Inches Matter Where Furniture Is Concerned

Why does the furniture that worked so well in your old place suddenly seem so wrong in your new place? It’s probably not the style or the color, but it could be the size.


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Don’t forget to take measurements of your home before shopping for new furniture.

Photo by lightpoet

It’s moving day, late afternoon. You finally brought in the last box. You’re kicking back in your new living room when it hits you: Something seems off, and it’s not your sweaty T-shirt. Something just doesn’t feel right in the room. Sure, those boxes don’t help, but even when they’re unpacked and cleared away, the feeling doesn’t go away. Why is it that the furniture that worked so well in your old place suddenly seems totally wrong? The answer may surprise you. It’s likely not the style, and probably not the color. It could well be the size.

When it comes to laying out a room, inches matter. That’s why any interior designer worth her salt will measure your room and provide you with layouts for it before buying new furniture. These drawings, called groundplans, indicate where different pieces will “live” in the room. Everything is drawn to scale, so she’ll know exactly how much space each item will occupy and how much room you’ll have to move around it.

Some clients think this is unnecessary. A sofa is a sofa, right? No way. True, all furniture pieces are similar in scale. They’re designed for human bodies, after all. That means you likely won’t find a chair that is sized for a chicken or a table for a T. rex. But there is still a fair amount of variance within that human scale, and it’s important to make sure that you’re shopping for items that work for your home.

Some of the most common mistakes are using furniture that’s too large or simply using too much of it. To see if you fall into this camp, check the walkways in your room. Do you have at least 36 inches of passageway for the main thoroughfares? About 14 inches to 18 inches between your seating and the coffee table? The human body needs a certain amount of space to maneuver, so make sure you’re as comfortable walking around your furniture as you are using it.

Ensure, too, that all your pieces are scaled to work with each other. This is particularly important when it comes to table surfaces. End tables should be within 2 inches of the height of your sofa arms, and coffee tables between 1 and 2 inches lower than your sofa seat. Ignore these guidelines and you risk some very real discomfort. If your side tables are too high, you may end up with some sore elbows. Coffee table too low? You’ll likely find that propping up your feet is not as relaxing as it should be. No one wants that.

Your greatest tool here is knowledge, so grab your measuring tape and get to work. And if it turns out that some shopping is in order, take your notes with you, so you can be sure to purchase pieces that are the right size. For when it comes to living comfortably, those few inches can make all the difference in the world.

Sarah Coombs is an interior designer based in Alameda.

2016-08-16 01:00 AM

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