Interior Design

A North Carolina Living Room, 2 Ways (& Tips for Rearranging)

February 20, 2017

Every few months, a room in my house will start to feel stale, or inefficient, or just plain boring. Sometimes it’s because the function of the room has shifted (like maybe we’re spending more time in the living room, after a long winter of watching TV and hanging out in the den). Sometimes I think I want to buy something new, but have since learned that I really just want to try something new.

That’s when I know it’s time to rearrange. It can be as simple as moving a single piece, or exchanging something from another room. Or maybe a full redesign is in order.

Our living room. Photo by Liz Johnson

Below are two layouts I’ve used in my living room, and three things to keep in mind if you're feeling the rearranging itch. In both arrangements, I’ve used the same major pieces: a couch, a coffee table, two armchairs, a credenza, a lamp, art, and my ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig. (I did use different rugs in each room, which also made a noticeable difference—but that’s a completely different post!)

Shop the Story

Note: I used Adobe InDesign to mock up simple floor plans, but graph paper and a pencil would work just as well in a pinch.

Arrangement 1

Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement #1 is a little more of a formal or traditional living room layout. There’s strong symmetry, and the couch and armchairs face each other, across from the fireplace. It’s full but doesn’t feel crowded. Floating the chairs creates two distinct zones: an entryway near the door, and a seating area across from the fireplace. This was arrangement I set up when I first moved into our house, and was excited about also having a (separate, more casual) den.

Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement 2

Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement #2 is a little more modern and organic-feeling. It uses all the same furniture, but the room feels more expansive. The layout is asymmetrical yet balanced—the chairs are on separate walls, but mirror each other, making the whole space feel unified. I had this arrangement when my son became mobile (seemingly overnight!) and needed more floor space to explore.

Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson
Photo by Liz Johnson

Here are three things to remember when (re)arranging your own space:

Consider the “flow.”

Where are the doors or entrances? How do people most often walk through this room? A room can feel "off” when there isn't enough room for the intuitive paths through it, so make sure there’s space to move around, and through, your room. If you’re not sure, try it out! If you have to really squeeze by or around something, it’s probably not an ideal layout.

Don’t automatically put everything up against a wall.

I understand how placing all the furniture up against walls would sound logical—it makes more room in the middle of the space, right? But purposefully floating some furniture can delineate functional areas—“mini-rooms”—and encourage flow through the room, which actually ends up creating a more spacious-feeling space. It’s also helpful for rooms that have to serve more than one purpose.

Try a new angle!

If your room feels static or kind of lifeless, try shifting a piece or two to an angle. This can be slight (like the two chairs in the first arrangement), or more extreme (like the couch in the second arrangement). This brings a kind of coziness to the arrangement—I like to imagine if people were actually using a piece of furniture, how easily could they interact with others? Does this layout foster conversation (or whatever you might be trying to foster in a particular room)?

And finally, remember: If you don’t like it, you can always move it back.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have an empty living room because I don't know what to buy for my 2nd home with is to be my final retirement place ”
— Enid L.

Liz Johnson is the Creative Director, Designer, and Writer at Braid Creative in Durham, NC.

Are you a serial room re-arranger? Discuss in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kyarbrough
  • Enid Luchetti
    Enid Luchetti
  • Jen
  • Liz Johnson
    Liz Johnson
stereotypical oldest child


Kyarbrough October 6, 2019
Love the photo of the Cain's Ballroom sign in Tulsa.
Enid L. March 15, 2017
I have an empty living room because I don't know what to buy for my 2nd home with is to be my final retirement place
Liz J. March 17, 2017
I'm not sure I quite understand your question/comment, BUT, if you're not sure what to do with a living room, just remember that it doesn't necessarily have to be a traditional living room, with a couch and chairs and coffee table, for example. It can be a painting studio if you're into that kind of thing. Or a place to do yoga and meditate, if you're into that kind of thing. A library, a playroom for grandchildren, etc etc. Figure out how you want to spend time in that space, then design it accordingly. Best of luck.
Jen February 20, 2017
Do you know where I can purchase that coffee table?
Liz J. February 20, 2017
It's from IKEA, but I bought it about five years ago, and I can't find it anywhere on their site anymore. This is close though:
Jen February 20, 2017
Thank you!