James Swan

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3 Keys for Perfect Furniture Placement in Your Living Room

Billy Baldwin Living Room on Million Dollar Decorating

A sure sign of an inexperienced designer (amateur or professional) is how they handle furniture placement in the most important room of the house; the Living Room.   Those new to the rodeo of home design tend to keep things close to the walls which only work if the room is miniscule and there are no other options.  The luxurious adaptation of space for multiple sitting areas not only encourages conversation among guests but give family members comfortable options for reading, talking or contemplating.

So how do we achieve the successful furniture arrangements we see in magazines and on our favorite television shows?

Here are my 3 keys for perfect furniture placement in your living room:

  1. Understand Scale. Scale (as applied to furniture in our living room) relates to the size of a furniture piece in relation to the room in which it will be housed.  For instance a large sofa (96” long by 40” deep and 36”high) would be considered large scale for most living rooms (average living rooms are around 12’ x 18’.  Whereas a settee with dimensions of 56” long x 30” deep x 30” high (perfect for tucking in a corner in an “average” living room) might be lost in a large living room (15’ x 20’ or larger).  Neither is necessarily wrong in either location.  The more accurate question centers around how the piece will be used in either space and what will be used around it.  A large sofa tucked into a small room (sofa and end tables basically running wall to wall) can conjure a space that is deeply personal and intimate.  So don’t fret over the scale of your existing pieces.  Just understand what you have and how it relates to the room in which it will be housed.
  2. Understand Symmetry. The vast majority of nature is grounded in the concept of symmetry (the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis).  The human face is thought most beautiful when both halves are close to identical. Classical architecture utilizes the idea of symmetry to create spaces which humans of all backgrounds perceive as beautiful.   The same is true of the rooms of your home.  While asymmetry is used successfully as an advanced tool for furniture arranging the use of symmetrical furniture placement offers the reinforcement of positive results even for the beginner.
  3. Understand Balance. If symmetry is our goal (equal weight of furniture balanced on opposite sides of the room) once must identify the middle point off of which our symmetry springs.  Major architectural elements (fireplaces, windows, arched openings…etc.) are always our starting point. To help establish a “balance grid” for your room draw the basic shape of your room on a blank piece of graph or white paper (for this exercise accurate dimensions are not necessary).  Clearly include the major architectural elements present in your room.  Even the simplest of rooms has at least a window and view.  If this is all you have then clearly show the window on your drawing.  On your paper draw a straight line from your major architectural element across the room (dividing the room in to two equal halves).  If your line represents your rooms “north and south” axes then draw a line at 90 degrees to your first line. This will give you four equal quarters in your room.  Highlight these two lines in red.

As you contemplate this rooms’ furniture arrangement you want your major pieces (sofa, cabinet, armoire…etc.) to rest on one of the red lines.  You may, for instance, place your sofa opposite your fireplace (major architectural element) and your two lounge chairs to each side of the sofa; and by doing so you have created a basic, yet harmonious, furniture arrangement. Less important furniture items (television, side chairs, ottomans…etc.) will find their home in the four quarters of the room formed by your two red lines.  Secondary lines (connecting each corner of the room through the middle) can be added in a contrasting color and provide the grid for placement of “secondary” furniture pieces.


As with everything practice strengthens our skills and makes us more proficient in any skill.  Furniture placement is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.  Use these 3 Keys for Furniture Placement and watch your furniture placement skills increase.

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About the author, James

With the launch of the new podcast, Million Dollar Decorating, James Swan adds media-host to his career accomplishments. The interview-based show becomes the first daily podcast devoted to the worlds of design, decorating and beautiful living and features interviews with the world’s leading designers, decorators, architects and artisans. Life-style leaders like Robert Couturier, Sandra Nunnerly, Vicente Wolf and Timothy Corrigan populate the podcast where unguarded conversations reveal behind-the-scenes sources of inspiration, resources and stories that inspire and motivate.
James Swan has built a career crafting classically influenced interiors across the United States. Swan has been featured in House & Garden, House Beautiful, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune and wrote for the “Trends & Shopping” column in House & Garden magazine. His book “101 Things I Hate About Your House” won a 2011 American Bookseller’s Award.
Television appearances on HGTV’s “Homes Across America,” speaking engagements with the professional design industry association NEOCON, regular guest spots on national radio programs have consistently placed Swan in the media spotlight.
Swan’s career took off back in Northern California at a noted San Francisco architecture firm, where he managed residential interiors. After that, Los Angeles beckoned, specifically the prestigious design firm of Frank K. Pennino & Associates, where as senior designer he managed high-profile projects, and earned a reputation for refined classical design that succinctly reflected his clients’ lives. In 1999, Swan opened his own firm in Beverly Hills.
Swan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology and music from Southwestern College in Waxahachie, Texas, and studied in Arizona State University's Architecture and Design master's degree program.
Swan is a past member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, serving on its Executive Board of Directors. His other commitments include PAWS/LA, which assists with the care of pets for people living with disabilities, and KidSmart, an art education foundation for inner-city youth. In his free time, Swan may be found furthering his passion for skiing and traveling. Currently he lives and works from his home on the Maine coast.