Q. I am designing my new home, and I am not sure how big or the shape to make the rooms, especially the living room, which we will often use. Do you have some design tips to help me at this early stage?
This is an excellent question and the proper time to give this some serious thought. Architects and home designers often use a somewhat standard formula for the relative size of the rooms, the window placements and the shapes. This method does not always yield the biggest bang for the buck.
The living room or family room is generally the most used room in a house after the kitchen. The shape of the room can be as important as the size when functionality is considered, because this will dictate the traffic flow patterns.
Design and size your living room first, and then fit the rest of the rooms around it. When designing it, consider how the room will be used and the types of furniture, groupings and amenities you would like in the living room. Will it have a large fireplace, window with a view, piano, large-screen television? These are all items that will be focal points or centers of activity.
Once you have determined the basic activities for the living room, consider the furniture you will have for each of these activities. For example, you may want to have a large sofa in front of the fireplace or a large window, or a comfortable chair near a window for reading.
The key to proper design and furniture placement is considering the living room to be a grouping of various activities and keeping the areas separate.
Each activity area should be arranged so traffic patterns into and through the living room do not pass directly through an activity area. In this way, several people can be doing different activities without interfering with one another to a great extent.
Square or rectangle?
Depending upon the activities of interest to you, the best living room shape may be square or a longer, more rectangular shape. A square shape provides the most floor area with the least lineal wall area – for lower building costs. A rectangular shape is better for large rooms because this provides adequate width to walk through without disturbing others.
If you select a square shape, it is often best to have the entrance to the room in the center of the wall opposite the most distinctive feature, such as a large fireplace. This design provides space for two activity areas and furniture groupings on either side of the entrance and the main furniture grouping in front of the fireplace. A person can enter the room and access any activity area without passing directly through any of them.
Here are general guidelines for placement of the furniture and for the width of traffic lanes:
• When you place chairs opposite a sofa, a distance of about 6 feet between them is good for conversation.
• The traffic lane into a room and to the primary activity area near the distinctive feature should be at least 42 inches wide.
• Minor traffic lanes to the less-used activity areas can be as narrow as 24 inches, but 30 inches is preferable.