Arrange furnishings to encourage conversations

Do you have a room that is difficult to arrange? Is the room a nice size, but not a standard shape? Do you have a small or large room and just don't know where to start? Recently, a client asked me to help redesign her dining/living room as she was having a problem with furniture placement. She has a nice-sized room, but the living room portion is oversized and deciding what to do with the extra area was a challenge.

I've discovered over the years that it's not just small rooms that have furniture arrangement problems, large rooms have challenges of their own.

The challenge Barb has is that her living and dining room is an "L" shape. When you have an L-shaped room, you should treat the room as three squares so that the areas will flow and feel connected. You need to bring angles into the room and not line the walls with furniture because an L-shaped room is really two oblong rooms, or what you may also hear called a bowling alley room. To break the bowling alley feel, you have to bring in angles.

In the before picture, you can see how disconnected the living room areas are. You need to understand that because it is a large space those sitting in these areas will not carry on a conversation together as anything that is more than 8 feet apart is not within conversation distance. But, the areas should still be connected to each other to make the room feel comfortable to be in.

So, where do you start and what did we do? First, empty the room of everything. I know you can do it because Barb's room was completed by two students in one of my redesign classes. It's important to complete this step so that you can look at your room as a blank canvas. It's too easy to see it only as it has been set up and by emptying the room you'll have a new perspective.

After looking at the architecture of the room, the room's shape and the wall shapes, start placing the furniture back in. To break the bowling alley feel, we had to create attractive focal points for each seating area.

In every room there needs to be at least one focal point. A focal point is something that draws your eye in, an area that is colorful and attractive. A focal point can be an architectural item, such as a fireplace, or a created one with furniture and artwork. You want to be able to see your focal points when you enter the room as well as enjoy them while sitting in the room.

We started with the main seating area and placed the sofa on an angle facing into the corner of the L and continued to bring in the other leather pieces. Instead of placing the sofa and love seat together as is customary, we placed the love seat into the lower half of the L to make a cozy seating area and balance the visual weight of the leather in the room.

Remember, just because you bought all of the pieces as a set doesn't mean you have to keep them together in one corner.

Next, we brought in the wood pieces and tables. The dining room area is narrow so to break the visual weight we switched the curio cabinet with the buffet and artwork from the corner area. Even though the artwork has a dark frame its height is the same as the curio when paired with the buffet, it breaks the top-heavy look of the curio cabinet and brings in more color to the dining room. Plus, now you see the curio from the entry, which has created a wonderful focal point with color and light; it also better showcases Barb's beautiful crystal pieces.

Toward the end of the project, the table lighting was placed and then we accessorized. We distributed a red accent color into each of the three areas with pillows, floral arrangements and artwork.

The result -- after 41/2 hours and just using what Barb already had -- was a beautiful, welcoming and more functional room. So, roll up your sleeves and redesign yourself a new and beautiful room.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: