Space Planning
DIY Home Staging Tips
for a faster, more profitable home sale

What is space planning? It's part of the home interior design process; understanding balance, visual weight, traffic patterns, scale, and axis before planning furniture layouts in your home.

Living room with mirror and fireplacePlan your spaces around focal points-- in this room it is the lovely fireplace

These home decor tips will help you arrange your furniture so it highlights a room's best features, achieves perfect balance throughout the room, and maintains good traffic flow in, out, and through a space. 

In space planning, the shape and architecture of a room will also guide you in successfully placing the furniture in your home.

Your aim is to arrange furniture so that it compliments the architectural features of a room. If you are home staging, the right furniture layout can also give you the illusion of spaciousness. 

Before you decide on your furniture layout, it's best to empty your room of all furniture so you can better study the space.

If you are preparing for a home sale, this is a good opportunity to clean, paint, and make any necessary repairs.

After you have removed all the furniture, step back and examine the shape, architectural details, and traffic patterns of the room.

Space planning questions

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there any features or focal points that catch your eye? A beautiful window or fireplace? An interesting architectural detail?
  • Do you need to create your own focal points?
  • Can you identify the traffic areas in each room?
  • Are there awkward angles that you will have to work around?
  • How many people will be using the space?
  • What is the best way to arrange furniture that will compliment the room’s features and open the space up?
  • What furniture do you already have that will work in the room? 

Identify the focal point

Fireplace and mirror focal pointsThe mirror highlights and draws more attention to the focal point fireplace

The first thing you should do in space planning, is identify the focal point. The focal point will be the first place your eyes are drawn to when you enter a room. A focal point should be beautiful, striking, grand, or interesting.

Look for architectural details, lovely windows, a great view, or attractive fireplace. Be aware that some features can be unwelcome focal points, like a massive brick fireplace, or bulky air conditioner on the wall.

If you see more than one focal point, can you pick out the predominant one? (The main focal point will overshadow others by it's sheer magnificence!) If so, then this focal point, plus the shape of the room, will be the design inspiration for your furniture layout.  

Take a look at the shape of the room and the ceilings. Notice how the walls and ceilings work...are there some interesting architectural details that you can highlight? See space planning tips for different room shapes below.

Room shapes

Rectangle (oblong) rooms

Living room interior design picturesThis rectangular-shaped room shares 2 functions; living and dining spaces. Furniture is arranged to focus on the cozy fireplace.

Rectangular rooms are the most common room shapes and are often multi-functional because of the length. If a rectangular room is particularly long and narrow, arranging furniture into two separate areas will help break up the length and narrowness of the room.

Arrange into two separate cozy conversational areas. Or, create a child’s play area on one end, and a game or tv viewing space on the other.

The popular "open concept" living spaces that encompass a kitchen/dining/living room, or kitchen/dining areas are often rectangular in shape, and examples of multiple functions occurring in one room. 

L-Shaped rooms

L-Shaped RoomAn L-shaped room with good flow

Like rectangular shaped rooms, L-shaped rooms will usually have more then one function. Examples of L-shaped rooms might be kitchen/dining rooms, living/dining rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms.

It's important to have flow from one section of the "L" to the other. One way to do this is to arrange your furniture in both parts of the "L" in parallel angles to each other. This will unify the two areas and create good flow. 

For tips on creating good flow throughout the house, see interior colors for home staging.

Off-Angle shaped rooms

Livingroom interior design picturesSee how the furniture is placed at angles toward the focal point? This is a great solution for an angled wall.

This style of room is simply a square or rectangular shaped room with a corner, (or corners) cut at angles. Typically, the angled corner may be a fireplace or other interesting architectural detail.

If the angled wall has a focal point, a sofa can be arranged parallel to the wall, with two side chairs perpendicular (at right angles) on each side of the sofa. This will create a cozy conversational area.  

Round or oval shaped rooms

Dining room interior design picturesA round dining room begs for a round table!

Round or oval-shaped rooms are far from standard, and can be a challenge to decorate. Special space planning is needed here!

Adding a round table to the small round dining room, as in the picture to the right, is a no brainer! A modular curved sofa with chairs facing is another obvious solution. 

For round or oval-shaped rooms, it’s best to imagine a square inside the round walls, and place your furniture within that square, as you would in a square or oblong room.

Or, embrace the circle by arranging circular seating about a round coffee table, above a round area rug!

Where ceilings and walls meet

How do your ceilings and walls meet? Do you have lofty peaks in the center and only four feet of standing space at the walls? Do you have straight or cathedral ceilings?

I once lived in a home with a lean-to shaped roof style. The top floor loft was almost unusable on one side, because the ceiling was only 5’ 6”, and I am 5’ 8”! The other side was almost 10 feet high. I know...weird.

My solution; I placed low profile furniture along the shorter wall-- a TV on top of a console table. This room was my designated TV viewing/exercise room, and after placing my furniture this way, I was able to avoid bashing my head on the ceiling while I exercised.

The rule of thumb is to place tall and bulky furnishings along high walls, particularly in the center of a peak. Place lower profile furniture along the sides. In a tight bedroom, place the head of the bed against the lowest side.

If you don’t have tall furniture, you can substitute by placing artwork and accessories on top to create the vertical height needed to balance the room.

Add a skylight or extra windows to a slanted ceiling that offers no usable space. This will take away that closed in, claustrophobic feeling that low slanted ceilings can give.

Traffic patterns

Crowded living room interior design picturesWhere is the traffic pattern in this room? I'm guessing you have to "weave and bob" your way through this room!

A traffic pattern is the natural flow of people traveling through a room, the paths in and out, and the areas where you walk the most. In carpeted rooms, you often see a lot of wear in the carpet where the traffic patterns occur. 

With proper space planning, there should be enough space for people to travel comfortably in and around the furniture or through the room. 

It’s important to establish your traffic pattern before you begin laying down your furniture. Watch out for door swings and windows; leave room for opening and closing them. You should have a comfortable 24” of space in which to maneuver in and around furniture.

Visual weight

Living room arrangement with fireplaceThe dark color of the lamps gives them equal "visual" weight as the armoire.

Everything you place in a room will have what is called, “visual weight.” Visual weight refers to how much weight an object APPEARS to have when you look at it, not how much it actually weighs. Visual weight can refer to color, patterns, textures, design, and the shape or structure of an object.

For instance, darker colors carry more visual weight than lighter ones. A black leather sofa will visually outweigh a white leather sofa.

Notice the lamps next to the fireplace in the photo above. The size of the lamps doesn't offset the heavy armoire on the other side of the fireplace. But, the dark color of the lamps makes them appear heavier, whereas, the lighter color of the armoire gives it less visual weight in spite of it's bulk. 

Examples of visual weight:

  • A tall slender lamp will take up less space visually than a lamp with a wide stumpy base and huge lampshade. 
  • Interior designers and home stagers love to use glass or lucite furniture in small rooms, because they visually take up less space. A solid wood dining table will "stop" the eye, whereas, a glass top table will extend sight lines, by showing the room beyond.
  • Heavy brocaded fabric will look heavier than smooth silk fabrics. Heavily patterned fabrics will look weightier than solids. 
  • Rule of thumb: Decorate small rooms with “lighter” furnishings; large rooms can handle more visual weight.

Balance

Balance plays a key role in space planning. Imagine that your room is a boat; divide it into four equal sections. If you place all your heavy furniture in one corner or side of the room only, your “boat” will list to that side.

In visual terms, you want to balance all of your furnishings equally in all four sections of the room.

  • For example, if you have a fireplace at one end of a room, you should balance the fireplace out on the other side of the room with something of equal “visual weight.” It could be an armoire, a console table with a piece of art hanging over it, and even a window.
  • If you have a sofa on one side of the room, balance it out with two chairs on the other side, a loveseat and side table, or another sofa of equal weight. 
  • DO NOT offset dainty furniture on one end of a room with a bulky leather sectional sofa on the opposite end!

Scale in home design

Living room with big furnitureThe red sofas are way too big for this small space!

Scale usually refers to the size of an object in relation to the human body or to the room itself. Proportion refers to the size of an object relative to other objects in a room. To demonstrate how scale and proportion work together think about how a lamp shade should be in proportion to the lamp base, and the lamp should be in scale with the table it is placed on.

A room works better when furniture is similar in size and scale. If you mix overly tall furniture into a room full of short pieces, the effect can be uncomfortable. Your eye will be traveling up and down as you look around the room. How do you know if your scale is appropriate?

After you have moved your furniture into a room, stop and take a look at the tops of your furniture, starting from one end of the room and making your way around. Is your eye traveling on a roller coaster or have you managed to maintain a gradual line? If the line has extreme highs and lows, you will need to consider different furniture or make adjustments in that room.

If you need to add height, place plants or sculptures on tabletops, or hang pictures above to draw the eye upward.

Axis in home design

Living room interior design picturesA well balanced room. Two chairs balance the weight of the sofa. Dark-colored objects on fireplace mantle equal weight of taller candlesticks opposite. Artwork extends the eye to the ceiling.

The axis is a widely used principle in home interior design. An axis is basically an imaginary line. The easiest way to achieve a nice balance in your home design is through the use of symmetry (or implied symmetry) around a center axis.

Most of us are comfortable with a house design that is well balanced. We may not know it, but we feel good when we enter a house and see a room on the left, and a matching room on the right. The two rooms provide symmetry and a sense of order that just feels right.

When designing a room furniture layout, imagine a dividing line down the middle, usually at the greatest length. The elevation and focal point of a room should be considered, as well. Your goal is to make the focal point dominate the eye from floor to ceiling.

For example, adding a large piece of artwork, mirror, or tall accessories on the mantle of a focal point fireplace will extend the height and draw the eye upward.

You'll need to balance the fireplace on the axis of the opposite side of the room with something of similar width and height. You could use an armoire, a tall entertainment unit, even a low piece of furniture with artwork hanging above it to add extra height.

Asymmetrical rooms need to be balanced in the same fashion, it's just a bit trickier. This is where your knowledge of visual weight, balance, scale, and traffic patterns will help you out!

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