Having a too large space in your home is kind of like being too rich or too skinny. It’s not a complaint that garners much empathy. But alas, those who have decorated large rooms know that, while grand and impressive, they come with their own set of design challenges.
Not enough furniture can create the "banquet hall effect," while too much or incorrectly scaled furniture gives the ambiance of a garage sale. Perhaps worst of all is when these rooms become storage, when the only use they get is from housing all those wedding gifts still in boxes and the treadmill you bought off Craiglist on a whim.
By strategically taking into account your everyday lifestyle and habits in the design, a large room can actually look harmonious and be used (and used frequently!). Here are some tips for pulling it off:
First, Create Zones
This is a strategy most home owners know intuitively, but is somehow rarely achieved in practice. It’s common to see a chair off to the side of a room for… well, who knows what for, and no one ever really uses them anyway. One way to keep a large room from becoming unused is to combine two functions you know you’ll use.
Above: Why not eat where you lounge?
Like it or not, TV watching is a given for most people these days, so that’s an easy function to define, but what about a desk to work from, or built-in shelves to store your beloved book collection?
Combining a typical living room layout with a dining table, of course, is a modern answer to all those formal dining rooms collecting dust.
Above: An impressive collection should go in an impressive room.
Pieces of furniture on their own aren’t usually enough to create an area that will actually get used. The space should be defined in some other way—be that an area rug, a folding screen, or a change in paint or wallcovering.
Above: The screen does the heavy lifting in separating the two seating arrangements here, but the two areas are also clearly defined by an area rug at the forefront and a paneled wall at the back of the room.
Then, Fill it Thoughtfully
Furniture selections will make or break these zones you have so carefully created, namely because scale is extremely important to take into account for a large space! Primary pieces of furniture should have an anchoring effect.
In small to medium-scale rooms, all the furniture can be arranged in relation to a single focal point, be it a fireplace, TV, or outstanding view. In large-scale rooms, even if there is a single focal point, not all furniture pieces or zones can be organized in relation to it. Instead, substantial pieces of furniture can reign in the other pieces. It's as though these larger pieces of furniture have a gravitational pull that keeps the smaller items organized, so that they don’t get lost in orbit.
Above: The large scale sectional gives the smaller stools something to relate to in space.
Even if your furniture shouldn’t be the only thing creating a zone in a room, it can certainly help with visual delineation.
Back-to-back sofas, benches, and chaises do a good job creating a physical division without blocking the sightline of the whole room. (The lower the back, the clearer view there will be.) Just make sure each "zone" has at least one or two surfaces to set a drink down on, even if it’s a small side table—not having one will ensure the space never gets used.
By definition, large rooms feel cavernous, which is why it’s wise to intentionally add layers and warmth. This can be done with window treatments, blankets, or pillows. These soft materials also help with sound absorption, something that can be an issue in large spaces, particularly if the floor is a stone or tile. For this reason, upholstered furniture is also a good way to go.
Perhaps most importantly, all furniture in the room needs to have continuity—through pattern, color palette, style, or scale—or it can easily look jumbled or disorganized This is usually a goal for the decor in any room, but it’s all the more important in a large room. Incongruent elements will contribute to a garage-sale-effect like nothing else.
In a way, large scale rooms are rooms for modern living. Our ways of life aren’t as compartmentalized as they once were. It’s not uncommon to have entire floors of houses completely open, with the exception of bedrooms and bathrooms. From the kitchen, homeowners want to see the living room, dining room, and into the backyard. At this point, it’s hard to imagine our lives reverting back.
And with a few parameters to guide us, these wide open spaces don’t have to be room to make a big mistake.