friends you coerce into helping you move will hate you and wish you a slow and painful death). To avoid multiple trips, you Tetris all of your possessions into a moving truck and wrap your mirrors, TVs and glass tables like Egyptian mummies. Even if you successfully transport your furniture from Point A to Point B, you still have to navigate stairs, hallways and corners, before you arrange everything in your new home.

Why do we put ourselves through all this? Masochism? Necessity? A “significant other?” Whatever the reason, there are a few tips that can help make moving easier.

Modular Furniture is Your Friend
When people think of modular furniture, they typically picture a sectional sofa and stacking units. But there are other contemporary applications, such as home office desks and filing cabinets, as well as entertainment centers, room dividers and closet organizers. These self-contained interchangeable units can easily be configured to accommodate your unique functional needs and space limitations.

Authentic Models Campaign Stacking Units

So how does that help when you move? Well, for starters, it’s a lot easier moving and packing small pieces of furniture than large ones. Most modular storage or seating is secured with simple clips or a couple of screws, so it’s quick and easy to separate complex arrangements into individual pieces. On the back end, they’re easier to manage when going up and down stairs and passing through tight spaces.

One of the most easily overlooked problems with moving is that the usable space in your new home or apartment is often very different from your old place. The bookshelves you bought to fill up the empty wall between your family room and dining room might be too wide now. Maybe there’s a fireplace right where you would normally place your couch. Modular furniture enables you to adapt to your new surroundings. Storage units can be reconfigured to be taller, shorter, wider or narrower depending on your room’s constraints. Instead of one large couch, you can separate a sectional sofa into smaller loveseats and ottomans.

Slipcovers – Change Your Look Affordably
What do you do if your new place has a different architectural style, décor or color scheme? You could toss your old stuff and just buy new furniture, but that could be pretty expensive. A great way to freshen up your old chairs and couches is with slipcovers. They come in all sorts of colors, patterns and textures and are easily removed for cleaning or a simple change for the season. You can buy pre-made or custom slipcovers that fit snugly over your existing upholstery, or you can buy slipcovered furniture to begin with. If you choose the former, be sure to measure your pieces before purchasing a compatible slipcover.

Aidan Gray Ethan Dining Chair with Slipcover
Boxes and Bubble Wrap and Towels…Oh My
How do you ensure that your stuff doesn’t get wrecked in transit? Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect table lamp, only to have it damaged while moving. If you have the storage space, I highly recommend that you save the original packaging of your most prized fragile possessions (for me that’s my HD flat screen TV). This includes not only the box, but the Styrofoam inserts as well. If you’ve already thrown out the packaging, bubble wrap is a good alternative. Once everything is safely in your new home, be sure to store the padding for future use (you can never have enough bubble wrap, if you ask me). Using your bath towels to help pad glass items is also efficient. You have to bring the towels any way, so you might as well utilize them to protect other things.

Moving is never fun or easy, but if you follow the tips above, it can be a little less stressful and minimize the number of unwelcome surprises.

Bill Ferris

Decor Interiors – Furnishings to Fit Your Style