No Longer Lost in Space

Image of Claires living room
Claire's living room now

I’m told that mice prefer to skirt the walls of a room, avoiding the center. They don’t feel safe when they are exposed in open places. Some people have a similar reaction to the wide, open spaces of the Great Plains. Folks can even be stymied by trying to figure out how to place furniture in a loft or large room.

Wide open spaces can be daunting.

My friend and client Claire is certainly no mouse! She’s an extraordinarily self-possessed and capable person, but the living/dining area of her new condominium – pictured below and at left – posed problems similar to those encountered by mice.

Claire’s wry comment about this was,  “If I did what I usually do, and put the furniture around the edges, I would have just wound up with a big hole in the middle!”

A Spatial Puzzle

The solution to this particular lost-in-space problem wasn’t obvious to me either, at least not initially. The space is a bit like one of those 16-space number puzzles that hold 15 tiles. Each time you want to reposition one tile, you have scoot several others around to compensate.

Claire's living room a year ago. It was a big, bare box! The windows on the left face west.

While my clients’ needs imposed one set of problems on the room’s layout, the openness of the room imposed another. Somehow, the room needed to be divided into separate, functional spaces:

  • a dining area,
  • a living room conversational area,
  • a media entertainment area, and
  • a writing area that would highlight Claire’s large, antique roll-top desk.

As you can see,  the room is a large box that receives strongly directional natural light. Windows wrap around two sides of the room, stretching the full length of two walls. The largest wall of windows faces west, catching the low, slanting rays of the late afternoon and early evening sun.

This makes it difficult to figure out where to place the TV.  Judging from the placement of the previous owner’s satellite cable, a TV had been placed in the left front corner of the floor plan below, behind the red chair. This placement led to two bad options: It would either force viewers to squint into the sun, or they would have to struggle with a sideways glare across the TV screen.

Providing Face-to-Face Conversational Areas

The obvious solution to the TV viewing problem – placing the television so that the outdoor light enters behind the viewers, as shown below – solves the viewing dilemma.

However, it introduces other problems. When chairs are placed at a comfortable viewing distance in front of the TV, WeberLROverviewthe resulting entertainment area takes up more than half of the room’s width. While this does leave enough space to place a couch and coffee table under the windows (which, in this 3-D image would be on the cut-away wall nearest you), it does not leave enough space for a separate conversation area. If a chair were to be placed on the other side of the coffee table, it would block the circulation path through the room and into the kitchen.

So how can the room be set up to enable people to have face-to-face conversation? The obvious  – but impossible –  solution would be to make the room six feet wider!

Instead, I hit on the idea of using the available living-room-to-kitchen circulation path for both viewing distance and a walkway. It was far easier to come up with this idea in a scaled plan than in the actual room, and I’m sure the movers would have been grateful had they known this.

WeberLayout copy
Floor plan for the living/dining area. You can see a larger version of this by clicking on the image.

How many sitcoms have we seen in which the movers have to haul the heavy pieces of furniture here and there around the room while the new resident tries to figure out a floor plan?

Long before these particular movers came onto the scene, I had asked Ron and Claire to measure all their furniture. I had measured the room and created both the floor plan and the three-dimensional rendering you see here, so that I could shove all the furniture around on my computer.

By the day of the move, I had solved the space use problems and Ron and Claire knew exactly what they needed to move. This also meant that they could avoid moving furniture they didn’t need. In addition, it meant that I could be shopping for the few pieces they would need to acquire while they were busy packing.

A Few Other Needs

At the start of this project, I interviewed Ron and Claire in their previous apartment. In addition to getting a feel for their tastes, I asked them what annoyed them in their living space. Both of them said that they were pressed for closet space, and both felt that they were awash in papers. (Indeed, surfaces were piled with papers. Knowing Ron and Claire, I suspected that this had more to do with inadequate filing space than personal habits.)

Claire and Ron also wanted to highlight a few prized possessions: a large, antique roll-top desk, a glass-fronted china cabinet, a brass samovar, a collection of hats that commemorated their globe-hopping travels, and a three-foot high wooden giraffe decorated with thousands of daintily-strung seed beads. (You can see her in the photo above.)

The Old Switcheroo

My space plan, shown in the plans above, divided the living and dining areas with filing cabinets that serve multiple purposes: they allow Ron and Claire to file their papers, they serve as a side board for family meals, and they also can be used as a buffet surface for entertaining.

Entry to the condo: the brass samovar claims a place of honor. Picture lighting and glints of metal brighten an area that receives no natural light.
Entryway: the brass samovar claims a place of honor. Picture lighting and glints of metal brighten a windowless area.

The cabinets that were purchased are shown in the photo above. They are matched credenzas that are finished back and front so that they’re attractive seen from both their living room and dining room sides.

One key feature that opened the space to multiple uses was replacing two old recliners with new swivel recliners that would  lend themselves to a quick switcheroo – they could be oriented either for watching the TV or turned 180 degrees to face the conversation area. One of the new recliners that I found for Ron and Claire can be seen in the photo at the top of this post.

As noted earlier, the room’s architecture is functional and austere. That, coupled with a paint and trim scheme of neutral colors, meant that attention would be focused on Ron and Claire’s furnishings, rather than the room itself. Accordingly, I created a color palette that is keyed to a couple dominant and repeated hues that are featured in the rugs: a deep red, a celadon green, and an off-white.

Deep red is the most prominent hue in the tribal and Oriental rugs, and I used it to actively define the social spaces in the room. Two existing red leather chairs and an existing love seat were grouped around one Oriental carpet to create a face-to-face conversation area. Another handsome rug demarcated the TV viewing area, while yet another defined the breakfast area. These three rugs  are all visible in the photo at the top of this post, while still another is featured in the entry area shown above.

Showing Off Prized Possessions

Another featured item: Claire's china chest

Prized possessions, such as that beaded giraffe and the china chest at right, were featured prominently in this layout. “We have acquired lots of art and other things we really like over more than 40 years,” said Claire. “But we have never tried to get things that were particularly harmonious, so we didn’t know how to make them look good together. Nicolette managed to make the things we already had look good just by placing them differently and showing us how they coordinated.”

“Nicolette also recommended a few pieces of new furniture that we have acquired over the past year. She also helped us solve a long-term problem of not having enough storage for lots of papers and books. Her suggestion was creative and looks good in our condo.”

If you’d like to see more detail in the floor plan and 3-D plans for this project, I invite you to visit the space planning page on my Comfort and Joy Interior Design website.

The valances of the windows that wrap Ron and Claire's living and dining room areas are topped off by a collection of hats from all over the world. They're mementos of many trips abroad.


Ready, Fire, Aim!
(A Cautionary Tale about Space Planning)

Since I’m pretty sure my ex-husband will never read my blog, I think I can safely tell a story about his foibles here.

My ex was (and presumably still is) a fabulous cook. Our Eddy Street condo had a huge kitchen, two ovens, and vast expanses of counter space. My ex loved to prepare complex and sophisticated dinners, and it wasn’t long before he began to complain that the refrigerator was too small. Dan (not his real name) wanted a big fridge that served water and ice through the door.fridge

I measured the space and we went shopping. The features he wanted were available only on a significantly larger fridge. Dan looked at my measurements and insisted that the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer he wanted would fit.

I was dubious. The new fridge was stout, measuring only about half an inch less in width than the available space, and I wondered aloud about the lack of clearance on the sides. What if the bordering walls or the counters weren’t square, how would the unit get any ventilation, how would we clean, how… Dan interrupted my comments – more loudly this time – insisting that it would fit.

“But where’s the door going to swing? There’s no clearance…” I whined.

“No one needs to walk through the door when I’m cooking!” he fumed. By this time, the volume of our debate was starting to turn heads, so I gave up and let Dan arrange for delivery.

Okay, when the refrigerator was delivered, it did fit – but only when the doors were closed! The hinged side of each door was actually wedged shut by the counter on one side and the wall on the other.

That refrigerator sat protruding several inches into the doorway for months. It was replaced only when I decided to replace the chef who went with it…


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