Being a photographer, artist, observer, and most importantly having walked through thousands of homes, I can say with some authority what works and what doesn’t.
I’m not talking about personal taste, the latest trends in interiors and certainly not my own home (in particular my home office). As an observer I can typically enter a room and in under three seconds see what is wrong with it. That is, what makes it fail to function or fail to appeal to the eye or just make you want to immediately exit and move on.
It dawned on me these observed problems could be broken down into a few simple rules and priorities. Those rules and priorities might help anyone glancing and dancing about like a lost puppy, entering an empty space in their new home, not knowing what to do next and chasing the first shiny object that captures their attention.
Click! a light went off… Function, Traffic and Scale are the first things we need to think about. Applied properly they set you on a path where your personal taste can shine through without hitting people over the head with it. It just works and your family and friends will notice in a positive way. Believe me they will notice your bad choices also but most say nothing, so how would you know.
Function… What am I going to use this room for? and very importantly what is the intended function by accepted norms or architectural intent? In other words, do you really think that foyer was intended to be an exercise room? Keep the function of the room in mind at all times. Computer desks or elegant writing desks in the formal dining room will never work, nor will overstuffed recliners.
For every piece you add to this room ask yourself, “How does it contribute to the function of this room?” If it does not serve a function there do not place it. Understanding and accepting Function is only the first step. Note never “store” in a room. What you place there tends to never go away.
Traffic… A room is useless unless you can maneuver within and pass through while the room serves its function or is unoccupied. Consider the square footage available in the room and make sure to reserve least 1/3 of that total space. Place nothing on it even when occupied. In other words fill your dining room with seated guests and there should still be 1/3 or the total square footage of floor space empty.
How you use that minimum 1/3 floor space takes some thought and planning and depends on the Function of the space. In home theaters you need space to pass to and from the seats but minimum standing room. Great rooms are frequently used for entertaining however you may need more space reserved for standing guests to mill about. Where as that front parlor is for seating and cozy conversations away from the crowd.
Door ways are a bit different than wide entrances to rooms or spaces. Never block those doors with chairs, plants, tables etc. No, that large recliner should not extend into the traffic path anywhere, especially the doorway, even though it reclines out of the way. Wider entrances to some formal spaces may be an exception. You’ll know when it works. If your excuse is “That’s the only place it fits” you made an error in that Function consideration or the 1/3 free floor space minimum or the next consideration “Scale”
Scale… This is where Function and Traffic come together. If we are using at least 1/3 of the space for traffic it does not mean you can fill 2/3 of the remaining space with fixed pieces and heaven forbid you fill 2/3 of that space with a giant sectional featuring a large Ottoman designed for three people to recline on with ease.
Try to keep no more than 1/3 of the floor spaced filled with fixed pieces. A sofa, upholstered chair or dining table are fixed pieces. A foot stool, serving cart, floor lamp, area carpet etc are not. Here is where scale comes in. If one piece becomes so dominant that you can’t add other pieces required to fulfill the function of the space, then it is out of scale. If that dining table is so large you can’t seat guests and have room to pass behind the chairs then something is wrong with scale or traffic flow. An overstuffed sofa, that is so large you have no space for accessories needed to use it in comfort, will always be out of scale.
Scale and art is another matter. We are now off the floor but keep that 1/3 rule in mind. If a piece of art is so small it gets lost on the wall, the scale is bad no matter how fine the art. If it is so large the wall gets lost, then perhaps it will be seen as out of scale. Of course rules are meant to be broken, but perhaps not by you. When considering scale consider the overall size of a grouping as a whole as well as pieces within that group. Draw it out in scale before hammering that nail. Your walls will love you
When looking at your new space always ask yourself “What’s the function of the space?”, “How will I sit, stand, pass through and use this space?” and “Does everything tie together or must I cram it in to fit?”
Never have to say to yourself “That’s the only way it fits.” “I had no other room to put it in.” “Watch your step. (even just in your head)” or “Well we don’t care, we like it this way, it’s how we live.”
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