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20 Furniture Arranging Mistakes To Avoid, According To Designers

Finding the right furniture is only half the battle. From there, you have to arrange it. And, interior designers warn, this second step might not be as simple as you think. In fact, experts suggest reversing this decorating mentality: Plan first, they say. Shop later. 

“Don’t just head to the store without a plan,” advises interior designer Amy Kummer. “You really need to have a floor plan in place before you go shopping. and know exactly the dimensions of the sofa or the chairs or the coffee table that you’re looking for.”

Laura Negri

If you go shopping willy-nilly without a plan, you may be at risk of committing one of these furniture arranging woes. From off-scale pieces to out-of-place focal points, interior designers would never do these things with a sofa or coffee table—and neither should you. 

Using A Rug That’s Too Small

All furniture legs should remain firmly on the rug at all times, say our designers. It’s a common myth, they say, that just a couple legs belong on the rug. However, if only half the furniture sits on the rug, then your rug is probably too small. 

“The biggest mistake I see people make is buying way too small rugs. It shrinks the room dramatically,” says interior designer Stephanie Abernathy. “People think they need to have the first two legs of furniture around the perimeter on the rug but your whole piece should be sitting on the rug with maybe even a little bit of space to give.”

Other designers agree that the bigger the rug, the better. A too-small rug can look out of place. “Sometimes people have a rug that looks like a postage stamp in the room. You don’t want it to look like that,” jokes designer Edith-Anne Duncan.

Determine if a rug is big enough for your room by how close its distance from the walls. While Abernathy says to aim for your rug to be 6-inches away from the wall on all sides, Duncan prefers a 1-foot perimeter if you have a nice wood floor worth showing off beneath. 

Pushing Seating Against The Wall

“One mistake people typically make is pushing all their furniture up against the wall. In small spaces where that’s your only option, that makes sense. But when it comes to spaces that are a little bit larger, it’s always best to leave a little bit of a space between the wall and the back of your sofa,” says Abernathy. “If you take a really large or medium sized room, and you push every single piece of furniture up against that wall, you’re gonna have something like a dance floor in the middle and it is not going to be as conducive to conversation.”

Instead of anchoring furniture—especially seating—against the wall, designers recommend prioritizing conversation circles. Duncan maintains that seating should not be more than 10-feet away when across from each other. “Otherwise you’re going to be shouting across the room to your friend over in the corner and the chair that’s in the corner,” she says.

Using An Ottoman That’s The Wrong Size

Some furniture, Duncan says, is prone to being off scale. Way too often, these pieces are too big or too small from the spaces they inhabit and make for an awkward arrangement and uncomfortable function. If an Ottoman is the wrong size, for example, then kicking your feet up may not go so smoothly.

“One common mistake is people don’t size their Ottoman correctly,” Duncan says. “Whatever the height of your chair is, your Ottoman should be two to three inches shorter than the chair.” 

Having Tiny Nightstands

Another piece of furniture that Duncan reports is often the wrong size is the nightstand. When the scale of your nightstands is off, the result is a wonky arrangement that is contrary to function. 

“Oftentimes nightstands are too small compared to the size of the bed. They’re too short or too small,” says Duncan. “If you have enough room, use a 42 inch or 48 inch wide chest for a king sized bed.”

Underestimating The Coffee Table

Tiny coffee tables are also a pet peeve for Duncan who recommends using the largest one possible. As opposed to an undersized one, a big coffee table provides ample opportunity for kicking your feet up, resting beverages, decorating converges, and more comfortable gathering. 

Where you place the table matters too, says Kummer. Even if it’s the right size, a coffee table that’s too far away from the sofa or chair is just no use. 

“It’s important that your coffee table is around 18 inches from the front of the sofa or chairs,” Kummer says. Any more space than that and it’s going to feel like the table is too small or it’s a little bit awkward to lean over and place a drink on.”

Supersizing The Sofa

Too-tiny furniture isn’t the only blunder to worry about. Overly large pieces can also disrupt a room. Couches, Kummer reveals, are the usual suspects for oversized interference. 

“You need to pay attention to the depth of sofas,” says Kummer. “If the sofa depth is too large it can throw off the whole room.”

When homeowners purchase a sofa too big for not only the space, it will also be too big for comfortable seating. If it’s too deep, loungers won’t be able to sit with their feet on the floor and lean against the back cushions. 38-40 inches is the ideal depth, Kummer says. 

Overlooking Overflow Seating 

On an average day, you may not need an abundance of seating to accommodate your family and typical guests. However, come the holidays when the house suddenly fills up with people, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t have a back-up plan for extra seating. 

“Think of how to incorporate additional seating to use from an adjacent room,” Duncan advises. “For example, in your foyer, if you have a console, you can place a bench or two little stools underneath the console. Then, when you have family and friends come over and you need a couple more seats in the living room or family room, you can pull in those easy stools or benches.”

Greeting Guests With A Sofa 

First impressions are important. When you walk into the room, the first thing you see should never be the back of a couch. Unfortunately, Duncan reveals that this is a common greeting at the entrances of living rooms across the South. If a couch back by the door ends up being the best way to arrange the space, Duncan suggests adding something attractive behind the couch, like a console, to improve that first impression. 

Forgetting About Walking Space

It’s not all about where you put your furniture. You also have to be cognizant of where you’re not putting furniture. When arranging a room, remember to save floor space for coming and going. Walkways must have a clearance of at least 36 inches for easy maneuvering, Kummer says. Where these walkways should be differs from room to room.

“You don’t want to truncate a room by blocking off a traffic pattern. A really good rule of thumb is to walk a space and see what feels the most natural. Then you know that is where furniture should not go,” says Abernathy. “You’re essentially creating roads through your space.”

Creating A Boring Skyline

“Be aware that your furniture needs to have various heights. If you walk into a room and your sofa and your chairs and everything are the same height, it’s going to become boring. It would be like a bad skyline where everything’s kind of static,” says Duncan. “For example, if you have a shorter sofa, then you want slightly taller chairs. Varying the heights.”

Blocking Out Sunlight

Placing furniture up against a window will fly with all designers interviewed. However, if the piece prevents light or air from gracing the room, that’s when these experts have a problem. Make sure that the window can fully open, unhindered by furniture, says Abernathy, and be careful not to hinder the room’s potential for natural light.

Defaulting To A Sectional 

“I think that so many people desire sectionals in the more casual living spaces, but they can make a room feel cut off in some scenarios. A lot of times, the sectional can make the room feel cut off or smaller than it is,” says interior designer Mary Beth Wagner. “I like to do a longer sofa with one chaise on the end so you can look over it into the room, making it have a larger presence without sacrificing the comfort in the furniture.”

Arranging For Just One Function

These days, every room must be hard-working. A dining room may double as a home office, while the living room may spotlight as a home gym and the breakfast nook could act as a homework station for the kids. Don’t limit the possibilities of your space by confining them to just one purpose. To expand the potential of any given room, Abernathy recommends inserting more than one seating area into every room possible. For example, rather than being smack-dab in the middle of the room, an off-center dining table may open up space for alternative seating and function. 

Discounting Storage

So the story goes: There’s always more things to store and never enough storage space. It would be a mistake, Duncan says, not to consider storage solutions when arranging any given space. Both closed and open storage are essential to prevent clutter and expand the purpose of a room.

Prioritizing Style Over Function

As much as interior designers love a pretty space, they agree that looks aren’t everything. What good is an attractive room if it’s unusable? 

“There’s no point in something looking good if it doesn’t function properly,” Kummer agrees. “We always talk with our clients to understand how they live and how they need things to function. We design to function first and foremost, but it also has to look good so it’s really a 50/50 balance.”

Missing A Focal Point

Without a focal point, a room can become jumbled and lost. In many spaces, the focal point will be automatic, like the bed in a bedroom or fireplace for the living, family, or dining room. If not, you’re going to have to manually set one.

“I think most people understand if there’s a fireplace and that’s the focal point,” says Duncan. “If you do not have one, you can make a focal point from art or a gallery wall.”

Overloading On Statement Pieces

As much as we love eye-catching colors and patterns, Kummer warns us that too much of a good thing isn’t always great. Just one statement-making piece of furniture should do.

“One mistake I see a lot of is people trying to put all of their favorite fabrics all into one space when there really just needs to be one star piece or leading fabric,” she says. “You want to have one large scale pattern, one small scale pattern, and maybe a few great solids. That way your eye knows where to look in the room and it’s not too much of a good thing that doesn’t all work together.”

Hanging A TV Over The Fireplace (Sometimes)

For Duncan, a tv over the fireplace is hit or miss. Sometimes, she says, it can be a mistake, but in other cases, it’s just right. If a TV over the fireplace makes sense for you and your space, Duncan warns to put enough space between the mantel and TV so that you can see the screen correctly. She also especially loves Frame TVs to minimize the eyesore above a gorgeous fireplace. 

Under-Thinking Antiques

Finding antique furniture for your home is a glorious feeling, but Abernathy alerts us that if arranged improperly, these antiques can look out of place and disrupt the room they’re in. This is because a lot of antique furniture is often very oversized or undersized. It’s a Goldilocks situation where hardly anything is ever sized just right.

“We use a lot of antiques and what we find is that a lot of antiques are either way over-scale or way under-scale. To use them in spaces, it takes a bit of Tetris and trying to figure out how to create moments that highlight those spaces,” says Abernathy. “You have to rework everything else to make sure that that is balanced appropriately.”

Forcing In Too Much Furniture 

It’s not easy on the conscience to purge passed-down furniture. However, if you’ve got an overload of pieces between family hand-me-downs that aren’t quite your style and new furniture exactly to your taste, it may be too much and too jumbled for one space. 

“A lot of times, people hang on to too much furniture,” says Kummer. “If you’re holding on to an entire room of furniture that you don’t love and then also trying to buy new stuff on top of it, the room can look a little bit crowded.”


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