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Rooms That Won't Trip You Up : Functional furnishings can coexist with exciting room arrangements. Just take a good look at your space, designers say.


Perhaps the most classic example of poorly placed furniture is the ottoman that Rob Petrie trips over in the opening of the old "Dick Van Dyke Show."

The arrangement of furniture in a room is probably the most important aspect of creating an inviting environment. But how do you create a functional setting and still have an exciting design that won't leave people stumbling?

The following are some tried-and-true rules of furniture arrangement, as well as tips from interior designers on creating a visually interesting room that meets the needs of its inhabitants.

How Is the Room to Be Used?

This question needs to be answered before a stick of furniture is moved. Is the room going to be primarily for watching TV, an area for reading or a place to entertain guests? Or even a parlor where the main purpose is to showcase the furnishings?

"The first thing I do is ask my clients what is important to them in their environment and how they function within the house," said Garry Sandlin, an interior designer based in Huntington Beach. "Some families with children want to block areas so kids just can't run right through the house, so we create barriers."

Other households may have members with limited mobility and need rooms that are barrier-free.

Designers say one of the most common mistakes in room arrangements is lining furniture up against the walls, as if it's needed to hold them up.

"People have a tendency to fill all the walls up with furniture and ignore the middle of the room," Sandlin said. "The middle of the room should be used to create an intimate area. In the majority of rooms you can float the furniture in the middle."

An exception to this is a room that must accommodate small children. Few toddlers will be able to maneuver around a lot of furniture, and children need space to play in and still be where the family is gathered. In this instance, it may be better to push the furniture closer to the walls.

After there is a clear idea about the primary use of the room, it is time to stand back and figure out what needs changing.

Ask yourself what is it you have that you're unhappy about, said designer Bill Kiefer of Tustin. "Maybe it is as simple as rearranging the furniture you have, maybe taking an end table out and putting in a floor lamp from another room."

Creating a Focal Point

Choosing the focal point of a room is the next step.

"You have to have a center to the room to give it weight. If you walk into a room with just groups of furniture but no real focal point, it ends up feeling like a hotel lobby: uninviting," said Ronald Sanchez of Sam-Pri Interiors in Fullerton.

Many designers say there should only be one focal point, but Kiefer disagreed. "In a room I'm doing now, we are making a floor-to-ceiling limestone fireplace as one focal point. In this same room, there will be a curio cabinet for the client's incredible collection of fine crystal and Faberge eggs."

The way to create a focal point is to arrange the furniture to accent the focus of the room.

A focal point in many rooms is the TV set. But it doesn't have to be the only one if an arrangement has flexibility.

For example, swivel chairs can help create an arrangement that allows for both an intimate conversation area as well as comfortable TV viewing. Let the couch face the TV set and place two swivel chairs in the middle of the room between the couch and the TV, Sandlin suggested. "This way you can have viewing out of those chairs but block the TV when it's not being used."

What Size Furniture?

Striking a balance between the size of the furniture and the dimensions of a room is important in creating a living space that does not feel crowded.

A small room does not mean you have to have tiny furniture, said designer Gay Davis Turner of Dana Point. "In condos, for instance, where rooms are usually small, people tend to use only small furniture. But you can actually make the room seem larger by using, say, an oversized sofa and eliminating one chair. It's strictly a matter of balance."

The height of the room is also important. In Southern California, many houses and apartments have high ceilings in small rooms to give the appearance of a larger space. Sometimes this gives people a false concept of space, and they tend to crowd the room with too much furniture.

What Furniture Goes Where?

Experts advise keeping it simple. Everything you own does not have to be out at all times. Putting some pieces in storage and periodically exchanging them for furniture already out enables a room to always have a fresh look.

"Before you decide where things are going to be placed, think of the total concept you have for the room," Sanchez said. "If you are only looking at its function, it's like only looking at someone's bone structure and not their skin and hair. Think of the room as a body and imagine how you would dress it."

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