How to Arrange Living Room Furniture

I’ve heard it dozens of times from clients and readers: how to arrange living room furniture?  And understandably so! It’s one of the very first tasks I tackle when designing a room.  The functionality and usability of a space hinges on a thoughtful furniture arrangement. This process applies if you’re shopping for second hand finds, at big box retailers, online, or in high end boutiques, and everything in between.

Have you be stumped or unhappy with the furniture arrangement in your own home? I hope to bring some clarity to the topic today, and I’ll be using the living room (or family room or den) for our discussion purposes.  But know that these principles and steps can certainly apply to any room in a home.  I’ve also got a freebie for you…a robust resource you can dig into and apply to your own home.  Read on, and let’s get to it!

When you’re considering how to arrange furniture (or anything, really), ask yourself what matters most?  This is one of my favorite tools for getting clarity, and often helps us weed out the ideas we’ve seen elsewhere that we *think* we want to use in our own home.  But, honing in on what matters to YOU and YOURS will start you off on the right foot. We’re starting with this more philosophical approach for the first few steps….

This cozy den hosts four deep chairs to encourage conversation and game play. Design by Cate Holcombe Interiors, Photo by Anna Barzin.

Step 1

Identify the top 3 functions of the room: TV watching? Family game playing?  Puzzling?  Hosting Mahjong or book club? Football watching?

Step 2

Consider what matters most to you in regards to functional seating (lie-flat lounge spots for 4? Enough comfy seating to host the extended family on Sundays? One spot to lie out and watch TV/read and 3 other deep seats for curling up?  Make a list starting with the top priorities (i.e. 2 spots to lounge fully, 2 additional comfy seats, 3 occasional seats)

Step 3

Measure the room and location of all fixed elements (windows, doors, fireplace, etc) – transfer to paper or digital tool of your choice.

This is where I have a handy dandy tool for you.  One of the assets included in my digital course  Timeless Finishes 101 is Furniture Placement Fundamentals, a PDF guide that walks students through furniture placement consideration as they are planning their renovation or new build. As I’m writing this, I realize it’s exactly what YOU need to map out the placement in your own home, so I’m making it a freebie download for you.  Simply click here to grab it. You’ll also receive a video demonstration I recorded where I walk you through how to use my favorite free online space planner.  It’s such a fantastic way to play around with ideas.

The PDF walks you through exactly what measurements to take, how to take them, and how to transfer them to paper or a digital planning app.

Step 4

Using paper or a digital tool, start by playing around with standard size sofas and chairs within your space.  You may have existing pieces you plan to use, or you may have your eye on a specific piece, but before you settle on the exact pieces you’ll use, it’s important to see if they will actually work in your space.  Your dream sofa may, in fact, be way too big for your space.  In the download, I’ve provided printable graph paper and standard furniture icons for you to simply print and cut out to utilize for this if you’d like.  I’ve also shared several common living room furniture arrangements to get you started.

Here are some considerations to make as you’re walking through this process:

  • Is the TV location already decided? You can try situating the sofa parallel to the TV, or perpendicular.
  • Typically, seating is arranged in a U shape, or sometimes a simple L.  This creates a cozy, conversational spot and is a great place to start. Think about the primary seating goals you identified earlier.
  • Some things to keep in mind: foot traffic “paths” should ideally be 3′ wide.  Consider the paths you’ll use to walk through and around the space.
  • The coffee table should be 12″-24″  from any seating around it.
  • Each seat should ideally be within reach of a spot to rest a drink (or phone or book).
  • In narrow or oddly shaped rooms, it’s often best to break the space up into smaller, more conversational areas.

  • You can use furniture placement to separate zones in a space, like the “foyer” zone on the left of the plan below. (Rugs also help delineate areas.) 
  • With large rooms, consider bringing the seating into the center of the space, and utilize the perimeter for foot traffic.

Be sure you’ve provided the functions you prioritized in steps 1 and 2.  If you’re stuck, ask a friend, or even shoot me a message.  Getting an additional set of eyes on your project can bring fresh creative solutions.

Step 5

Narrow in on one or two layouts that meet your criteria, and generally follow the parameters outlined in step 4, and mock up the arrangement.  If you are in the home, you could use existing furniture to move into place.

Get creative if needed: cardboard boxes, storage bins, camping chairs, anything really, can serve to mark the proposed locations of the furnishings.  You could also consider using painter’s tape on the floor to indicate the location of pieces.

Sit with the arrangement for a bit, considering how foot traffic flows and how the arrangement works for you.

blue sofa art display

Several lounging spots, a swivel chair, and a pair of modern wingbacks serve this family’s needs well. Design by Cate Holcombe Interiors, Photo by Cat Nguyen

Next Steps for Living Room Furniture

Your next steps are to start looking for the exact pieces you’ll use to make your plan a reality.

Make a list (the Notes app on your phone is a great place to keep this list) of the pieces you need and their ideal measurements.  Stash a small tape measure in your purse or car.

As you’re shopping for furniture (online or in person), keep those details close, and don’t purchase anything without first confirming it’s in your plan.

That’s it!  Now you’ve got what you need to learn how to arrange living room furniture, or any furniture for that matter.  Don’t forget to grab the download here.



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