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Remodeling and Home Design

The Importance of Planning When Shopping For Furniture


The kids are grown, and you have decided it’s time to re-decorate, or have purchased your dream home. You have been dreaming of your new heart-stopping space, browsing and pinning ideas to Pinterest, and now it’s finally time to start shopping!


But wait! Before plunking down your hard-earned cash, make sure that you have not missed one of the most important steps in decorating with furniture… planning! As an interior decorator and home stager I have been in hundreds of homes, and one of the most common pitfalls I encounter are rooms without a plan, which may result in furnishings that are too large or too small for the space, furnishings that don’t perform functionally or add to the ambiance of the room, or simply too much furniture.


Of course, the longer we live in a home, the more oblivious we become to its imperfections, and often our rooms evolve in response to our family’s changing needs and interests. All of this is normal, but a room with a well-planned layout can accommodate these changes much more gracefully than a room furnished in a half hazard manner.


When working with clients, one of the first things I do is measure the space, including doors, windows, hall openings, lighting, outlets and any other architectural features. I also measure any furnishings that the homeowners want to keep and use. Next, I recreate the footprint of the room to scale, which can be done on graph paper, or with a magnetic grid board, or with a software program. I use professional programs for designers which are packed full of features geared towards the design professional, and come with a price tag to match, but there are many simpler online programs available for homeowners, and best of all, they are free! Here a link to a list of’s top contenders:


Next, it’s time to play with furniture arrangements! Keep in mind, there are a few rules to follow in arranging a room. Here are some of the ones I find most useful:


1) Have accurate measurements of the furniture you are considering purchasing. Scale your floor plan furnishings accordingly so that you can see how they will fit in the room.


2) Know what functions your room will need to perform.


3) Don’t be afraid to change things up and move things around. It’s much easier to do on your device than with the actual furniture.


4) Identify the main traffic routes through the room, and when placing furniture, be sure there is ample space for traffic flow. (I like a minimum of 36” wide or more for main traffic paths.) Putting furnishings too close together or not allowing enough space for ease of movement throughout the room will make it feel small, cramped and claustrophobic. Don’t push furniture right up to the edge of door openings and hall entrances.


5) Typically the largest piece of furniture (entertainment center, set of bookcases, etc.) will look best when placed on the longest wall. These types of furnishings are called “case goods”, and I find it is much more functional and aesthetically pleasing to have only one or two larger pieces like this. Often I have seen rooms furnished with six or seven small pieces-bookcases, TV stands, hall tables, etc., and the result is disharmony. A large free standing or floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, for example, will look and function much better than several small mismatched bookshelves lined up along the wall. Remember, a large part of decorating well is editing.


6) Don’t be afraid to “float” your seating. Furniture does not need to be lined up along the wall. Many rooms benefit from creating several separate conversation areas, which can often be accomplished by “floating” furniture in or near the center of the room.


7) Keep the room visually balanced- don’t have all of the furniture concentrated in one area. Use art and window treatments to help maintain harmonious balance.


8) Leave 12”-18” between the front of the sofa and the coffee table or ottoman.


9) When using an area rug, all the seating in that conversation area should have at least one foot on the rug. In other words, use a large enough rug for the space.


10) Unless you are trying to design a very formal space, don’t forget to try angling some of the pieces, which can help with traffic flow and will make a space feel more cozy and inclusive.


11) Keep the space between the bottom of the window and the floor in mind when placing furniture under a window. Ideally, the piece should just graze the bottom of the window, not project into it.


12) Use side tables and/or lamps whenever possible next to seating to provide lighting for reading and other activities. Make sure that you have an outlet close by for the lamp. (For floating furniture, this may be a floor outlet, or a wall outlet at one end.)


13) Dining tables should have a bare minimum of 24” space around them to allow guests to push out their chairs to enter or exit, although 36” or more is ideal. If others need to walk behind seated guests, 54”-60” is needed.


14) If using a rug in the dining room, it is ideal to have it large enough so that the back legs of the chairs remain on the rug when pulled out for seating. No one wants to “hop” their chair back over the edge of the rug once they have sat down when trying to pull up to the table. If this is not possible, try a rug that is 10”-12” larger than the table all the way around so that the back leg always remains on the hard floor surface.


Now that you have your plan, you are ready to shop for furniture with confidence, so go out and have fun!

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