Room Layout Rules

Keep function and fashion in mind.

When it comes to décor and room design, layout is an important consideration and has a big impact on how comfortable, convenient and visually pleasing a room will be. When you work with a space, like a living room, kitchen or bathroom, there are fixtures, or elements that can't be rearranged, and open areas with spaces to accommodate furniture and elements that can be rearranged. Striking a balance between these components and the flow of traffic in, out and around the space creates either a harmonious room, or one that's incompatible with its proportions or functionality.


Rhythm and Flow

Furniture placement will affect flow.

A good room layout allows people and pets to traverse the space efficiently. As a point of reference, the size of a human being should be the standard for determining how much room is necessary around things like kitchen islands and built-in cabinets, and across pass-through areas like doorways and other entrances. You can use a 42-to-48-inch aisle width as a rule of thumb, but that can vary depending on the space involved. For very large spaces, allowing a little more open area may be appropriate for the proportions of the room. In smaller areas, like sitting rooms or small bedrooms, don't make the mistake of making access to closets or desks too cramped. What you save in area you'll lose in convenience and ease of use.

To enhance the flow of traffic around a room, evaluate the space relative to the entrances and any important features that will be used on a regular basis, like heating and air conditioning controls, light switches and electrical outlets. With these elements as a guide, you can start to define the most logical movement around the space and plan the placement of furniture accordingly.


There may be other features in a room that have an impact on flow, too. Doors and drawers have movement in and out, and take up additional area when they're in use. This also happens with certain types of furniture, like recliners that require more area when they're fully extended, and the chairs around a dining room table that require access when in use. It's important to anticipate and provide functional space for these features.

Pay attention to furniture placement as it affects flow. The distance from the front edge of a couch to a coffee table or hassock should be wide enough to allow for easy access and use. Although 18 inches is a good minimum distance, convenience and comfort are important, so use your best judgment.


Create a Focus

Decide which part of the room you want to make a focal point.

Once you've defined the area you have to work with, it's time to delineate the space, create interest and enhance functionality. Here's how:

  • Create a focal point. In some rooms, this is easy. The flat screen television in a family room, the fireplace in the living room and the great view from a dining area are effective focal points that help delimit a space. Pointing or positioning furnishings to take advantage of these elements is an intuitive approach to room layout. In more challenging rooms, wall art, shelving or functional pieces, like desks, can be focal points.
  • Define the space. Once you have a focal point, create a grouping or groupings that take advantage of that focus and make it easy for people to get to together, talk and be comfortable nearby. To take an arrangement of chairs and tables to the next design level, anchor them to the space with an area rug, shelving, task lighting or a wall art grouping. In a large room, this is particularly effective and creates islands of interest that make a room cozier and more fun to use.
  • Use what you have to work with. In defining the space to use for your groupings, the natural architectural elements in the room can be a big help. The location of windows, built-ins, bump-outs and even fixtures, like wall lighting, can be useful in constructing conversation, work and relaxation areas. Sometimes a problem element in a room, like a short wall or an oddly angled one, can help you craft an inspired layout that's creative and wholly unique.


Embrace Harmony and Proportion

Harmony in interior design is all about balance and proportion. The scale of a room, either large or small, will have an impact on the overall layout. Some elements, like the width of pathways around the space, will have a minimum convenient size. Other choices, like oversizing the sofa in a large living room, or selecting a petite loveseat and glass-topped tables in a small living room will help make the finished design more harmonious. The goal after all the practical considerations have been dealt with is to create a unified whole in which all the pieces fit as if they belong together.

If this sounds a bit intimidating, it doesn't have to be. Most room layouts are works in progress, subject to change during different seasons of the year or for holiday entertaining or relaxation. The biggest rule, and the one that's the most important to remember, is that keeping a room easy and safe to use is always a top priority. For the rest, the more you play with room design, the more you'll learn about what looks balanced, attractive and suitable for your family and lifestyle.


Lots More Information

Related Articles


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