Tricks of the Trade: Furniture Arranging and Interior Design Tips

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Photo By Barbara Bourne
Arrange your furniture to get the room you've always dreamed of.

Professional arranger Deborah Coburn shares these furniture arranging secrets:


• Create a focal point. Identify the room’s architectural focal point. Is it a fireplace? A window with a great view? Or is there a dramatic piece of furniture or art around which to orient the conversation area?

• Place your largest upholstered piece opposite the room’s focal point. The exception to this rule is if the focal point is opposite the entrance. You don’t want to walk into the back of the largest piece of furniture; you want to be drawn into the furniture grouping, both visually and physically. If this is your situation, place the largest piece perpendicular to the focal point.

• Connect other pieces to the largest piece. Place the second largest piece so that it forms an L shape with the first piece. Connect your coffee table to the main sofa, no farther than eighteen inches away. Counterbalance this grouping with a chair or other major piece of furniture, creating an overall U shape. Position side tables next to seating, for lighting and a place to put things down.

• Don’t line up all your furniture along the walls. If possible, bring the furniture in to the room. Angling creates interest, softens corners.

• In large rooms, make “rooms within a room.” Divide the space into several areas for different activities and group furniture accordingly. Use area rugs to strengthen the arrangements.

Art and Accessories

• Use art and accessories to highlight a focal point, correct an imbalance, strengthen a corner, or change the scale of a piece of furniture. The art on your walls should be connected and in relationship to furniture placement and the wall’s shape. Hang pieces with a unified theme, color, or frame style together for greater impact.

• Don’t hang art too high. As a general rule, if there’s no furniture below, hang art so that the center is sixty inches from the floor. When placing art over furniture, keep it connected, no farther than ten inches away.

• Keep the art’s shape in relationship to the furniture’s shape. Don’t hang a vertical piece alone over a horizontal sofa.

• Review all your accessories and select those you love most. Don’t try to use everything. Objects crammed together can’t show their beauty.

• Decide where accessories will have the most impact. Do you need to make a piece of furniture higher? Should you make a connection between the surface of a table or chest and the art above? Both these situations would benefit from an accessory.

• Group accessories according to theme or color connections. Move pieces around until you find a pleasing composition. A rule of thumb is to place taller items in the back and smaller ones in front, larger on the bottom and smaller on the top. Create height by putting an object on a base.

Art Hanging 101

Deck the walls like a pro with these tips from Deborah Coburn, who first recommends you get another person to help–hanging pictures is so much easier with two!

• Position art on the wall and adjust it until your eye tells you it’s right. Keep it connected to the furniture below. If there’s no furniture, sixty inches from the floor to the center of the art is the rule of thumb.

• Mark the center of the top of the frame on the wall, using a pencil.

• Pull the center of the hanging wire up and taut, and measure from the top of the arc to the top of the art.

• Back on the wall, go down this distance from your pencil mark and make an X. Put the bottom of the hook at the X and hammer in the nail. Erase the top pencil mark and hang the art. Use your eye or a level to make sure the art is straight.

Create a Floorplan

Before you start rearranging, create a floorplan and furniture layout of the room in quarter-inch scale (1/4 inch = 1 foot), suggests Coburn. Measure the room at the floor level, noting all doors, windows, vents, and built-ins. Draw your floorplan on quarter-inch graph paper and make quarter-inch scale cutouts of the furniture for that room. Then proceed with the furniture placement tips, moving the cutouts around until the room feels balanced and all pieces are in relationship. This method sure beats moving heavy pieces of furniture more than once.

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