As an interior designer, I studied furniture layouts and poured over design plans to create beautiful and functional arrangements for clients. I have always understood the impact our furniture arrangements have on our lives, but I saw it play out in real-time when my kids were little.
After our two kids were born (just 20 months apart), my husband and I decided to leave New York City after 15 years and move back to my hometown of Austin. The first year back in Texas was full of adjustments, from driving a car again to moving into a home more than two times the size of our Manhattan apartment. We had this new luxury of space. I almost didn’t know what to do with our dual sinks, utility closet, and large living room. While these Texas-sized living rooms were not short on space, I noticed they presented their own challenges when it came to furniture layouts. While I was up for the challenge, I saw that my neighbors and friends didn’t quite know how to use their oversized living spaces.
When it comes to furniture arranging, most people are doing it wrong.
“You’re Doing It Wrong”
“You’re Doing It Wrong” is a blog series where I reassess interior design practices and home life in general. While the title is brash, it’s far from accusatory. Rather, this series invites us to reexamine how we approach life and design in our homes. Now, let’s find out what we’re doing wrong.
Arranging Furniture in Small Spaces
In NYC, furniture arranging is all about making the most of small spaces, and New Yorkers are damn good at it! When space is in short supply, you have to get creative. We’d gotten used to what felt like our spacious 650-square-foot Chelsea apartment for our family of four. In the living area, I managed to fit two sofas and a lovely reading chair with a makeshift office set up in the dining space that performed double duty. I turned our spare bedroom into a playroom and study my husband shared with our kids as he finished his graduate studies. At the same time, our primary bedroom housed our bed, our son’s small bed, and a cozy windowsill with a view of the Empire State Building perfect for nap time. It was small, but the furniture placements were comfortable and functional.
Arranging Furniture in Large Spaces
When we moved to Austin, I was faced with a 1,500-square-foot challenge. Three bedrooms, a separate breakfast room, and a living room larger than our former apartment stared me down waiting to be furnished. While I had to make our NYC apartment function, I had to make this cavernous house feel cozy. Great rooms are vast when they’re empty. Furniture creates opportunities to gather, get comfortable, and form your community.
My days working under Jeffrey Bilhuber in New York prepared me for the challenge. He’s a master of furniture arranging, and I used all the tricks I picked up to place furniture in a way that made the home comfortable and versatile. (Versatility is something many great room layouts are missing.) I created two seating areas anchored by a pair of upholstered swivel chairs. I could fit three sofas, accompanying side tables, and bookcases into the space. Finally, I ensured each area had a lovely view, whether outside the window into another interior space or on an art piece. Large rooms benefit from some division. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Don’t Plop a Sofa in Front of the TV or Push Yourself Up Against the Wall
I made “mom friends” in Austin and went on play dates with my kids to keep them entertained. Opening your home for entertaining can reveal the shortcomings of your furniture layout. My designer’s mind started studying how my friends and neighbors used their living spaces. So many people only had one sofa, even for a family of four or five. Folks always plopped it right in front of the TV or pushed it back against the furthest wall. These homes were ok on the outside, but these poor furniture placements made them feel uncomfortable and even unwelcoming on the inside. As I became closer to my new friends, I’d ask if I could make furniture arranging suggestions. They often said yes. I’d simply rearrange the sofa placement (pulling it away from the wall and positioning it for conversation rather than television viewing) and add a few chairs or side tables from other rooms. Voilà! The space was transformed (and so much better) after a few simple tweaks.
The Solution: Arrange Furniture with Comfort and Conversation in Mind
After a few years in Texas, I founded my Austin interior design firm and got back to work. As I was designing for new clients and training staff, I had to start thinking about how to impart the philosophy of furniture arranging. Rooms are made to hold people, and furnishings are the catalysts to our conversations, work, and daily activities. The art of furniture arrangement is finding ways to make life more comfortable. That might mean:
- Placing a big chair in the corner with a floor lamp to create a reading nook.
- Grouping cozy armchairs around a cocktail table for long nights over drinks and rounds of cards.
- Breaking up a large room by placing the sofa in the center of the space, creating proximity for television viewing and a secondary seating area for uninterrupted conversation.
- Bringing a reading lamp behind the sofa with a sofa table.
- Filling a bay window with a curved banquette to maximize seating in the breakfast nook.
- Adding a center table to the entry so people can drop their bags or, better yet, pick up a welcome cocktail to your house party.
Bringing in more pieces allows for more activities, more places to sit, and more areas to gather. That’s the whole purpose of a house — to serve the people who live within and make life effortlessly comfortable.
Get Comfortable by Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone
Rooms are places to hold furniture, and furniture pieces are places to hold people. When arranging furniture in your home, consider where and how you want to conduct your life. Think about views and how you will feel while reading, visiting friends, having quiet cups of tea, checking email, or drinking wine at the end of the day with your neighbor. We’ve all seen sofas pushed up against a wall and plopped in front of the TV. It feels familiar and easy. However, finding true comfort in your home happens when you break out of your comfort zone.
The best furniture arranging advice I can give is just to try it. You can always move it again.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.