Planning a room’s layout can be complicated. A task that seems simple on the surface can actually be fraught with challenges. Sometimes, there are issues with the physical space, such as:
- Oddly shaped rooms
- Unusually low or high ceilings
- Lack of wall space due to doors and windows
- Intrusive or obstructive built-in furniture
- Interrupted and contrasting floor finishes
- Doors that swing awkwardly into or out of a room
- Lack of overhead lighting
- Inaccessible outlets
- Ill-positioned access panels and thermostats
In many cases, the furnishings also present a difficulty:
- Pieces that are too big to move up/down the stairs or fit through the door
- An overabundance of pieces that crowd the space
- Large/visually unpleasing pet beds and crates
- Vintage or heirloom furniture that doesn’t fit (physically or visually)
- Infant, toddler or handicap equipment that require large spaces
Deciding what should go where can be stressful. As a disclaimer, I acknowledge that I am a professional organizer, not a decorator. My focus is primarily functionality. At the same time, I believe that spaces should be appealing and comfortable. A successful layout is like a favorite pair of pants: it looks good and fits well.
If you are considering how to best arrange a room, here are a few tips from an organizer’s perspective:
1. Design for the “average day”
Just as a closet should be primarily used to hold the clothing you wear, rooms should be laid out to serve your most common needs. You may need your room to suit multiple purposes, but always prioritize the layout for the needs you have the majority of the time. For instance:
- A formal dining room might be nice, but if you typically use the space as a home office, be sure to allocate space for working by having convenient filing, charging capability, desk supplies storage, etc. Periodic use elements, such as linens or china, can be stored more remotely and brought into the space on an as-needed basis.
- Bunk beds may seem like a good solution for the few times a year when guests come over, but if they overwhelm your space the other 360 days of the year, stick with a traditional bed and get a few air mattresses.
- Glass-fronted kitchen cabinets look great full of crystal, but if you mostly need to store children’s cups and practical items, you may find opaque doors are more a practical choice.
2. Consider existing family patterns
Humans habituate very quickly, which means we easily develop patterns for where we enter, walk, deposit items, eat, hang out, work, etc. For example, we drop our bag in the same spot on the floor, gravitate toward the same parking spot and sit at the same table in the lunchroom. Once these patterns are formed, it takes energy to behave differently. Therefore, it can be helpful to think in advance about how big of an adjustment a new layout may require. For example, if your children are used to doing their homework at the kitchen table, they may continue to do so, even if you put desks in their rooms. A better solution may be a rolling cart with school supplies that can be brought to the kitchen table at homework time and then repacked and removed when it is time to eat. Good systems only work well if people use them.
3. Subdivide oversized rooms into vignettes
Many homes today have large rooms. The community feeling of the open concept has many benefits, but it can also present a challenge when floor planning. Often the best option is to break the room into smaller areas for different activities. For example, there may be a main seating area for watching television and having conversation, a small desk in the corner for reading and working, and a row of bookcases against the wall for storage and display.
4. Retrofit high-use areas to improve function
More often than not, I work with clients in situations where the existing design lacks sufficient storage. Common examples include small closets with nothing more than a shelf and a rod, shallow or short kitchen cabinets, pedestal sinks, narrow garage bays and desks that lack drawers. Fortunately, there are a variety of tweaks that can significantly improve a space’s functionality. This can be something simple like switching the hinge on the refrigerator door to open in the opposite direction, removing a closet door that swings too far into the room or adding free-standing storage containers. Another trick is to alter your shelving; sometimes moving a shelf up a couple of pegs or adding in more shelves can drastically improve a cabinet’s functionality.
If you are willing to invest a bit, upgrades can make a world of difference. Two of my favorites are to add glide-out drawers to cabinetry (click here to see a sample from Shelf Genie), and custom closet systems (such as these by Closet and Storage concepts). The idea here is to make the most of every inch you have, including the walls and backs of doors. You may think your closet is too small to be worth it, but the truth is, the less space you have, the more this matters. A reputable supplier will typically offer a free consultation.
5. Leave breathing room
One of the most common mistakes people make when laying out a room is to use too many pieces of furniture. A few large pieces often work better than a bunch of smaller ones. This is true for décor as well. A few well-placed objects give the space character without making it feel cluttered. In addition, if possible, pull at least some items away from the walls so that air can flow around the room, and face desks either out into a room or looking out a window.
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Do you love the way your spaces look and function? Do you have a favorite tip for designing a room’s layout?