How to arrange a space in order to maximise practicality and have it looking great is one of the hidden arts of interior design. People write to us all the time with awkward shaped rooms, or just not quite knowing why the space isn't working for them, so I thought I'd lay out my top 10 tips to help people get their rooms in order.
#1 Identify the uses of the space
Every family uses their home in a different way. Do your children do their homework at the breakfast bar? Do you love to read in the Living Room? Has the space under the stairs turned into a home office? Do you have an open plan area that needs to function both as a living and dining area?
The best starting place for organising a space is recognising the functions that it needs to perform so that you can properly plan around that. Ideally study and reading spaces need a good amount of natural light in the day and direct functional light when it gets dark. Convenient storage is also key, so planning in toy boxes where children like to play, benches and coat racks where people take off their coats and shoes and bookcases where people like to read can help prevent all kinds of clutter.
#2 Zoning a space
When you have an open plan or multi-functional space it can be really helpful to create distinct zones within that space. Rugs are a great tool for this. Consider using a rug to define a dining or living area by using a big enough rug to encompass all of the furniture from that zone, plus walking space, or a rug in the centre of the seating area. Remember that a rug under a dining area needs to be big enough to ensure Auntie Joan's chair doesn't slip off it when she exuberantly sits back from dinner!
Lighting is also a great tool for zoning a space. A low hanging pendant over a dining table highlights the table itself as well as helping to create an intimate space. Use of decorative wall cladding, a picture wall or headboard can give clear definition of a zone and can even be backlit for added effect.
One of the most common mistakes novice designers make is not getting the scale of furniture and distances between fixed objects right. The science of ergonomics allows us to ensure there is enough usable space to be practical, comfortable and to allow natural movement and flow. As a rule of thumb, try to maintain a 120cm distance around static furniture for mobility.
For rooms like kitchens, how you move and work in the area is the most important consideration to make using the space most enjoyable. The golden rule is that you should ideally have your main work areas (fridge, sink and cooker) in a triangle to allow easy, central movement between the three.
When creating intimate, cosy areas within large spaces, focus on comfortably spacing your furniture around your focal point. Try not to let your arrangement drift apart too much, so you can maintain a relaxed feel. Moving furniture away from walls to create a space within the space helps with this, and also makes for easy movement in and out of that zone.
#4 Identify the focal point
Every room has at least one focal point, and if yours isn't obvious, make one. Classic focal points include windows, patio doors or fireplaces. In a large zoned space there should be a focal point for each zone.
If you need to create a focal point, this is a great opportunity to unleash your creativity. How about a gallery wall, an attractive side board with a quirky mirror and some accessories or a media unit with shelving display?
Once you have identified your focal point, arrange your furniture around it to ensure it can be appreciated in your day to day life.
#5 Symmetry and Asymmetry
Creating a pleasing space around your focal point is all about balance. The easiest way to achieve this is by keeping your design symmetrical, for example a side table with matching lamps either side of your sofa, or arranging a mantelpiece with taller items to either side and shorter items in the centre.
Asymmetry can also be extremely pleasing to the eye, but needs to be orchestrated with deliberate precision to avoid a cluttered or haphazard look. Think in diagonals, for example having a tall item like a floor lamp to the left of your sofa and a low item like a footstool to the right.
Scale is so important to the feel of a design. We all have the urge to maximise the use of our space, and it may well be tempting to get the largest sofa you can fit into your living room, but always bear in mind that you also need to move around your furniture and cramming it in can make a room feel smaller than it actually is. Similarly in a large space, make sure that the furniture wont feel dwarfed. If you have an oversized room, you need oversized furniture!
The scale of patterns for wallpaper, murals and fabrics can make a big impression also. I love the magic that is created by using a large scale print (it almost fills me with childlike wonder facing human sized flowers) but these are big statements to make, so you need to find the right one and be in love with it as a staring point for your design. When hunting for fabric for upholstery, cushions or lampshades, remember that only a small part of the fabric will be seen, so make sure the scale allows the design to be shown off to its fullest.
Never underestimate the atmospheric potential of lighting. We like to use a good range of practical and feature lighting in spaces. Remember that blue light keeps you awake, so try to ensure you have warm light available in areas where you relax in the evening.
Functional lighting involves ensuring all parts of your home can be well lit when you need it to be. Pay particular attention to utility areas like work surfaces, desks and reading nooks. There are few things more frustrating than trying to cut an onion and finding your own head blocking the only available light.
Invisible or hidden lighting creates or accentuates features. It is where the light is cast that grabs the attention and leads to many creative possibilities.
Feature lighting is a thing of beauty in its own right. I like to ensure a good spread of lamps around a living room to ease the creation of warm and cosy evenings. There are so many absolutely stunning feature pendant lights that any kitchen island, dining table, stairwell or even bedside tables can be anchors for a spectacular lighting feature.
#8 Accent colours
Every scheme needs at least one accent colour. Even monochrome schemes will have a tone that acts as an accent.
A basic three colour scheme consists of a main colour, secondary and accent colour. The main colour should occupy around 60% of the space. This is commonly your wall colour, so it can be helpful to think of it as a backdrop for the rest of the scheme. Your secondary colour occupies around 30% of your scheme, so will feature on large items like your sofa, curtains and so forth. Your secondary colour needs to compliment and sit harmoniously with your main colour whilst being different enough to deliver pleasant contrast. Your accent colour needs to "pop" against the other two colours. This is generally the colour that will bring your scheme to life, so will often essentially be your favorite colour in the room, but it should only occupy 10% of the space. Accent colours should appear on accent items like cushions, throws, lampshades, vases, artwork etc.
In terms of arranging your colours in your space, think about layering the colours on top of each other. You want to ensure highlights of your accent colour are well distributed throughout your space so that wherever you look you get a little pop of wow.
#9 Features and tricks
We can't always have the perfect space for our needs and have to start thinking creatively.
Say you have what would have been a feature fireplace, but it's been blocked up, you can get creative about turning it into a different type of feature. Why not fill it with attractive logs or add a trio of candle lanterns to tribute its original purpose, or put shelves inside to make a little bookcase?
Use feature walls to add interest to your space. You may even want to indulge in the recent trend of wallpapering the 5th wall, aka your ceiling.
Traditionally very small rooms tend to have been decorated in light colours to help them feel bigger, but why not go dark and turn your small room into an opulent, cosy, womb-like space, inviting you to curl up with a hot chocolate and a good book?
Use the height. Need extra bed space, but only have a small guest room? Consider bunk beds. They don't need to be the ugly dorm room classics from a backpacking gap year: there are some stunning and adult friendly options available on the market and you can even have something special made bespoke.
You have followed all of the advice above and the room still looks dull: do you have blank spots? Identify dead space and find ways to make use of it. Do you have high ceilings and all of the visual interest is down low? Consider putting in a picture rail and taking the ceiling colour part way down your wall or using wall decor to lead the eye. Every blank space is an opportunity, just remember to stop before you create clutter.
Want to draw attention away from a specific area? Paint it dark. The eye will naturally be drawn to the light areas and features in front of a dark backdrop.
#10 First impressions count
It may seem odd to leave the "first impressions" tip until last, but when the functionality of the room has taken shape and things are coming together is often the best time to check the first impression.
This is exactly how it sounds. Walk out of the room and come in again as if viewing with fresh eyes. Is this an inviting space to walk into? Are there obstacles to where you want to walk when you enter, or does the traffic flow feel natural and pleasing? Is your desired colour palette represented from the moment you open the door and your eye lead into the room? This is your home, so every space should invite you in, represent you and most importantly make you feel...well...at home.