One-click online shopping and free shipping has made the whole furniture buying process seem super easy and accessible. But what happens when you start unboxing pieces and realize you have absolutely no idea where to put them—or worse, whether they'll even work with the rest of what's in your room? Arranging furniture is really an art form, but the good news is there are several guidelines you can follow to help you figure out the process. Let these six expert tips be your starting point in setting up your ideal space, whether you're working with hand-me-downs or starting from scratch.
Identify the functionality of your space and the focal point
For Christine Markatos Lowe of Christine Markatos Design, furniture planning starts with setting expectations for how you want to use a room and what feature, architectural or otherwise, you want to highlight. So basically, figure out what you're working with and try not to go against the architecture in your space. "Things like entertaining, TV watching or a great view all dictate the design and layout of a room in order to best serve those needs," says Markatos. Generally speaking, you want to arrange a room so that all occupants can sit down and see the focal point, whatever it may be, and be close enough to a hard surface (a coffee table, an end table) for setting down a drink.
For example, if there's a fireplace in a room, furniture should be arranged around it so that people can see the fire and feel its warmth. That usually means a sectional facing the fire, or two sofas facing each other in close proximity to the fire, which makes for easy conversation between the seated. Additional chairs or benches in the area should capitalize on whatever the focal point offers. If a room doesn't have a natural focal point, make one with a large piece of art, a media cabinet with your TV (plus art!) or a big shelving unit. If your focal point is on the diagonal, try orienting furniture that way.
You'll also want to consider how many people you need to comfortably accommodate, which will influence the kinds of, sizes and number of seating options you need. You may also want multiple seating areas to anchor a really large room.
In social spaces, move furniture away from the walls
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more breathing room your furniture has from the walls, the cozier your home will feel. Yes, you need to have the space to float pieces, says Donna Mondi of Donna Mondi Interior Design, but even a few inches can make a room feel more intimate.
Keep traffic flow in mind, however, when setting up your layout. You can angle furniture and cheat if off the wall but only if people can move around freely in the space.
Don't be afraid to break the rules a bit in private spaces
Generally, Mondi advises against putting furniture taller than the window sill in front of windows because this awkwardly cuts off a room in a weird way and obstructs the view. But often in bedrooms, particularly when there isn't a designated bed wall because there are lot of windows, it's okay to get creative.
"Sometimes the best solution is to have the window act as a feature wall and put the furniture against it," says Birgit Klein of Birgit Klein Interiors. "When dressed with a great curtain and a tailored bed, the furniture placement becomes intentional." Case in point, Emily Henderson's own master bedroom is anchored around a gorgeous set of inset windows, framed by draperies.
When picking a piece of furniture, factor in finish, shape and how it will relate to the rest of the room
Look at all your furniture pieces together to make sure they complement each other yet the silhouettes and finishes are varied. "You can find the perfect sofa, end tables and cocktail table, but if they all are a bit leggy, it will look awkward," says Mondi. Same is true if you have a room full of just wood or just upholstered items. That's why this dining room from Design*Sponge works so well. You have the white built-in playing off the dark table, another wood tone for the bentwood dining chairs and the Eames-style end chair that introduces yet another finish and material to the space while visually referencing the white of the built-in. Of course, there are exceptions to this breadth of variety, but if your intent isn't to be purposefully matching, then don't go there.
Scale is everything
According to Markatos, furniture should ideally be the right proportion for a room, in terms of length, width and ceiling height (if you have a long room, a long casegood—like this extended console seen in a room by 2LG Studio—works beautifully, for example). That said, she will always skew towards fewer over-scaled pieces rather than overcrowding a room with smaller furnishings. "Another trick is to have pieces of varying heights as it creates a much more interesting visual," says Markatos.
Plan out placement before you buy pieces, if possible
When shopping for furniture in stores or online, designers never leave home without a tape measure, and they always reference measurements when considering a space. Most also use CAD programs to completely diagram out the rooms they're creating, though most laypeople don't have access to these types of resources.
If you don't have access to fancy software, there are several apps that you can use for spatial planning instead. Lisa Adams of LA Closet Design likes SketchUp because it's intuitive. You could even create a paper drawing as long as it is to scale. Then you can start "dropping" items in to see if they'll work together. Adams also likes to take pictures in a space—even selfies against the walls—so you can reference the walls (and scale) when you are out shopping.