Home Interior Designs: Choosing Furniture
It helps when planning furniture for various rooms to think in terms of ‘rooted’ and ‘peripheral’ or ‘floating’ pieces. Sofas, beds, pianos, bookcases, dining tables and storage walls are definitely rooted pieces, as are armchairs and any sort of storage. In the peripheral or floating category come occasional chairs and side and coffee tables; these contribute to the overall effect of contrast — solidity and lightness, permanence and fluidity. Clearly, you will have to buy first the large, comfortable root items. Once these are installed you can adjust your ideas about the floaters, perhaps even improvising them — for example, you could make your own coffee table using a sheet of thick glass set on a cube-shaped base.
Since, if you are planning ahead for any length of time, you will need to keep colour in mind, it is probably best to start with a neutral palette, arranging your contrasts by means of textural differences and subtle gradations: you can always add the colours as you go along. Remember that dark walls will always make a room look more ‘furnished’ and richer than in fact it is. Dark greens, Pompeiian or Victorian reds, terracottas, deep blues and chestnutty browns are all extremely helpful colours to use if your budget is restricted.
When you purchase a piece of upholstered furniture —a sofa, armchair or chaise — opt for the very highest quality you can afford: you really do ‘get what you pay for’ when buying such pieces. A good combination for chair and sofa seats is a foam core surrounded by down; this gives you both softness and firmness.
However beguiled you might be by light colours — the luxurious look of creams and whites, soft rose and blue — do not even think of buying such fabrics if you have children or pets or do a lot of entertaining. While there have been quite radical improvements in fabric treatments, it is best not to test providence too hard. Reupholstering is expensive, so if you act on your preference for light colours you may have to forfeit or put off other elements of your ideal room.
Most rooms in a home arrange themselves, in the sense that there are only so many places that you can put the bed, storage units, the dining table or whatever. Living rooms, however, are a different kettle of fish: it is the living room that almost invariably exercises our imagination and flexibility the most. In the first place, this is the room that is most on view to other people; in the second place, a living room always requires at least one focal point and this is always difficult in one of our modern box-like apartment rooms without any fireplace or particular view.
Obviously the shape of the room — long and narrow, square or irregular — will dictate arrangement as much as the various activities that will go on in the room: general relaxation, conversation, reading, music-making, watching television, and so on. Also, you must allow for easy movement to and from the door and around pieces of furniture. About 90cm/3ft is the optimum space to allow for a passageway. There should be about 45cm/ 18in between a coffee table and a sofa or chair, and about 75-90cm/30-36in should be allowed at the back of dining chairs around a table, whether that table is in the living room or in a separate dining room.
A good plan is to think of seating first, the other furniture afterwards. The optimally comfortable arrangement for good conversation and general relaxation is a large sofa and a small sofa or love seat at right angles, faced by two comfortable armchairs and supplemented. If there is room, by occasional chairs and ottomans. This provides the classic conversation group. Occasional chairs can then be pulled up to the main seating group or used to form small groups of their own, by the side of a small round table, for example. A small, narrow room might take only one sofa and a couple of armchairs, or a pair of sofas opposite each other with a couple of occasional chairs. In other small rooms there will be space only for an L-shaped arrangement — modular seating, say, flanking a large coffee table. Again, a small room can be milked of every inch of space if you build bookshelves or storage units all around it leaving two recesses on right-angled walls to take a pair of small sofas. Other ways of getting in extra seating without taking up too much actual floor space include the use of benches around the fireplace and window seats.
A foolproof way of tackling any sort of room arrangement is to make a scale plan of the room and to cut the shapes of your items of furniture out of thin coloured cardboard. These you can move around until you think you have found the best solution. Obviously, every seat should have good light as well as some sort of small table nearby on which to put books, drinks, sewing and so on. Again, depending on the room’s size and shape and your spending power, you may need bookshelves or some form of wall storage for things like your stereo, VCR tapes, records, drinks and games, as well as side tables, a coffee table and perhaps some sort of round table with a cloth on it to add softness as well as an extra display surface.
It is important to remember that a room is made interesting as much by the differences in scale of the various pieces as by the pieces themselves. This is not so much a matter of aesthetics as of variations in the sizes — especially the heights — of the various items, for a good sense of balance in a space is as visually necessary as a contrast in texture and colour. A room will look boring, however beautiful the furniture, if everything is much the same height. The usual problem is that everything is around or below waist-level. This can be remedied by adding a tall secretary desk, if you can afford one, or a tall bookcase or storage wall, or a screen, or, of course, tall plants and lamps (especially the sculptural halogen variety). Even the most modern and minimal of rooms will benefit from the addition of some larger taller piece.
Another way of obtaining the same effect is simply to position a large picture — or a block of smaller prints or paintings — over a side table, sofa or chest. Paradoxically, in a low-ceilinged room tall objects will actually deceive the eye in such a way that the ceiling appears higher, just as tall objects placed at the end of a corridor or hallway will give the space good perspective.
Making a Focal Point
If you have no fireplace and no other particular focal point around which to arrange the room, do not despair: it is quite possible to create a focal point if you are prepared to use a little ingenuity. If, for example, there is no particular view and the windows themselves are undistinguished, you can still convert them into an attractive feature by framing them with a lambrequin (a valance that goes over three sides of the window) made of painted or covered wood or of stiffened fabric (lined, perhaps, with buckram).
Alternatively you can frame a window from floor to ceiling using 3cm x 15cm/1-1/4in x 6in planks of wood cut to order by your local supplier, applying the thin edge to the walls so as to give added length. If you do this you can even add a window seat by stretching a shelf across the two sides at sill level (or whatever is the best seat-height) and putting on it a piece of foam slip covered to match or contrast with the window treatment. Windows can also be edged by full-length folding screens or by shutters, which might be louvred, painted, lacquered or covered with fabric.
Other focal points around the perimeter of a room can give it added character: a generous wall of books or storage set neatly with stereo components or a collection of memorabilia; or a dresser or hutch, commode or console (old or modern) with a mirror over it.
In a bedroom, the natural focal point of the room will be the bed itself, particularly if it is a brass antique. To emphasise an unspectacular bed, you could position it diagonally in the room or create a dramatic drapery headboard using fabric which matches or coordinates with your other soft furnishings. To attract attention away from a bed, decorate the window with an elaborate treatment.