How to Arrange a Living Room for Good Flow


Interior designers navigate clearances, furniture placement, and flow, aiming to make the most of every space they create. Flow in a living room means the space is functional, pleasant, comfortable to live in, and filled with positive energy. Conversely, a living room lacking flow is painfully obvious.

“We’ve all been there, in an unfamiliar room when you bang your shin or have to awkwardly move in a space––it just kills the vibe,” said Connecticut-based designer Caroline Kopp. “Functionality, ease, comfort, flow, they are all connected.”

Kopp and three other design pros shared suggestions for improving flow to maximize a living room’s layout.

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Let the Architecture Guide You

“The overall layout of architectural elements, such as the arrangement of rooms, hallways, and circulation paths, determines the flow of movement within a home. 

Staircases and doorways contribute to the flow of a space through their functional roles, aesthetic qualities, and the way they organize and define areas within the home. The careful consideration of these elements in the design process can shape your experience throughout the home.

“Windows allow natural light to enter a space, creating a dynamic and changing atmosphere throughout the day. The views can also guide the flow by drawing attention to specific focal points or creating a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. If there’s a beautiful view outside, arrange the furniture to take advantage of it. Position seating to face windows or glass doors to maximize natural light and the visual connection to the outdoors. 

“If there are architectural features like a fireplace, built-in shelving, or a unique design element, arrange furniture to highlight and complement these focal points. They can serve as natural anchors in the room. Choose furniture that serves multiple purposes, especially in smaller living rooms. For example, ottomans with storage, swivel chairs, or nesting tables can contribute to a more versatile living space.”

—Designer Jessica Dorling in Seattle

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Consider Floating Furniture off the Wall

“For good function, you want to be able to move through a space unobstructed and feel supported in doing what you set out to do. If you need to set a drink down, you want a table close at hand and at the right height relative to your chair. 

“You want the seated people to be able to have a conversation, so the chairs and sofas need to have that connection. In laying out the plan, I am looking for natural conversation groupings.  

“It’s nice to float furniture off the wall just for that easy, spacious feeling. I like to use curtains, and that occupies a certain amount of space. In this room, you see how the curtain provides a nice buffer between the wall and the back of the sofa. In larger rooms, it kind of forces you to float furniture.”

Consider floating furniture off the wall, like Caroline Kopp did in this room.

Laura Moss

—Designer Caroline Kopp in Westport, Connecticut

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Understand Traffic and Clearances

“What are people doing in this room? If you need to be close enough to talk to people, that’s one consideration. If you need to be close enough to watch TV, that’s another.  

If it’s a cozy den for TV and movie watching, you probably want deep, comfortable seating and a lot of it. If it’s a more formal parlor kind of room for drinks and hosting, you might want chairs that can be easily pulled around with a more firm, less deep ’sit’ for conversation.

A general rule of thumb for clearances is approximately three feet of a walkway, but you can get away with a little less than that, more like 30 inches between sofas, for example. You want to understand your busiest traffic patterns when selecting furniture and ensure you have between 24 and 30 inches of space between larger furniture pieces. You want approximately 18 inches between a sofa and a coffee table or ottoman, if you want it to be within easy reach.” 

Aim for three feet of walkway, as seen in this room by Colleen Simonds.

Emily Gilbert

—Designer Colleen Simonds in Pittsburgh

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Incorporate Large Furniture Pieces

“I lay out the largest pieces on paper to discover the best placement (sofas, sectionals, large antiques) then start analyzing how folks are going to walk to that seating area, as well as around the room. Then I start laying out the secondary seating areas, which can consist of just two chairs, a table and lamp. 

“Designing each furniture grouping to have distinctive, visual interest, avoids defaulting to one spectacular grouping then the rest looking like ‘leftover’ furniture in the room. I use at least three large pieces balanced in a great room to avoid the cluttered look of lots of same size furniture in a large room.”

Elizabeth Drake prefers to use several large furniture pieces to avoid the “leftover” look.

Werner Straube

—Designer Elizabeth Drake in Winnetka, Illinois

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