Nancy Woodhouse, senior interior designer for Edina-based Gabberts Design Studio and Fine Furniture, offers these suggestions for creating comfortable and attractive furniture arrangements.
1. Emphasize the room's focal points. Focal points are the room's major objects of interest: a fireplace, a large window, an entertainment wall. Play them up in your arrangement of seating. "You could have, for instance, two sofas facing each other that would flank the fireplace," Woodhouse said. "If you're doing a window view it would be nice to put a pair of chairs in front of the window."
2. Arrange furniture to invite guests into a space. Also, allow for a comfortable distance for conversation — approximately seven feet.
3. Don't block high traffic areas with furniture. Walkways should be at least three feet wide, Woodhouse said.
4. Leave between 12 and 24 inches of space between a cocktail table and a sofa — 18 inches is ideal. "You want to be able to get in between the table and the sofa, yet you want to be able to reach the table at a comfortable distance," Woodhouse said.
5. Make sure guests have a cocktail table or side table to set a drink on. A set of nesting tables provides extra tables during larger gatherings without taking up space at other times. "If you have a really large group, you're able to add one of those smaller tables from the nesting table," she said.
6. Place small collections of objects together to create impact. Groups involving odd numbers of objects are generally more pleasing to the eye, Woodhouse said. Objects of different heights that are tied together by color or a common theme are most interesting.
7. Art work above a sofa should not be too high, but spaced so people won't hit their head against it. Art work that's too high above a sofa or other large piece of furniture looks oddly detached. "Nothing is more annoying than when someone has placed a piece of artwork way above a chest or console so it doesn't look grouped together well," Woodhouse said. "Also, you want to have it at a nice height so that you're able to view it without craning your neck."
8. A folding screen can function as a room divider. "You can get screens custom made with your choice of fabric," Woodhouse said. "If you want to enlarge a space, mirrored screens are really pretty."
9. Groupings need to have balance. Don't put more visual weight on one side of a room; balance it either with matching pieces or different pieces of comparable mass. "Symmetrical layouts tend to look formal," Woodhouse said. "An asymmetrical layout, such as a sofa and two chairs, feels more casual and relaxed."
10. The rug size and placement should connect the seating arrangement. Sofas look best when the front legs are placed just a few inches on the rug. Chairs look best if either all four legs rest on the rug, or just the front two. "You don't want the rug so small it looks like a postage stamp," Woodhouse said. Resting the front legs on it "feels a little more anchored."