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Space and traffic planning for furniture placement

So you have a room but can't figure out where to place the furniture. Read on for concrete advice but first decide what the primary use of the room will be. For example, if it is a family room, then some of the uses may be for watching the television, playing board games, socializing, and reading.

Interior Designing Tips & TricksSome rooms primary use is obvious, such as that the bedroom is for sleeping, the kitchen is for cooking, etc, but rooms such as living rooms, family rooms, great rooms, and parlors can be a little harder to pin down. So in your interior designing planning pin down the primary use of the room; and maybe a few secondary uses and then...

Measure the room:

  • Measure the floor area of the room by measuring it's perimeter. This should be done in pieces by measuring each wall along the floor line from one corner to the next corner. If the room has more than four walls, measure each wall along the floor from one corner to the next.
  • Measure where all openings are in the room: That means all windows, doors and doorways. This requires that you measure all distances on every wall between the nearest corner to each opening as well as the width of the opening itself
  • Measure all permanent structures in the room such as fireplaces, wet bars, and built-in furniture, an example may be a bookcase
  • Measure the ceiling height of the room. This is the distance from the floor to the ceiling, where the ceiling meets the wall
  • Measure the distance between the floor and all windowsills and the distance from the ceiling to the tops of the windows, these types of measurements will also be needed for hearths, mantels, and bookcases and any other permanent part of the room

Interior Designing, Decorating, & PlanningAll of the above measurements need to be written down for use later in your interior designing plan. How accurate these measurements need be depend on how small the room is and how "cut-up" it is. Certainly every measurement should be accurate to the nearest inch at the greatest.

The smaller your room is and if you have a room that has many windows, doors and other permanent structures, then the measurements should be accurate to the nearest quarter inch if at all possible. Trust me, you may thank me later when the sofa you purchase fits in the space you have and wouldn't fit at all if it were a quarter inch longer.

For overall interior designing planning, see "Overwhelmed? A step-by-step plan may help".

Draw the room:

Interior Designing | Planning Your Room

For your interior designing plan, I would suggest using simple graph paper with quarter inch squares then just make your scale ¼ inch equals one foot. Draw the floor plan (as seen from above) of the room empty on the graph paper with a pencil and ruler.

Interior Designing | St. Louis Interior DesignerMake marks along the outer wall lines of the room noting all windows, doors, doorways, fireplaces, and all other permanent structures of the room in different types of symbols, such as a complete opening in the wall to note a doorway and small perpendicular lines along a wall to denote a window. Remember to note door swings as they take space from the floor where no furniture can be placed.

See the sample drawing above of a family room as an example of how you may wish to denote fireplaces and hearths, open doorways, entry doors with door swings, windows, and built-in bookshelves.

It makes no difference how professionals do this. As long as you can read your drawing, it will work.

All notes however must be placed outside the room in this interior designing floor plan so that you can use your drawing of the room itself for space and traffic planning.

Once you have a completed floor plan that you understand and feel comfortable with, make 10-15 readable copies.

These copies can be used throughout all aspects in your interior designing, for example, you can take one with you when you shop for furniture to help you pick out furniture of the correct size and scale.

Note all "natural" traffic patterns through the room:

Natural traffic patterns are where people will walk when the room is empty.

These paths will go between any entries into the room to any other entry into the room. AND people will instinctively take the quickest route, that being a straight line.

On one of your copies of your floor plan draw the natural traffic patterns through the room. These can be demonstrated by drawing broken lines between each pair of entrees subsequently into the room. In other words, in the drawing below, because it has three entrees into the room, there will be three sets of paths; these being between the French doors and the foyer, marked in blue; between the French doors and the kitchen in a straight line across the room, marked in green; and one between the foyer and the kitchen, marked in red.

Interior Designing with a St. Louis Interior Designer

Now that you understand where the "Natural" traffic flows through this family room, how do you apply this knowledge to your interior designing?

What to do with "Natural" traffic through a room:

The idea of space and traffic planning exists for several reasons in interior designing.

  • Minimize the number of natural paths through a room. This is because the more natural paths dissect a room, the less space the designer has to place furniture.
  • Not disrupt basic "flow" through a room by placing furniture directly in a natural and desired pathway
  • Create purposeful and artful paths through a room by which the designer can better control what occurs in a room or a section of a room. Some types of artful paths through this particular family room could be for any or a combination of the following purposes:
    • 1. To create a friendly family or party setting encouraging uninterrupted conversation or games
    • 2. To create an intimate fun family or romantic setting in front of the fireplace
    • 3. To create a "bond" with the bookcases thus encouraging a cozy, uninterrupted place to read
    • 4. To create a television viewing area that has no interference thus encouraging family movie nights, in your interior designing plan this should be tied as closely as possible with reasons 1,2, and 3 so that as many of these purposes for this room can be realized together and the room fulfills its maximum potential

Determine where the "Desired" natural paths are:

Interior Designing & DecoratingSome natural paths through a room should not be "redirected" because doing so creates more problems than it solves. On the drawing above showing the natural paths through this room, there are two paths that in your interior designing plan you would consider to be "desired natural paths" and would not want to disrupt because disrupting these paths will create paths in other sections of the room and therefore disrupt sections of the room that are better used for the purposeful and artful uses listed above.

These two desired natural paths are the path marked in blue, the one running between the foyer and the French doors; and the second being the red path, the one that runs between the foyer and the kitchen.

The blue path is the most obvious natural and desired path through this room. This is because that path never comes close to hindering any of the 4 artful purposes that this room has the ability to give its owner.

The red path, if interrupted has little to offer to the potential of the room and if interrupted the traffic would move into more valuable real estate in the room, namely, closer to the fireplace. Therefore, interrupting this path would create more problems than it fixes.

What paths through your room are "Undesirable"?

Interior Designing | Find a St. Louis Interior DecoratorIn this room, the green path is a natural path that if possible should be minimized. This is because this path cuts directly through "prime real estate" if you will, of this room.

The prime real estate in this room is the heart of the room and is obvious to anyone who contemplates this room while it is empty. It is also probably one of the strongest reasons you bought the house, that being the fireplace.

So even though the fireplace is not centered on this room, the fireplace is the core of this room, it is the heart of this room. All pleasing furniture arrangements for your interior designing seem to organically "grow" themselves around the fireplace.

Therefore the green path that interrupts the television-viewing, book-reading, conversation/game area and romance starting sphere must be redirected if there is a way to do so in your interior designing plan. And there is, and it is quite easy!

If we place a long piece of furniture, such as a sofa parallel to the short wall of the room with the front toward the kitchen it forces the green path out farther to follow part of the red and part of the blue line in an "L" shape, thus lowering the total number of paths through the room from three down to two. And so it is that we start to build artful paths through this room therefore promoting the four purposes for which we wish to use the room.

So the traffic planning has given us for free one organic place for one piece of furniture, the sofa that is usually the centerpiece of all sitting rooms anyway and in this case serves the dual purpose of being a barrier in the green path thus disrupting and forcing it's elimination.

So we have decided where a sofa should go.

It is important to note that not all rooms or designers needs are always served by lowering the number of paths through a room. In a different room other than our example and if the designer was also a collector who wanted to show off his collections, encouraging traffic through and around the room may be something that the room can provide and may best fulfill the needs also of the designer.

Space planning: where should the rest of the furniture be placed?

To use this room to it's best potential thereby utilizing it for all four purposes that you have determined you wish it used for in your interior designing plan I have put together on our example floor plan here:

Making your Interior Designing Plan | St. Louis Interior Designer

  • A large coffee table that does not have square corners so people do not hit their knees but also has a square-ish shape so to be able to accommodate a large board game or trays for eating in the room. This very large coffee table also due to its size comes close to the hearth thus allowing the hearth to be used as a bench for additional seating and a long pillow could be placed there to encourage this.
  • An entertainment center on the opposite wall from the sofa places the television directly in front of the largest number of viewers in the room.
  • The bookcases must be accessible so no chairs are placed in front of them.
  • Two chairs placed on either side of the "entry" into our cozy, television-viewing, board game-playing, romantic in front-of-the-fireplace snuggling, book-reading, area of this room satisfy the dual purpose of forcing the green undesired natural traffic path out away from the area farther, thus making the area more intimate but also of course providing additional seating.
  • Small tables are placed next to each of these chairs to provide their occupants a place to set a beverage. If we make these tables a pleasing oval shape, they also "soften" the intent of the placement of the two chairs to the "entrance" of the area, which is to force people to stay away from it unless they wish to engage fully in one of the four purposes in your interior designing plan you decided the area should be used for.
  • A table placed in the extra space behind the sofa that has additional leaves available to it for expansion on such occasions as Thanksgiving and FOUR matching chairs in the room allow the room to have other purposes when needed.
  • The four chairs are placed three around the table and one off in the corner near the foyer. Thus during everyday use, that table can also be used as a breakfast area near the open French doors for possibly reading the paper and/or watching television.
  • The cozy corner chair and table near the foyer allow for someone to have a private area for reading that says, "I'm not really in the mood for company".
  • A folding screen against this wall softens the wall and provides interest.
  • The very long wall between the foyer doorway and the kitchen doorway is an excellent place to hang an art collection or better yet, because this is a "family" room, why not cover the entire wall with pictures of family and friends. This will "warm" the room and echo the warmth the fireplace gives the room while also bestowing immediately to the room a sense of tradition and family. In addition, placing pictures here where everyone will walk by them nearly every time they are in the room will engage family and friends in conversation of enjoyable memories; thus sanctioning the family area even further.
  • Plants placed in various areas of the room soften the edges and provide interest.

How do you know how large furniture is?

If during your interior designing planning you are confused as to how large a piece of furniture is and therefore do not know how to draw it on your floor plan, you have several options:

  • You can measure every piece of furniture you own, or are contemplating buying and then draw them to scale on your floor plan
  • You can buy templates of furniture at any well-stocked art supply store or college bookstore, simply ensure that they are ¼ inch scale
  • You can make your own paper cutout templates because most furniture is made in fairly stock sizes
  • If you are VERY confused as to where to place your furniture in a room, you may wish to cut out life-sized templates from paper, tape them on your floor and spend a few weeks sitting on them and walking around them before purchasing a particular piece that you are unsure of.

And remember to try lots of different furniture plans on your 10-15 copies of floor plans to find the one plan that works best for you.

For help on choosing the furniture itself, you may wish to peruse my article entitled "Classic furniture never goes out of style" or "Mixing and matching furniture styles: How to make it work".

Now that you understand the logistics of a room:

Find a St. Louis Interior Designing ProfessionalWhen you force yourself to truly plot out a room's traffic patterns and think about why you like the room and what it has to offer you that is positive, you start to realize the organic and therefore logical uses for the room and the best places the furniture should be placed for your interior designing plans.

In short, it makes you understand what people mean when they utter things such as, "the room spoke to me".

To force a room to serve a purpose that is not what it does best is to never see the room for it's own promise, and most beautiful potential. The house while you live there will have its greatest possibilities lying dormant but more importantly, you are not as happy living there as you could be. To understand this is the true realization of what interior design is all about.

If you want professional help with understanding the language of your rooms to utilize in your interior designing plans, and you're in St. Louis, feel free to contact me at [email protected]