By Lana Lounsbury

The living room is the one room in the house where style gets to take the stage over function — and it’s one of the few spaces in the home that has more to do with being and resting than with doing.

That said, there are a few components most of us like to have in our living rooms: a fireplace, a TV, room for entertaining and a quiet space for reading or gaming. The way we set up these components actually tells people how to behave and how to feel in that room. With this powerful information in your hands, you’ll learn how to arrange your furniture so people feel welcomed and intuitively understand the space.


There’s a great deal of psychology at work in the arrangement of living room furnishings. The biggest lesson is to create a good balance of diversity in texture, in colour and in the height of your furniture. This room is arranged so traffic flows around, not through, the furniture which means people feel more comfortable and secure in their space. Area rugs that contrast with the floor help define seating areas and add visual interest. A centre table adds height diversity and divides the two seating spaces, creating intimate groupings for conversations. Finally, a mix of smooth and rough textures brings visual interest which engages the eye. We subconsciously enjoy the contrasts.


The “Pie Crust” Living Room
It’s funny, but many people arrange their furniture like a pie crust: just on the perimeter of the room, all one height and all one colour. While pie crusts may be delicious, they don’t make good décor models.

First, let’s deal with perimeter furniture. People often line their furniture up around the outside edges of the room and put a small coffee table in front of the sofa. This leads to a strange feeling of unease because the furniture creates a ring around any person who walks into the room, making them the focal point. It’s really hard for most people to comfortably step into the centre of a circle — so don’t do this to your friends and family.

To combat the perimeter furniture problem, you often have to get rid of something … or many things. Mismatched tables or furniture from a relative you feel obligated to keep are all good candidates for UsedVictoria.

Once the superfluous clutter is cleared, your remaining furniture can be pulled away from the walls and grouped. Create groupings by pulling your furniture closer to a fireplace and away from a wall, or by breaking off a pair of chairs to set under a window while the main grouping of sofas is centralized.

Often, people think that they need to be able to access the sofa from anywhere, but that’s simply not true. One entry point into a furniture grouping is sufficient for small rooms, two for large rooms and three or more for rooms over 25 feet in length with more than three groupings.


This classic furniture arrangement makes the fireplace the focal point of the room. Although many of the furnishings are neutral, the dark wood of the piano, the pedestals near the windows and the dark swirls of the abstract painting above the fireplace effectively alleviate any sense of monotony. The result is calming but never boring. Photo: Muse Interiors


You only need a few inches between arms of chairs or sofas that are grouped together — they can even touch — but you do need at least 18″ around the back of a sofa for someone to be able to walk behind it, and 30 to 40″ to create a hallway that will direct traffic flow.

For instance, if your living room is between the entry and the kitchen, you’ll need to pull your sofa 40″ off the wall to create a walk way behind the sofa.

And finally, the flow of your room should be around your furniture groupings, not through them. This will help to create conversation areas and a sense of privacy for people. After all, if your hallway runs through your furniture grouping it can subconsciously feel like you are going to be trampled.


The sofa placement in this room offers a visual break from the kitchen. Two stools in front of the fireplace create additional seating without crowding the main seating area. The chairs by the French doors and the greenery and flower displays on the coffee table break up the colour scheme nicely, as do the complementary (but not perfectly matched) throw cushions. Photo: Spacecrafting Photography


Meeting in the Middle
The second symptom of The Pie Crust is having furniture that is all one height. This may not seem like a big deal, but it leads to a brain-deadening blandness that no amount of feature wall colour will let you escape.

What’s so bad about blandness? The problem is that boring spaces drive people away! People will actually leave your living room to seek somewhere more pleasant and visually stimulating. If you’re wondering why no one ever congregates, relaxes or reads in your living room, it may be because it’s bland.

The good news is that single-height blandness is easy to combat: low foot stools, pouf ottomans and abnormally low coffee tables all create a new dimension of space around the floor. End tables that are 3″ lower or higher than the arms of the chairs and sofas are an easy way to stagger the midline. And a grandfather clock (painted of course!), a torchière lamp or pair of high back chairs all draw your eye and your attention to the upper space.

A Room with Distinction
The third symptom of The Pie Crust living room is monochromatic colour. I have nothing against a monochromatic colour scheme that is intentional, where interest is created with texture. However, when the wood floor blends with the legs of the furniture, which is also the stain colour of the end tables, and the same smooth texture of the upholstery and the walls … you get the point.

Singularity of colour can create confusion and boredom all at once. It isn’t easy for your guest’s subconscious mind to locate the seating if the sofa, walls and floor are the same colour and texture. In fact, in design for Elder Care there are specific guidelines around the change in pattern and depth of colour between floors and walls, and floors and seating so that the visually impaired can easily find their way.

The best way to break the monotony is with a patterned or light-coloured area rug. In a small room, you can get away without one if the legs of your furniture and tables contrast with the floor. In a large room an area rug is a must. It defines the seating area, directs traffic flow, adds contrast between furniture and floor and softens the acoustic properties of the room.

Most area carpet stores will let you try the rugs in your home before you buy, some will even bring them out to you to try. Just remember to buy one that contrasts with the floor!

Another simple way to add interest and finish a room is with throw pillows. It’s trendy right now when pillows don’t match anything in the room but themselves and are arranged in a riotous bouquet of colour, texture, pattern and scale. You can even remove the back cushions of your chairs or sofa and replace them with custom pillows for a more casual look.

Custom made, down-filled pillows can change the entire feel of your room without changing your furniture. However, they cost approximately $150 to $300 each; in general, cushions for a fully decorated room cost about as much as a new sofa. You can also find assortments of pillows at Home Sense and local furniture showrooms where ready-made pillows cost about $40 to $75 each. Your choice is more limited, but it can be fun to hunt them down. A good interior designer will do both to bring you the best value.

The TV Conundrum
So where does the TV fit in? Personally I really like a TV in a living room — sacrilegious for an interior designer to say, I know! I like it because it adds function and brings people together.


Using custom built-ins with sliding panelled doors over the entertainment unit is one stylish way to conceal a television and can give the room a cozy library-like feel.


My ideal space for a TV is tucked beside the fireplace in a built-in cabinet — concealed but accessible. It should not be the focal point (that’s what media rooms are for) and in an average size room it should not be more than 30″. Built-in cabinets do dual purpose for display and storage. Imagine, a place to hide all those cords!

Remember, the most vibrant and interesting thing you can add to your living room is people. By creating a space that is visually and intellectually stimulating, easy to access and cozy you will draw them there instinctively. I hope these tips help you shake up your living room so you can start using it for what it was meant for — living!