An Organizer’s Thoughts on Floor Planning

blank room

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?

19 thoughts on “An Organizer’s Thoughts on Floor Planning”

  1. Properly arranged spaces can make life south more pleasant and your tips are so helpful. I find proper storage makes life so much easier. I know where everything is now that I have an organized office and kitchen cabinets.

    1. Knowing where everything is brings a true sense of peace! Proper storage that is easy to use isn’t difficult to use, making staying organized fairly easy. Enjoy that organized office:)

  2. We are thinking of redoing our bedroom as far as furniture and space. So this couldn’t have come st a better time in all honesty. So thank you for the floor planning tips here!

    1. That sounds like a fun project, Janine. We did ours awhile back, and we kept things very minimal. I love the serene feel of the space. I think it might be helping me sleep better!

    1. That is exciting, Jessica! Is it a long distance move? Sometimes I think if I moved now I’d just sell all the furniture and start fresh in the new location! Let me know if you have any specific questions:)

  3. It’s funny how certain phrases jump out when reading a blog post. In this case for me it was “Large/visually unpleasing pet beds and crates.” We’re fortunate that we have space for our dog’s crate in our bedroom, but it’s not attractive, and the cover (an old tablecloth) doesn’t match the decor at all!

    1. There have been some nice new products on the market that take this into consideration. For many, the crate sits in a very public space. Kind of surprising that there aren’t more covers on the market… so many people I know have the tablecloth – or a sheet – just like you!

  4. Over the years, I found a lot of people didn’t realize that they can adjust their kitchen and closet cabinet shelves. When I move them, they are in awe. That’s what’s great about hiring a Professional Organizer. They know lots of tricks that people not in the industry know.

    1. I agree. Moving shelves is often so simple. Plus, if you have a closet organizing system, getting another shelf or two is so simple and affordable. It can make a WORLD of difference!

  5. My son is living in a small condo. He has a loft bedroom and a Pullman kitchen but other than that the space is one large space. Also, it has no storage – few cupboards but no closet etc. I recently went to visit him and saw the space for myself. Between us, we have come up with a plan to install storage – an entertainment center/office supply storage, a closet, and cupboards upstairs in the loft area for clothes. He was thrilled with the plan. It’s really hard for someone living in a space like that to get organized without places to put things.

    1. What a lucky young man to have you for a Mom! It is very difficult when you lack structure. Exciting to be starting life in a new space on your own:)

  6. Your point about designing for the average day is spot on. Earlier this year we bought a sectional sofa and we were torn between one with a chaise or with the closed arm option. I kept saying we should opt out of the chaise because when we have people over it makes for awkward seating. It was the salesperson who reminded us that company only happens occasionally, but we live there so go with what makes us comfortable. He was right and my husband was happy he got his chaise lounger! 🙂

    1. So smart of the salesperson to point this out, because it is easy to get caught up in the “but when people come over” mindset. As much as we love company, it is normally relatively seldom compared the many hours the residents use the space. Happy lounging to your husband:)

  7. Great functional assessment of how to use space! I also add in the there needs to be room to move. That is where there is movement between spaces and also how kids move in a home. Movement is an important part of how we all live in a home.

    1. I so agree, Ellen. Each space needs to be evaluated for function in this respect. In a basement playroom, for example, you may wish to have almost no furniture to leave sports for rambunctious play and fort building!

  8. I love that image above of that colorful floor. That was just an aside, by the way!
    I always wonder if I have an eye for this with space and I worry I don’t, but then I automatically know when something is really not working. We have some awkward shaped floor planning in this house!

    1. I think some people do have a natural feel for where things should be. You know you have the gift if you find the challenge pleasurable and live comfortably with the results of your efforts. I suspect you are good at this:)

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