How to layout a narrow living room

7/08/2016 10:06:00 am Unknown 0 Comments

Whilst we'd all like to live in the perfect house, with ideally proportioned rooms and lovely period features, the reality is that most of us don't. Which is why I thought I'd share a design dilemma from a recent client project – how to layout a long, narrow living room. Every room has its pros and cons (and working out what these are is a good starting point for any design) but the long narrow living room is a pretty common issue. The client project in question involved an open plan living and dining space that required some serious spatial planning – so I thought I'd share the process and options.

The house is relatively new (built in the 1990s) with a small entrance porch leading into a long, thin open-plan living and dining area. It isn't a terribly narrow space, but it is long and complicated by multiple doors and stairs leading directly off the living area. Working out where to put the sofa and TV amidst all the comings and goings can be like trying to make a busy corridor feel cosy! We wanted to make the space feel usable and sociable without restricting flow around the ground floor.

The brief

The family needed their living space to accommodate 5-6 users at any one time – their 2 young children, au pair and a regular 'extra' guest too. They also wanted the design to include more storage for toys, books and general clutter; accommodate a piano, and be flexible enough to allow a floorspace to be cleared for yoga/exercise. As with most relatively new properties, there are no main features in the room (fireplaces, coving, alcoves etc) but they did not want the TV to become the main focus. Of course there was much more to the brief in terms of look and feel, but for now I'll focus on the practicalities of layout.

The crucial initial step was to consider the differing furniture arrangement options. We needed to allow traffic flow from the front door, through the living area to the stairs, dining area, kitchen and garden. I wanted to make the space work better for them, by creating a sociable and cosy seating area, more storage and usable zones for different activities.

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One of the easiest ways to tackle a long room is to subdivide it into more than one area. This helps to create intimacy (and means you don't have people sitting miles apart from each other with awkwardly spaced out furniture). We opted to start with a built-in window seat. The size and shape of the bay window really lent itself to this solution, as the distance between the floor and window sill was quite large (as is typical with newer bays) meaning there is space for a good back rest! Storage will be concealed beneath the seats. By adding a bistro table, this area can also be used as a sunny perch for a morning coffee, or a kids' colouring/homework corner.

Each of the layout options uses this window seat as a starting point. After many scribblings and iterations I narrowed it down to the following 4 options for a narrow living room layout, which I then went through with the clients.

Ultimately any of the above 4 layouts would work. Each has its pros and cons, and we found it pretty difficult to decide which one to go with. If you have a long narrow room, then it really pays to think about how you want to use the space. What activities do you want to include and what feeling do you want to create?  Here's the lowdown on the pros and cons of each layout option...

Layout 1 
PROS – This is a traditional seating arrangement, a sofa placed opposite a pair of armchairs. It is visually pleasing and sociable, allowing easy conversation. There is plenty of space to the left of the seating area to allow access to the stairs and dining/kitchen areas. The sofa placed horizontally divides the space, in particular separating the front door from the main seating area and creating behind it a zone for the piano and window seat.
CONS – The TV is end-on to the sofa, so viewing from the sofa is not ideal (not a major consideration for this particular client, but it may be if you're a box-set addict). There is also a fair amount of furniture and rug moving required to free up that requested exercise floorspace.

Layout 2

PROS – By moving the TV to the end wall of the living area, it is easier to view from the sofa.  The sofa placed across the room helps to separate the piano and window seat zone, whilst shielding the main living area from the front door as in layout 1.
CONS – the armchairs are in danger of blocking flow to the dining and kitchen areas, albeit low-backed choices minimise the visual impact. The client was concerned that this layout meant the focus was rather inward looking (i.e. in towards the TV rather than out towards the window).

Layout 3 

PROS – This is the most open of the layouts, with the sofa placed along the long wall and facing towards the stairs. There is space to squeeze in an extra armchair, meaning that when there are 5 people using the room, 3 of them don't have to be squashed onto the sofa. (Let's face it, no one chooses to sit in that middle seat!) In addition, the tall shelving unit adds some much needed height to the scheme, whilst visually shortening the room (in a good way).

CONS – The seating area is not really segregated from the stairs or entrance, so loses a little in terms of cosiness. The armchair in front of the entrance door needs to be low or 'visually light' so that it doesn't feel like a barrier into the room.

Layout 4 

PROS – The final layout contains an L-shaped sofa, which helps to define the seating area. Again this is good for comfortably accommodating 5-6 people at once. It also squares off the main living area and segregates it from the piano/window seat zone.
CONS – L-shaped sofas can be quite bulky and not quite so aesthetically pleasing as you walk into the room.

The decision

So, which option won out? Well after some debate we finally decided upon layout 3. The client wanted the room to look impressive as you walked in, with a really lovely sofa, and that ultimately clinched the win for layout 3. It also allowed the maximum seating and incorporated plenty of additional storage.

Alas, I can't show you any more of the room for the time being. This was an eDesign project, so the client is currently in the process of implementing the scheme – including redecorating and purchasing new furniture, lighting and accessories. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to share the before and after pics soon!

In the meantime, if you want to know more about eDesign services then check out this post.