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Is your house an obstacle course?

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Hands up if you know what negative space is? It's a little bit of a misnomer as there's nothing negative about it: it's the empty space around your house that enables you to circulate easily to and from and through each room.

Hands up if you regularly have to dodge items of furniture?

It's as important to consider the empty spaces in your house as much as the spaces we fill with our stuff. Imagine if you tried to read a paragraph of text with no spaces - it would be hard to navigate wouldn't it?

How to identify why a room isn't working

I was recently asked by a client to help him choose new flooring for his flat. This then quickly turned into new furniture for his dining area, and whilst I was there looking at that space, I suggested we re-organise the living area because it made no sense to me, which in turn led to me choosing a new sofa. In good design, the whole space should be considered when changing any one singular thing, particularly if it's open plan.

For this client, the issues were many. The flooring that was down was a dull and lifeless grey and the planks were going horizontally across the room - where possible, and especially in a smaller space, the design of the flooring should lead your eye to the end of the room and beyond. This increases the feeling of space. The flooring we chose was a honey-coloured parquet which adds warmth and the chevrons of the herringbone design lead you eye all the way through the living space to the bedrooms.

The next problem was that there was too much furniture. He has a good eye and buys nice pieces, but forgets that he lives in a flat, not a 4-bed detached house. It therefore felt like the main living space was carved up and blocked off by various pieces of furniture from the minute you walked in the door. You had to stand there and take a minute and work out the best way through the room.

How to successfully plan furniture layouts

To successfully design a space you need to almost listen to the room. You should always buy furniture to fit the proportions of the room, not try and squeeze in furniture because you like it. If you live in a smaller space then you should buy smaller more compact, possibly multi-functional, pieces. Furniture with legs and items such as coffee tables made of glass will be your friends as they will let light through and won't block the space as much.

In a flat, circulation can be particularly tricky as you may have several different areas in one room and you might think that having 'dead space' is a waste. Different areas should be zoned by maybe using a rug in one area, a different wall colour or covering in another, but also consider the height of the various areas. Another reason this client's living area layout didn't work particularly well was because everything was at a similar low level. When you have a large open plan area you need to add interest and another way of zoning is to add height.

The previous low round dining table and chairs looked beautiful, but they were never used and turned into an obstacle to be navigated several times a day. If a piece of furniture doesn't function as it should then it shouldn't be there. It was up to me therefore to come up with something that looked great and created a bit of drama in the room to add interest.

Think about the people using the space

As my client is tall, I suggested we have a high rectangular bar table with 4 bar stools. As a bespoke item it would fit perfectly into the rectangular dining area space and add height and therefore interest to that part of the room. The result is that there's a big empty space where the old round table used to be, and it looks great as you can move from one area to another of the room without having to deviate from your course! You can also see a large swathe (lovely word!) of the new flooring.

Because we were re-organising the living area my client had decided to buy a new sofa. The old one was pretty, but not really big enough or comfortable enough. This posed another problem: buying a sofa in lockdown without being able to try it out. Not only that, but the size of the sofa would be dictated by the need to get it through the door and the narrow entrance area.

Luckily for us in the last couple of years there has been a bit of a revolution in sofas for small spaces: the sofa in a box (I used Snug who were the first ones to bring this idea to market, but there are now others). What an invention! We bought a generous size 3-seater sofa that came in three boxes and took less than 5 minutes to put together with zero tools! The seat cushions are very thick foam and nicely firm and the back cushions are feather-filled with just the right amount of squish. My client couldn't be happier.

The new flooring, the streamlined dining area, and the re-organised living area means that the flat is now a much calmer, more comfortable space. The negative space left by removing unnecessary or dysfunctional furniture provides a clear walkway through the flat from the front door to the bedrooms, and the whole space can breathe, and so can the people who live there.

If you've got a layout that doesn't work but you can't work out why then please get in touch and we'll work it out together.

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