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Nail your living room layout

Your living room. A pretty significant space really. The place you chill, chat, snooze, watch, wine, dine and, well….live.

So nailing the layout to help you do all of the above – easily (and stylishly) is kind of important. But not always straightforward. It doesn’t matter how beautifully you furnish the space if the layout doesn’t work so this is one of those times when functionality should take priority over fashion (temporarily). Of course, we’re all for fashion so don’t discard it, just plan first, and purchase the pretty stuff second!

Check out our top tips to getting it right, whatever the shape of the space you’re styling:

Plan ahead

Seems obvious right, but often not done. Ask yourself exactly how you plan to use the space – is the TV the priority, the fireplace, reading with your feet up, socialising?

Then consider how you enter the room, how many people you need to regularly seat – both on the sofa or around a table if that’s part of the space – and whether the TV will be wall-mounted or sitting on an entertainment unit.

Do you use side tables for books, your cuppa or a reading lamp or would they just add extra clutter?


The arrangement

Whether you want to draw it to scale (how’s your maths?) or mark it out with masking tape, it pays to work out your desired arrangement before hit the shops for big ticket items – and it’s much easier than carting furniture around to re-arrange it as you go.

The key elements to any successful living space are a sofa, usually an ottoman or armchair or two to complement it (unless you have room for a multi-sofa set up (lucky you), a roomy rug, a coffee table and somewhere to store/sit your TV/media furniture if they’re part of the set up.

A large investment – both financially and in terms of space – the size and shape of your sofa tends to dictate the layout for the entire room.

Perhaps surprisingly, a space will actually seem larger if large items, such as sofas, sit off the wall, even by a few inches, so resist the temptation to shove everything back as far as you can – it’ll actually make the room seem smaller and the centre space seem somewhat lost.

How you entertain – or relax – is also relevant to the arrangement. If you’re a keen entertainer, then creating a layout with clusters for conversation and flexible seating options is key rather than having everyone lined up like ducks in a row along one linear sofa. L-shaped or modular sofas are versatile, generous and made for entertaining – but occasional chairs, ottomans and bench seats can boost social interaction in smaller spaces which can’t accommodate a monster multi-seater sofa.

If you have space, try to allow a metre- wide walking space in the main thoroughfares, and keep 40 to 45 centimetres between the sofa table and coffee table or ottoman.

If it’s possible to avoid setting up the sofa with its back to where you enter the room, then do so, but we don’t always have that luxury. If you do need to position it that way, invest in a schmick sofa table/console table or perhaps some tall faux plants in cute pots to draw the eye away from the back of the couch – it’ll double up as extra storage too.

Rugs are ideal for defining spaces, especially in large open plan spaces, but don’t make the mistake of buying a rug that’s too small for the area.  Where possible, all of the furniture should sit on the rug, not just the front legs. Rectangular rugs are the best bet for rectangular rooms, while round and square rugs both work in square rooms.

Should you tangle with angles? Usually not. Interior designers agree setting your furniture on an angle is something for those who really know their stuff. For the rest of us it’ll typically take up more space and look like we’ve tried too hard (and failed). Symmetry is typically simple and more logical to the eye – at least for DIY decorators!

Scale is super important

This is especially so for sofas and rugs. The general rule for sofas is to invest in the biggest piece you can fit in the space (but not so big that you’re climbing over it to get in the door – it pays to be sensible as well as style-savvy). Length and depth also deserve consideration. Do you like to lie lengthways for your Sunday afternoon snooze or cinema session? Then a three-seater or larger is the ticket, if you like to sit with your legs outstretched, a sofa with a chaise option should do the trick.

And remember, don’t make the mistake of buying the whole living room set (ie three seater, two seater and two armchairs) if your space doesn’t need it. Sometimes it’s more fun to mix and match varying sized pieces anyhow.

Purchase order

Buy the sofa first and the rug second – everything else flows from there. This can sometimes be reversed: if you fall madly in love with a large rug in colours you know you can coordinate with a sofa (so perhaps not a mix of neon purple, orange and gold) then go for it, and go sofa shopping second.


Create a feature

You may or may not have noticed, but all well-designed rooms benefit from a focal point – that first thing that catches your eye when you enter the space (and draws your eye away from any flaws). Once you’ve picked this, everything else will flow from here – or it should.

Whether it’s’ the sofa, a fireplace, a feature artwork, magnificent mirror or a fabulous rug – this is often the first piece you’ll pick, or an architectural feature in an existing room, and it’s the perfect place to start your decorating plan. If possible though, avoid having the TV as your feature point – we’ve rarely seen a good-looking one!

The dreaded box  

It’s the bane of many an interior stylist’s life. What to do with the increasingly super-sized TVs found in most homes today. Sure, we love to watch them, but that doesn’t mean we want to look at them every time we enter the room – make sense?

The question is, how to incorporate the dreaded box without detracting from the rest of your inspired interior? Options include wall mounting it as part of a gallery of artwork, painting the wall behind the TV – or a wide band of the wall – in dramatic black, incorporating space for the screen as part of a wall of shelving, whether built-in or bought, or mounting it above the fireplace if your room is large enough that you won’t be craning your neck to look at it.

Layouts we love

We’ve done our research and identified several top tips for popular living room layouts that will  work for many – if not most – spaces:

If your room is LONG

  • Use rugs to define distinct areas
  • Repeat colours in different areas within the room to connect the spaces
  • Consider a dining table with built-in bench seating against the wall, or an extendable table to minimise the space it occupies
  • L-shaped sofas are a good option
  • Create the illusion of vertical height to detract from the long layout through the use of dangling pendant lights, tall mirrors, floor-to-ceiling window dressings or tall bookshelves

If your room is SQUARE

Resist the temptation to jam everything against the wall, leaving too much central open space and a distance between the chairs that’s anything but conversational

  • Float furniture away from the walls
  • Use artwork or photo galleries to fill a room that can otherwise seem a little too airy
  • Try an L-shaped sofa combined with an ottoman and a couple of occasional chairs, or go for a multi-sofa arrangement coupled with a pair of ottomans or armchairs
  • Remember to disguise sofa backs with console/sofa tables to transform from eyesore to eye-catching
  • Use joinery as well as rugs to divide, define and connect zones
  • Depending on the size of your room, you can divide into two, four or even three areas (the latter with two smaller zones and one larger)

If you room is L-SHAPED

  • If possible have the kitchen in its own area and combine the living and dining areas in the longer section
  • Otherwise, choose whether the more isolated/smaller area is best as a smaller sitting area or a cosy dining area, depending how often you entertain/host meals – and for how many
  • If space is tight, opt for lighter-coloured furniture and sofas on legs, rather than heavier pieces which sit on the floor – the more space underneath the greater the illusion of space overall
  • If the L-shaped zone is at the rear of your house try to orient the dining table or sofa towards the outlook


*Our feature image depicts the Matt Blatt Suite at the Hyde Park Pullman in Sydney.