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DESIGN MISTAKE: Too Much Furniture In One Room (With Real Life Agonies)

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design by samantha gluck | photo by alison bernier | from: house tour: a warm scandi-inspired home

I think it’s safe to say that we all have been staring at our furniture a bit more these days. Strange coincidence, I know. But if you’re ready/desperately want to shake things up in your space that requires the lowest of lift on a zero budget then this post might just give you the inspiration to do so. A few weeks ago we did a “design agony” call out to all you lovelies on Emily’s IG stories asking you to send us that space in your home that just doesn’t feel quite right. The number one design dilemma we got asked was, “Help, how do I layout my living room?”

Now, what if I told you ALL OF THEM had a common denominator. We realized it wasn’t so much how the furniture in the space was laid out as much as there was just too much of it or not enough in the right scale. Shocking and true. The good news though is that it’s a pretty easy fix. That’s how our new “Design Mistake: Too Much Furniture” was born.

So are you looking at your room again, now thinking this may be your problem too?? Well, today we are going to give all of the tips and tricks you need TO FIX/AVOID this happening to you with the help of our real reader’s living rooms agonies. We all get to learn together 🙂

Join me as we get into the mistakes below…but first let’s just take a moment longer to stare at someone else’s furniture like the living room of Samantha Gluck above. Ahhhhh thanks lady, that was soothing.

photo source

Why it isn’t working: When there are 8 chairs, 4 tables and 2 sofas in one room it might be time to eliminate a few to make that large space actually feel spacious. The solution might be as simple as removing the sofa and side table (which is too tall and long for the sofa) that is closer to the camera. Now let’s replace it with the two white wood frame chairs to help balance out the visually ‘heavy’ sofa. And instead of two club chairs in the corner, take one away and add a small pouf instead. There, that’s better. Although, I do think that having all the pieces match in a similar color palette helps the space not feel too overwhelming, unlike the next space.

photo source

Why it isn’t working: This room has A LOT going on between the amount of furniture, colors and sheer stuff in the space. Did you spot that second TV yet? Yeah, it took me a minute too. Saw that dog right away though, “hi puppy!” Getting rid of things can be a difficult task. Many of us hold onto items for years because someone important in our life gave it to us or there is a funny story behind it. What is hard to know at the time is that once that unnecessary piece is gone there will be space to breath again, both mentally and visually. Visual breathing room is an important element in all areas of art and design, including our homes. Even in a home FULL of things, like in the home tour Jess showed our eyeballs this past Monday, the furniture layout wasn’t overcrowded which made a huge difference in the space looking intentional instead of a crazy packed vintage store.

photo source

Why it isn’t working: Then again we aren’t telling you to be a crazy “minimalist” like in the home above. You don’t want your home to feel empty and sad. If you want a perfect example of going minimal, look to EHD’s own alum, Mel Burstin’s home. Update: we are still drooling all this time later. The space above, on the other hand, is lacking that feeling of home because it’s missing texture, warmth and you know, a side table.

So how do we find that balance between having to squeeze our bodies between two chairs, a table, and a sofa or being able to do a “front handspring step out, roundoff back handspring step out, roundoff back handspring, full. twisting. layout” without hitting a single piece of furniture? (Anyone else been binging some 90s/early 2000’s movies like, Bring It On, lately?) That is up next…

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: portland project: the living room reveal

Alright, Back to the Future…I mean, furniture. There are a lot of pieces in this living room from the Portland project and yet it still felt balanced thanks to those handy living room rules we like to follow here at EHD.

In case you need a refresher here are a few to start with:

  • Give 30″ to 36″ of a walkway between large furniture pieces (if your living room allows for it) if not then at least 18″-24″.
  • Make sure there is no less than 3.5′ and no more than 10′ of space between seating.
  • If possible sofas should never be flush to a wall. Pull it out 3-5″ and give it some breathing room.
  • Your coffee table should be at least half the length of your sofa and should be no more than 4″ higher or shorter than the top of your sofa seat cushions.
  • 16″ to 18” is the ideal distance between the sofa and coffee table.
  • Your area rug should be large enough for at least the front legs of the sofa and all chairs to rest on top of it.
  • Side tables should be no deeper than the depth of sofa and keep your side table close enough to set down a drink with ease. Which is typically 2-3″ from the height of the arm.
  • Accent Chairs should have around 42” (size of your room willing) between a set of living room accent chairs to be able to fit a small table in the middle. For a smaller room just place chairs side by side.
  • When pairing a sofa and accent chairs choose seat heights that are within 4″ of each other.
  • Make sure your console is the same height or a few inches shorter than the back of your sofa. It should also ideally have about 6″ of space on either end.
  • The distance between TV and sofa should be about 7′ and an optimal height for the center of the screen is 30 inches above the lowest seat height in the room.

Got all that? I know, it’s a lot of information and this is only the living room. Sometimes interior design can be overwhelming which is why we love to help out when we can. So today I am personally helping three of our very own readers with this agony/mistake. Before we begin, can I just say that you all are amazing? I love getting to work on these mini-projects and get to know all of you better, it’s such a fun part of my job.

Now time for the good ole real life, real deal stuff…

The “Hard to Pass-through” Living Room

First up we have Allie’s living room which doubles as a pass-through room. The doorway opening in the first photo is the main entrance to the house and the one on the right was taken from the dining area. This type of room is no easy feat to create a nice flow.

Especially when you add a piano to the space that is sitting along the only wall it can occupy. But here are a few things she will be able to try on her own to open things up a bit more.

Fingers crossed showing you the space from above (floor plan) will help to give you a better idea of what we are working with. To clarify, items highlighted in pink are ones we are suggesting to move & those with a dotted X are to relocate to a different room or possibly sell/donate. Anything that is in blue is new or just currently owned pieces of furniture that have been relocated.

Allie’s Current Setup

Like we mentioned, in the beginning, the layout of the pieces in the space is already great, it’s what we would’ve done as well. Here are the few tweaks that I am hoping she will be able to make…

My Recommendation

Instead of the yellow upholstered chair, I’d love for her to use that in a different space and swap it for a crowd favorite, the Ester Chair from Target, from the other side of the room. The reason is that the one from Target has a lower profile with open wood arms which makes the piece feel visually lighter when sitting right in front of the bookcase. It will also unblock the area to the dining room and lighten up that side of the living room which already feels a bit heavy with the black piano.

This next suggestion is a bit more of a long shot since it would require a new sofa which was not the point of this post. But ideally, the chaise on the sofa would be flipped to the other side near the piano. This would help to open up the room since there is a decent-sized bar cabinet on the left side, as well as avoid not “walking into the side of the sofa” when you first enter the space. In addition, it will also help to balance out the chair and ottoman near the bookcase. Pairing all of this with an oval coffee table will give the sense of flow (and shape contrast) I think Allie has been wanting for her home per.

The “Two Far Apart” Sofas

Molly has the classic long and narrow living room dilemma. This type of space brings up the age ole question, to zone or not to zone? However, she had the room, so why wouldn’t she create more sitting areas for her guests? I completely agree but I believe that when creating a “new zone,” having it serve a different function helps to truly make it feel purposeful.

Molly’s Current Setup

So what are we suggesting to do for Molly? Start by eliminating the elements that feel more like they are crowding the space than adding to it, this would be the settee and lounge chair by the door opening.

My Recommendation

To help make the space feel cohesive, Molly could try facing the two sofas towards each other in the center of the room. Ideally, she would have a larger rug, a 9’x12′ would work great, and layer that cowhide on top for some added texture. Right now the console table feels like it is cramped along the wall with two windows. So instead, she could try placing it under the smaller, higher up window with a big vessel with branches or layer some large leaning art next to the table lamp. In addition, she could try is adding in a small game table and chairs or keep that lounge chair in the corner. If she prefers the lounge chair, I think adding a small pouf and side table will really help to define the zone.

The Bigger Is Not Always Better

Last but not least is our “not enough furniture/too large of scale” living room. Before I could even mention it to Rachel, she emailed me saying that she regretted buying this L-shaped sectional. She thought since her ceilings were tall (12′ in the middle and 10′ on the sides) that meant she should fill the space will large furniture. When picking out furniture think about the useable floor space and how you need the piece to function day to day (instead of just how high the ceilings are).

Rachel quickly realized the first time her extended family came for a visit, that she needed more individual seating rather than one long piece. She also mentioned that the side of the sectional by the window rarely gets used (even though it’s the larger side) since it is hard to see the TV from that vantage point. (FYI the table to the left is a temporary nail studio so wasn’t included in the graphic below.)

Rachel’s Current Setup

This is one that I am suggesting a fresh start, well actually Rachel brought it up first. She is ready to sell and figure out a new sofa that would fit better in the space and for her family’s needs. One large item that I think the space is lacking is an appropriate size rug, a 10’x14′ would give enough coverage for the necessary furniture and help deafen the inevitable echos that come with high ceiling and hardwood floors.

My Recommendation

By adding a more narrow sofa with a chaise will help open up the window area for other seating options. Swivel chairs are great for a space like this that needs to function for conversation and/or binge-watching Netflix. And although it wasn’t shown in the photos in this post, Rachel did tell me she put a lounge chair and ottoman in the corner by the dining room opening which I think is great. Lastly, to balance out all the boxy shapes, a round coffee table and side table would help be the cherry on top.

Well, that’s it! Maybe you need to remove a chair (or two) or maybe you need to snag a side table from another room (or the internet) to make your space feel so much better. Regardless, a quick little “edit” might be the answer you didn’t even know you needed. So, let us know if you are now inspired to play around with your furniture this weekend and maybe repurpose a piece to a different room. Or if you need a little personalized guidance Either way we will be with you in the comments to help answer any of your quandaries. See you down there! xx

In case you want to check out our OTHER design mistakes: The Generic Sofa Roundup | Rugs That Are Too Small | Painting A Small, Dark Room White | Bad Wood Finishes | How To Hang Curtains | How To Hang Art Correctly | Generic Art | Not Having A Plan | Who Pays For Design Mistakes | My Biggest Design Mistakes -And What You Can Learn From Them | When to Hire vs. DIY

***Opener Photo Credits: Design by Samantha Gluck | Photo by Alison Bernier

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The color coded before/after floor plans were really helpful! I would have difficulty following along with word descriptions alone for sure. I also appreciate the reuse of existing furniture and only suggesting new pieces when there would be big functional benefit. More posts like these please!

Jessvii

I wouldn’t have been able to follow this without the floor plans. The EHD team is great!

Lori

I couldn’t even follow the first version of the floor plan with things crossed out. I guess my brain doesn’t work that way. I was very happy to see the revised floor plans!

Jo

Thanks for continuing to write posts through this time, it is such a welcome distraction and i look forward to them every day!
This post is exactly what i needed!! Thank you!
I have a living room which is nearly exactly the same as Allie’s and is currently filled with way too much and oversized furniture! I have never known how to make it work!
I am now going to try and rearrange stuff around the house to the plan you provided above! i am already excited!

Jess

This is amazing!! I miss being able to zoom in on my phone (is there a way to do this that I am missing), can’t wait to open this on my laptop! We have a long narrow living room with doorways on 3/4 walls, it’s all kinds of frustrating!

A

if you open the post in Instagram, you can’t zoom in! but if you open it in a browser, you can.

Courtney

I also can’t zoom in on my phone (haven’t been able to on this website for probably a year or more). Would be so helpful to see details!

Amy

I loved this post! It was so good to actually see the floor plans of before and after. Truly helped me to understand and “see” what you were describing. I would love to see more posts like this in the future. Your designs are so beautiful!

K

I agree with Amy! This was a great post and I’d love to see more of these. The floor plans were incredibly helpful!

Audra

We are in the process of renovating an octagon house, with the main floor having the kitchen, dining, and living room spaces all open to one another. I’m struggling with how to place the living room furniture (sectional and 2 side chairs), so we can lounge and watch the TV without losing the lake view!

Lori

I’m jealous! I love octagon houses!

Lauren

Love this post. The double pass thru room is my problem too!!

Is there a way we could send photos and measurements and have this kind of consultation via email for a fee? Not redesign the whole room, but just get advice and direction?

Is that something you all do at EHD?

Marianne

More of these types of posts! So helpful to see real scale modest homes and recommendations that don’t require purchasing all new furniture! My problem is working with sentimental pieces of furniture. I have an antique China cabinet that doesn’t really work in my living room and gives it that too crowded look. However, it’s a family heirloom and I love it, so trying to make it work.

JEQ

I loved this post especially all the “living room rules”. I recently moved into a new home and I quickly learned that the living space is an awkward one for TV watching. I am currently waiting for delivery of a “revised” chaise sofa (chaise flipped to opposite side after realizing the right side chaise will give more options for better TV viewing) Other than the sofa, I have not yet bought anything! I am debating two chairs vs. 1 chair and also, which wall to mount the TV. Is it possible to send photos/floorplan for some guidance?

Love this post! Seeing real life spaces is so great and I loved the before and after floor plans.

AP

Love this post! More like this please!!

Molly

Yes yes yes! So fun to see real homes and to see you helping real people with their design agonies!

luci

This is just amazing!!!! Truly inspiring! Thank you Emily!

Jessica

What a fantastic idea for a post. What app do you use for floor plans? We’re about to move to a non-square apartment (it has just one 90 degree corner), and are going to have a hard time arranging the living/dining room.

If Allie is reading, I’d love to know more about that quarter-circle painting over the yellow chair!

Jessica

Also – how did I miss Mel’s home tour??? :heart-eyes:

Vanessa

Love this content! So easy to follow with the color coded visuals you created. This is exactly the type of reworking of our living spaces that we’re all contemplating as we stay home.

Briana

This is great! I am so tempted to play with our layout, but am continuously stuck. It is ok as is but feels just a little off. We have one large room with a dining area and living room, with the stairs off to one side. Figuring out how to define space but deal with a “pass through” part of the living room (where you would essentially pass in front of the tv if we moved things) is so difficult. If you take up more images for problem solving, I’d love to submit!

Sarah

Hi! I have a long, narrow family room
and a brick fireplace on one end. I know we need more seating, and I’m hoping to get a sofa with a chaise, as well as redecorate in terms of the rug, pillows, etc. But the layout is tough! We currently have a play area in the same room for our 4 year old and 1 year old. The layout question is driving me crazy and it keeps me from making changes in there! Any help would be SUCH a relief! We have a 3rd on the way and my nesting instinct is in full force. Cannot WAIT to tackle this space.

Kelly

Everyone say to keep your furniture away from the walls. No matter what I do, my sofa slides to the wall. I have tried those gripper pads – they didn’t work. Any other ideas?

Jess

My husband made some wood blocks to put behind the couch legs at the distance we want it away from the wall. Luckily, they don’t show bc if the couch and where it is located. Does the trick

Angela King

What to do with so many windows….our living room has 4 sets of large windows. Not a bad problem to have – but a struggle in terms of layout. There is also a large fireplace, its an open passage way to our dining room and the walls are not flat – they have some cutouts that make placing a console table or buffet on them look strange.. Its a design struggle trifecta!

Deb M

Love this topic!!! Would love to see more of this, please.

Jenms

This is SO GREAT! Please do more posts like this!

Rusty

So refreshing to see real life living roomswith real life problems! My fav kind of problem solving in design is trying to work with what you already gave, by changing placement around. On another note: I’m blaming your blog for this! I have never contemplated buying decorating items online. I just haven’t done it, because I love to see things in person, touch them, feel the te tures, see how glossy or mot a glaze is, etc. Well … now that the new website is up n running, the ds are specific to me in Perth, Western Australia and … I’ve been SERIOUSLY considering buying two lamps for my mantle! Why? Because the ads pop up on your blog! Thing is, they’re my fav shops and I cannot go because I’m in the 4% high risk group …. buuuuuut, waaaaaaait … I’ve just chosen @ 12 to show my partner when the time is right, because I think I might just DO it and get them! By reviewing my choices, I’ve found a trend that I like. Squat-ish bases with handmade elements and a textured, yet simple fabric shade. I didn’t see the common elements until now. Thank you to… Read more »

Molly

Go for it! Get the lamps!

Angella

@Julie Rose- What program did you use to make these awesome floor plans?

Josh

Great post! Love the options and application to real life. Thank you! I’d love to see more of this type. Maybe some bedroom posts like this?

Roberta Davis

I love space planning- which is what this is- Space Planning 101. Only 2 comments. The last thing I would ever want to sit on is a pouf. They usually aren’t even comfortable to use as footrests. Second, I think that what makes a room look fantastic when styled for a shot, is probably not always really comfy to live in (because the spacing is different, for one thing). That said, I think your recommended floor plans are right on! Thanks for a fun and practical post!

Jenn

This is so helpful, thank you!

Becca

This is great content! I love the practicality and accessibility to the average person. Thank you for meeting people where they are at and showing us how to work with what we have and make small improvements. I also love that you included rationale for every change! That’s helpful for those that have to convince someone in their home with less of a design eye WHY the change is better.

Samantha

Ok, two things:

First of all, this is such a good post. I could happily read these all year. So helpful.

Second – my friend just bought Emily’s book, used, and it seems to be signed?! I’m geeking out about it. Is there a way to see if its really Emily’s signature? It’s quite big and loopy, on the first page. Can anyone help confirm?

Courtney

I love this post and all design agony posts! They are so approachable and easy to input myself into these real homes. I have a room similar to Rachel’s and loved the recommendations Julie gave. Thank you Julie! I’d love to see more posts like this.

Great idea for a post! Loved the detail and layouts! Any ideas on good, modest-sized swivel chairs that don’t look like they’re from the 70s??

Denise

Thank you for taking the time to write this informative post during this crazy time in our lives. I love the useful tips you’ve given us.

Ella

Oh man. I have been working on figuring out a layout for our basement/den for sooo long and early in the process I latched onto an L-shaped sectional from Interior Define (the Asher in the evergreen felt). I haven’t bought anything for the room yet but this has me rethinking all of my choices (and I can’t afford to regret a $2400+ furniture purchase, ha). Guess I’ll just have to stare at my moodboard for a while longer with these tips in mind before pulling any triggers. 🙂

nora

Verrrry satisfying.

Margaret

Really enjoyed this post. Thanks, and more, please.
A few weeks ago I removed one chair and a small table from my living room. I use the space for bad-weather dog training, and also need to keep my bike (currently on a wind-trainer) in here. It looks, and functions, much better.
But I do have a new problem. My favorite one-block-away thrift store is closed under the stay-at-home order, and the discards are in purgatory on the back porch, taking up space. Yes, that’s a still-healthy person’s first-world problem, but still annoying.

Lori

I can’t even finish reading because I’m so excited that the layout for Allie’s room might work for me. I reeeeeeeeeally want to redo my living room AND want a section AND have a pass through room that leads to the dining room (where her foyer entry is) and stairs (where her dining room entry is). Yay!

I think my only remaining problems are that my living room is smaller than hers, so I have to work with scale. I also worry that having the chaise part of the sectional will make it feel like dead space in that back corner (I have a window there). Some of my neighbors have it that way and it feels a little blocked off. However, this gives me a lot of ideas to play with when I make my little paper models. 🙂

Sydney

Thanks for this post! I was just realizing, having been staring at my living room for the past few weeks, that it does have too much/awkwardly laid out furniture in it. Have you done a post about combo spaces and I just can’t find it? Our front door opens up into the living room, but the living room is also a pass through space with doorways to our dining room, hallway to bedroom, and den, so it needs to have an entry area, a formal living room feel, but also flow/walk space to those other areas. Now I’m thinking of submitting to Design Agony for help in figuring this room out!

Linda

That was super informative. Thank you so much for the pictures and design comments.

Amy

Team, have you ever considered a private FB group for your fans where we could post pics and ask you guys and other fans for suggestions, or to show new projects, DIYs, etc? That would be the perfect venue to interact together, especially now, where as you can see from the comments, many people are looking for ideas on how to tweak their homes. It would be great! You can screen the folks requesting to join by verifying that they are signed up to receive your posts.

andrea

Um, doesn’t look like that coffee table rule of 16-18″ from couch was applied in the Portland living room photo. It has always looked weird to me that the coffee table is floating in the room equidistant from the couch and chairs. After all, the chairs have their own table between them on which they can set a drink. As long as I’m on a roll, not crazy about the side tables either; they seem too high and spindley & matchy.
I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I liked this post. So, fascinating to see how other people live!

Megan Lynch

This post comes at such the right time! or wrong for me…..I have a 1 year old sectional that is super comfy, custom indoor/outdoor fabric, lovely lines…… but after being in our new home for a little over a year I realize it’s too big for the space. When we have guests people don’t sit in a row on the sofa, there is always a haggle for the one swivel chair or people pull-in chairs from our kitchen table. I’m really wishing I bought a smaller sofa with 2 chairs. Any posts about the best way to sell furniture? I’m not ready or in a place to take a few $K hit by just letting my sofa loose on craigslist for a dime. I know Chairish? are there others?

Mary E

I want to use a swivel chair in my new “Small House” living room. How about a post on great swivels that don’t look like MY grandma’s!!

Sahaja Carpenter

This was a FANTASTIC post! So glad you put the floor plans, like others mentioned below.
I am wondering – can you guys do a mini post on how you style vases? Seriously, u guys are amazing at botanicals and filling a space with them esp horizontally. And I can never do it the same. Even a round of up of pictures to look at to reference. I tried pinterest-ing it as I just got one of those open circle vases and no idea what to put in it.

Melanie

This is really fantastic!!! I have been loving your posts on styling tips and layouts!!

I could really use some personalized help. We built a house but it has a very large and awkward great room. 20’ ceilings, windows (going to 9’) flanking the 20’ tall focal fireplace, room dimensions of 17’ width by 28’ long, 8’ stairwell pony wall in the middle on the left side, tv long wall on the right.

I’d love to send a few pics and have your team take a look and advise on it.

Kim

Great post that came at the right time as I stare at all of my rooms wondering how I can improve them. We have a long and narrow living room that we’ve laid out in several different ways since moving in, but it seems like an impossible space to make functional and nice-looking at the same time. It’s a pass through room with three doorways total plus a fireplace. Ideally it’d be zoned into a sitting area and a play area with some additional seating, but I just can’t figure out what type of furniture or layout would make this work.

Chelsea

This is legit one of the most helpful posts I’ve ever read on this site! While the descriptions were great, seeing the floorpans in before-and-after mode is genius — it really illustrated the points you were making. I could read one of these a week!! Well done 🙂

Kate

This was such a useful and interesting post! I’ve never commented before but just had to say how wonderful this was. More please!

Jess A

This was fun but would have been soooo much more satisfying with some afters from the ladies! Maybe you can do an update post if any of them send you new pics?

Rachel

Julie, you’re my hero!! I have agonized over my living room and never in a million years would I have thought to put swivel chairs under that window, but who doesn’t love a swivel chair or two?! I can’t wait to find all the perfect pieces for the layout you came up with… I may end up sending you the mood board before I purchase all the things so I don’t regret this living room again! Thanks so much!!

Leah

This post was so informative! Please keep making actionable, accessible content like this. Would love to see before / after layouts for reader photos for other key rooms (dining, bedroom, etc)

Madeleine

This post is so helpful! We live in a small 1000 sq ft house and just bought a new sofa with reversible chaise and smaller PB recliner to go in our living room, but the way we arranged them seems awkward. There is a limit to where we can place them in the room because of the front door/ pass through to the next room. I would love some recommendations if you have time!

Maureen

Thank you Emily! This article is so helpful!

Can you please advise what are the dimensions for Molly’s living room?

grace

This was a great post! I once bought a chunky sofa for my living room and on a floor plan it looked like it would fit, with 24″ on either side of the armrests. But when I got it in, I realized it was too large for the space. Thankfully I was able to move it into the basement but I wonder, is there a way that one would’ve been able to predict it wouldn’t have worked otherwise?

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