Playing with different room layouts can have a huge impact on the look and feel of any space, but especially the living room. Whether your style is formal, casual, or something in between, the first thing to consider is your living room’s top function. Will this be the spot for game nights and Netflix binges or do you need a comfy spot for reading and listening to music? How much entertaining you plan to do is also key; any host will tell you there can never be too much seating. Think about how people will move through it, too. Is your living room a pass-through space between the entryway and the rest of the home? Can you skirt around it easily? Once you know these basics, it’s easier to decide which foolproof living room layout makes the most sense for you.
The Classic: A sofa plus two chairs, and a coffee table
Whether the chairs face the sofa or they’re placed on either side of the sofa facing each other, this is a foolproof living room layout that looks good with almost any style furniture. If you have a big family or you love to entertain, add ottomans that can double as seating. If the chairs face each other, you can add a bench across from the sofa to maximize your seating options.
The Sophisticate: Two sofas facing each other, plus a coffee table
This layout feels polished and a bit more formal; just think of the nobility of two Chesterfield sofas facing off. Casual furniture, such as two slipcovered sofas, can help tone that down. Either way this living room layout is perfect for parties — with everyone facing each other, it’s optimal for conversation. If the room is large enough, add a pair of accent chairs facing each other on either side of the sofas, or place them side-by-side facing a fireplace or TV with the sofas on either side.
The Conversation Starter: Four chairs and a coffee table
Nothing says, “Let’s get to know each other,” like this handsome foursome. Choose an ottoman instead of a traditional coffee table to ensure folks have a place to rest their feet comfortably during long chats. For balance, opt for a round ottoman if the chairs are square, or vice versa.
The Do-It-All: A sectional sofa, a chair (or two), a coffee table and a side table
If you’re known to fall asleep on the sofa from time to time or if you have a large family, make a sectional the main focal point in your living room layout. It provides plenty of room to stretch out. Additional seating and spots to rest drinks, snacks, and even devices will help keep the space functional, so no one’s left wondering where to place the popcorn bowl on movie night.
The Retro Lounge: A sofa and chaise, plus a coffee table
This sofa-chaise combo has a sexy vibe to it; no wonder it was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s (plus, it screams for a Mad Men-style bar cart in the corner). Add side tables and footstools if you think you’ll need more surface space to hold your martini glasses.
The Workhorse: A sectional, a coffee table, plus a desk and chair
Two decades into the new millennium, working from home is officially a thing. If that’s your setup, consider a sectional for maximum comfort — and seating — during downtime. Pair it with a coffee table and add a desk and chair in a corner of the living room, ideally near a window. This will maximize the natural light when you work from home.
The Two-For-One Living Room: Two sofas and a coffee table, plus two chairs and a side table
Instead of one conversation area, this formal living room layout accommodates two. Place two sofas facing other with a coffee table between them, then across the room, place two chairs and a side table (ideally near a window). The two spaces will feel connected but separate — perfect if you’re having a party and you need multiple conversation nooks. This also helps separate family members involved in different activities – you can read or chat in one space without stepping on the toes of someone lounging in the other.
The Open Concept: A sofa and chair (or chairs if you have room for two), a coffee table, and a dining table and chairs
Another two-for-one living space, this is a go-to arrangement for homes that combine living and dining rooms. Unless the room is extra-large, arrange the furniture so the back of the sofa faces the table with the coffee table in front. This helps to differentiate the spaces (rugs also help tremendously). If it’s a casual home, like a beach house, you may want to ignore that rule and have everything facing each other and the TV for maximum engagement between family members and friends. If you have enough space, add a sideboard to the dining area against a wall.
The Fun Zone: A sectional, a coffee table, plus a child-size table and chairs set and plenty of toys
If you have kids, chances are, your main space is as much for playing as it is for any other activity. While many parents try to hide kids’ toys and games, it’s best to choose a living room layout that embraces this life stage, so you’re not constantly trying to keep it looking like a childless living room. ‘
A sectional is ideal because it’s comfy and roomy, so start there and add a versatile coffee table where you can store coloring books, art supplies, and the remote. Imagine the room is split in two and place the sectional and coffee table on one side so it faces the TV, then treat the other half of the room as a play space and “section” it off with rugs. Place the tiny table and chair set in the center of that half of the room, for balance with the coffee table on the other half. This is where built-in shelves and cabinets would be ideal so kids can easily put away their games and toys. Arranging the living room with a more formal sofa and chairs setup would feel off key with the play space across the room. Tie the two rooms together with colorful accessories and cozy throws and pillows placed in both spaces.
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Ana Connery is former content director of Parenting, Babytalk, Pregnancy Planner and Conceive magazines as well as parenting.com.
While editor in chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine from 2006-2009, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market as well as travel destinations.
She’s held senior editorial positions at some of the country’s most celebrated magazines, including Latina, Fitness and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the brand’s “FitHouse” show home.
Ana’s expertise is frequently sought after for appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and CNN. She has interviewed the country’s top experts in a variety of fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and First Lady Michelle Obama.