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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Interior Traffic Jams Can Be Tastefully Avoided With Planning : One way to avert gridlock, designers say, is to forgo placing furniture against walls. Recessed lighting offers maximum floor-plan flexibility.

January 05, 1991|NANCY JO HILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Have you ever stubbed your toe on your way to the kitchen for a midnight snack and then cursed the rocking chair that seemed to leap out in front of you?

Have you ever felt like you were doing "the wave" in your family room, bobbing up and down as you tried to watch the Super Bowl around a parade of people passing in front of the television along the only route in and out of the kitchen?

If so, you have a traffic problem, and you need to rearrange your furniture.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but interior designers say the solutions aren't that obvious to a lot of people.

The placement of furniture to allow and encourage a free flow of traffic through a house requires creativity and a knowledge of simple design principles.

Sometimes it requires having enough nerve to fly in the face of conventional furniture layouts. Designers say the placement of furniture can be used to direct traffic around activity areas, creating artificial walls.

Interior designers say that traffic paths through a home should be at least 36 inches wide and should flow through the house without interfering with conversation or other activities. That means there should be a minimum of three feet between pieces of furniture or between pieces of furniture and the wall, if the furniture is floated--arranged in groupings away from the wall. This allows people to move safely, especially in emergencies.

Other considerations when planning traffic patterns include not placing furniture with sharp corners or protruding legs near traffic paths and making sure that electrical cords for lamps and such won't be tripped over.

One way to avoid dangling electrical cords is to have recessed lighting in the ceiling, according to Dorian Hunter of Dorian Hunter Interiors in Fullerton. This allows more freedom with furniture arrangement and also provides lighting that may be focused on an artwork or other focal points in a room.

When placing a coffee table with sharp corners, consider where it will be located.

"So often, people tend to put their furniture in what we call obvious places," Hunter says.

Many people tend to put all their furniture against the wall because they think that's the way it should be, while creating groupings that are away from the wall is really a more attractive arrangement, Hunter says.

Mary Swift of Swift Interiors in Laguna Hills agrees. "One thing that happens sometimes is that we are traditionally oriented toward placing the furniture around the perimeter of the room, and what happens when you do that is all the traffic is right through the middle of the conversation," she says. "If it's going to float out in the room, and people are going to try to get into an L-shaped sectional and you have sharp corners on the coffee table, everybody is going to bang their knees and shins and swear at that coffee table until you get rid of it."

To resolve this problem, Swift suggests analyzing each room. Sit back and look at the doors and windows and draw an imaginary line where people might be entering and leaving the room and wherever they might be walking back and forth. Then note the focal points in the room and see if the lines go through a conversation area or another activity area. If so, furniture rearranging is in order.

What are some other common mistakes that people make when arranging furniture?

"I like the old saying by a famous architect--less is more," says Christine Hallen-Berg of Robinson Hallen-Berg, a Laguna Beach interior design firm. "I think that sometimes people tend to just put furniture in to fill up walls and it may look out of place."

Hallen-Berg suggests drawing up a floor plan at a scale of 1/4-inch to 1 foot. Be sure to include all doorways, windows (including how high off the floor they are), built-in cabinets, fireplaces and electrical outlets. Then you can take some paper and draw your furniture to scale, cut out the furniture and experiment with different ways to arrange it.

The key, designers say, is to allow for the 36-inch pathways first, and then arrange the furniture.

Interior designers always work from a floor plan, offering clients suggestions of furniture and its placement, both with new pieces and existing furniture.

"I love to float a sofa in a room. I even float beds in master bedrooms," Hallen-Berg says.

"Designers often float furniture out in the middle of the room and use the furniture to create kind of artificial walls," Swift adds.

"By doing so, you can direct people to walk out around, outside of your conversation area, rather than right through the middle," she suggests.

"I'm working on a home right now where the master bedroom is beautiful; it's not that large but there is a wonderful view of the ocean," Hallen-Berg says. "So, we're floating the bed in the room, so that when they are in bed, they can take advantage of the view. We're not doing it on the traditional bed wall.

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