Living room layout headaches

efeuerAugust 4, 2014

I have a living room with multiple decorating problems/challenges, and I would like some feedback from the forum. I've never really been happy with the room, but then I've only lived here 30 years, so I haven't had much time to fix it up. :)

The room is very long and narrow (13' x 24') and every single wall is broken up by windows or doors or both. Trying to figure out a good layout is driving me batty.

Other problems-the room is too formal for me. The sofas and chairs are in very good condition, having been reupholstered about 10 years ago, but I would like to switch to a more modern style. The room is also cluttered. My husband's sheet music is stacked on the coffee table, the piano, and a couple of other places. We just bought a beautiful custom-made sheet music cabinet which will be ready in about six weeks. That should take care of the music, but the piece is modern and won't go with the existing furniture very well.

The room is also cluttered because we have been storing things there temporarily. The Scandinavian chair is an obvious mismatch, but we have been holding onto it for a year because my older son may want it when he moves. There's also some other miscellaneous "stuff" which is there for the moment because we have been working on other rooms.

Lots of books-another issue. I was going to give away five bags, but my husband got very upset about this, so I will have to put most of the books back. I don't think most of them are much of an asset to the decor-just paperbacks-but he is attached to them and I can't make him miserable. My goal was to empty out the small bookcase and put it upstairs for other things, but I guess that's not in the cards.

My latest thought was to get rid of the loveseat and flank the sofa with the wing chairs to create a better conversation grouping. (We don't entertain and don't really need extra seating.) The tall bookcase will go next to the other tall bookcase to make a library wall, and the low bookcase will go to the right of the fireplace. The new music cabinet will face you as you enter the room. We will take the little Chinese cabinet out and put it in the hall.

That was my latest plan, but I am open to suggestion. I think we need something large and eye-catching on the wall over the sofa, but I haven't got anything at present. In fact, the lack of display for decorative items is something that bothers me good deal. For one thing, there is a glass sculpture on top of the piano which you can't even see. It would be very nice to put that on a pedestal somewhere where it could be enjoyed. The other piano item is an architectural model made by my second son when he was a student. He is now an architect in New York.

Sorry for rambling on so long. Any help would be appreciated!

Here is a link that might be useful: Living room photos

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I LOVE your love seat and sofa!

Also love the color of the wood trim. Do you know what it is?

I also disagree that the Swedish chair doesn't match your other furniture in there. I think it actually goes great in that room I see those kinds of rooms with Eames chairs and such all the time.

Rug is great.

I think the valances look dated, and I'd switch them out for either drapery panels or plantation shutters or wood slat blinds.

I also think one wing chair is enough. The two matching wing chairs with the matching sofa set is too "Matchy-poo", in my opinion (which you have permission to roundly dismiss as totally wrong!).

I also think the book cases look kind of college dorm or library. If I was going to keep them in that room, I'd paint them the same color as the wood trim (unless they're teak) and push them together.

I'd move the piano to the other end of the room, with the bench in front of the window, facing the length of the room so that, when someone walks into that room, the piano is in front of them. Turn right, and there is the sitting area.

Pull the rug about four inches closer to the fireplace.

Pull the sofa forward a bit and find either a console table to put behind it or install a shelf behind it on which you can put photos, a lamp, etc.

Center the love seat on that end of the rug. Set the love seat and sofa so the corners of their arms tough, then put a square table in that corner where they meet.

Put the wood spindle chair by the fireplace.

Then I'd put the Swedish chair on the opposing corner, facing the sofas from a diagonal, by the FP (Where you have a wing chair now).

I'd get some kind of nice table to put on the wall between the door that leads to outdoors and the window, where the piano is now. Maybe a round table with a skirt and glass top?

Put one of the wing chairs in the corner between the two windows (where the piano bench is now)
Put the other wing chair in a bedroom.

Bookcases together on the southeast corner.

Paint the walls - please give the name of the paint color of the trim, which will help pick a paint color for the walls.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 9:19PM
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Could you post a floor plan, both with dimensions, and orientation (are windows north facing?, west?)

And be sure to include info on adjacent spaces.

Include where power outlets are located, and also maybe include the current traffic pattern as well.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 9:22PM
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Thank you for the feedback so far. I appreciate you taking the time.

I just took measurements tonight. It will take me a little while to get it on graph paper. At that point I will scan it and post it.

The color of the trim is Alexandria Beige, a Benjamin Moore historic color. I love it too. And you are right about the bookcases and the "college dorm" bit. They aren't literally college dorm, but they do date back to our time as newlyweds in New York City, approximately 1980. They have held up remarkably well for veneer over particleboard, don't you think? I don't think painting them would be possible. Their main virtue is that they are so nondescript they don't draw attention to themselves. Given that the books are mostly crummy paperbacks that my husband refuses to part with, I think the less obtrusive the whole thing is, the better. There's plenty of other stuff to look at in the room, anyway.

We used to have the piano in the front. I don't remember why I didn't like it, but I didn't. Of course, I may not have had it set up the way you suggested.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 11:29PM
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I also meant to suggest getting a LARGE rectangular coffee table, one that is the same depth as the love seat's width.

Benjamin Moore has a wonderful new collection out now, the Williamsburg Collection. Really great colors. I put the Alexander beige in one window, and pulled some of the WC colors up next to it. I'd consider painting the walls either Bruton White, or, for more drama and depth: York Gray, Cole Stone, Bricke House Tan, or Timson Sand. They look great next to the Alexander Beige.

Finally, if when you say you don't think you can paint the book cases you mean because they're wood veneer, you actually can now. All kinds of stuff to make that doable. All you do is, with a sander and coarse sand paper, go over the veneer. Then prime, then paint.

This post was edited by Tibbrix on Tue, Aug 5, 14 at 9:08

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:46AM
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Wow, especially love your rug and sofa/love seat. I'd get a nicer bookcase, ideally higher. Or you can definitely paint veneer or even laminate. I'd add a crown molding, but by then, you may as well have bought a new bookcase on CL.
I'd replace the miniblinds and valances with plain curtains, add some art work over the sofa, and some new pillows.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 9:27AM
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I can't make out a sense of the room to enable me to suggest alternate arrangements, so I will just make some random comments, mostly seconding what others have already said:

It seems like you are looking to modernize the room while keeping the major pieces, and I think it is very do-able. Remove the cornices, remove one of the wing-back chairs, if not both. I would change out the blue lamps, but to what I'm not sure. I would also remove the blue matted pictures, or have them rematted in another color. That shade of blue is giving off a country vibe, and the less of it, the better.

If you take a close look at your rug, you may come up with a number of other colors that if used in the room, would change the look. Do I see some orange in that rug?

As for the books, your husband wants to keep them, but they don't need to be on display. Pack them into boxes and catalog each box for easy retrieval.

The dictionary table is lovely. That's something I would want people to see and would put it maybe between the windows where the low book case is now.

Since you have some sort of blind on the windows now, I would replace the cornices with simple stationary panels. In fact, the one big splurge I would make in this room is fabulous drapes.

Maybe there is a room in your house - other than the living room - where you could make a reading nook with the two wing chairs and the bookcases.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:23AM
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Holly- Kay

Is it in the budget to do custom cabinetry? I would do either side of the fireplace with custom cabinets on the bottom and shelving on the top. You could stow the not so pretty pb books in the lower cabs and keep the upper shelves for pretty books and other items that you would like to display. I would then use both wing chairs on opposing sides of the fireplace but I would reupholster them.

I love your sofa and love seat. You can perk it up with lovely patterned pillows.

I would remove the cornice boards and do simple drapery panels in a stunning fabric.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:22AM
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I have a similar living room, but I only have one window in the front and I took out the back door and put in a sliding double door. I also have a larger opening than yours from the foyer, which is at rimless archway (original to our house). On the other side of the fireplace, where you show a tall bookcase, I have an archway that leads to my kitchen (we added the opening. It was originally closed). I agree that it's a hard space to work with, but we do what we can.

I think if you forget the layout for a while and think about the look you want the room to have, you will find that you can make it work. Think about layering and textures. Also, finalize what must stay in the room always, what you are willing to part with or put in another room, and what will eventually be replaced.

I am confused about your goals for the room. You say you would like "modern" decor, but you seem to want to keep wing chairs and other pieces that are part of "traditional" decor. Traditional pieces you have also include your lamps, art, brass frames, rug, wood chair, etc. you can incorporate many of these pieces to achieve an "updated" look, but by using more than one of these items, you decor will not achieve "modern" style. Do you want an updated, traditional look that will utilize many of the pieces you already own and allow you to make even more changes over time that will improve the room even more?

I think to achieve an updated look, a living room such as yours (and mine) needs a definite wall color. For about 12 years, I had the blah off white that you now have. What a difference painting made, my living room tends to be dark, so I chose a gold color to really brighten up the space. After trying many samples, I finally settled on Sherwin Williams "compatible cream" color. It's a rich gold that compliments mahogany and red tones (such as your rug) and also works well with blue. If it wasn't for your cornices, I'd say this color would Work very well for you too.

Seating in my living room is limited to an oversized sofa, two mismatched chairs, and piano bench. It's not a perfect solution; I am thinking of buying 2 wing chairs to go where your love seat currently is.

I can see why your piano would not work so well near the front wall. A full size piano would be a real impediment to the flow of the room as it would encroach the walkway . I have an upright piano on my front wall and it's perfect.

When you enter your house (and mine) from the front door, your eye is immediately drawn to the back left side of the room, where you have your piano. I really think this is the best placement in the room for the piano unless you are willing to move the door. Anyway, with the piano in the back left corner, you need a much larger frame or arrangement of frames / artwork on the left wall and something complimentary and large on the wall between the window and back door.

I would immediately move the love seat to the front wall and live with it a few days to see how you like that. I know it's a good way from the sofa for chatting, but it is probably a better scale and should work better than the short bookcase.

Can you get rid of the short bookcase and just keep the taller one? The placement of the tall bookcase is fine where it is if you must keep it. It is as much out of the line of sight when you enter the room as possible. Can you paint it black to tie into piano or use gel stain to get it to a mahogany tone if you are keeping the other mahogany pieces. Either way, I would get some baskets and nice magazine holders and try to arrange the books a little nicer by mixing in some decorative pieces on the shelves.

I think you need one large piece of art or a mirror over the mantle and another over the sofa. I'd get a much larger coffee table.

What size is the new piece of furniture you ordered?

Good luck

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:40PM
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Regarding above photo, I think my lamp is too small, but I love it, so it's staying. I had a rectangular end table next to sofa at one point, but the oval works much better. Not sure if it's the size or the shape that makes the oval work better.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:44PM
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Dilly makes several great points about what you want to achieve. And yes, we must sometimes make compromises for our other halves but hopefully you can overcome keeping those paperbacks on display. Can you post a photo of your sheet music cabinet? It sounds beautiful and if placed near the piano may give more balance to that end of the room, and could define that space as the 'music room'.

Being a piano-person myself, I'd want to showcase that beautiful grand somehow in the placement of the furniture, re-arranging the piano itself slightly, and the sofa and loveseat (I love those too) to be able to see more of it. Would your DH be amenable to that? I'd start by doing as others suggested and taking the cornices down and re-painting. Then pick out some soft solid panels to hang on the windows with pretty rods.

I also love the Chinese cabinet. But will defer other comments until you post a diagram and can give us some measurements of the new cabinet.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 3:16PM
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I don't know why my photo was posted upside down. If you click on it, it corrects itself. Is there a way for me to fix this?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:12PM
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Thank you for all the help so far. Actually, we have a fairly generous budget, and replacing the upholstered pieces is definitely something we would consider. I really want a more contemporary decor, and something less formal than those Sheraton sofas. You’re talking to the gal who’s got dirt under her fingernails all summer!

I think the idea of closed door cabinetry for the books is a very good one, which my husband has already suggested. However, there are so many books that they will fill both top and bottom shelves, so the possibility of creating some space there for display is not going to be possible. My hope was exactly to get rid of the smaller bookcase, but DH was so upset I couldn't do it. He also wouldn’t want to put the books in the basement. He likes having them about him-he feels they are part of his identity. It's hard for me to give in, but after all, he is more important to me than the décor (I think.)

This would be much clearer with a graph, but I had trouble scanning in my scale drawing. But just for now let me give you some numbers to make it clear why the room is so difficult. It is only 13 feet wide. We need a clear pathway from the room entrance to the door on the far wall, in order to accommodate the natural traffic flow to our screened porch. Allow 4 feet for the pathway-less than that would feel cramped and will only accentuate the bowling alley feeling of the room. The bookcases are 1 foot deep. That leaves 8 feet for sofa/loveseat, or sofa/chairs. Our current sofa/loveseat combination is six and half feet in total depth to the wall-and they are anything but massive pieces of furniture. That only leaves a foot and a half to play with. Clearly, that is not enough to accommodate anything in front of the bookcases. However, we could keep a chair where the current wing chair is, to the left of the fireplace.

Dilly-I see the similarity in our rooms. I like what you’ve done with yours, and I’d love to see the rest of the room. I also think your analysis is correct that the eye is drawn to the far left corner on entering, so the piano does look best there. And of course the wall above the sofa is crying out for a large piece of artwork or arrangement.

What do you think about flanking the sofa with the two chairs? We’d lose some seating but it would look less rigid and more open than the love seat. If I place the smaller bookcase to the right of the fireplace, there would be room for the spindle chair next to it, just to the right of the doorway as you enter.

Here’s the music cabinet. Isn’t it beautiful? But rather modern and “Zen.”


Here is a link that might be useful: Sheet music cabinet

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:27PM
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That sheet music cabinet is drop-dead gorgeous! I'm in love!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:55PM
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Let's see:

Projects for Now:

1)Switch the short cabinet and the Asian altar table (including the artwork that hand above it) The altar table (with the modern lamp and modern artwork) would look smashing between the front windows .....

2)Pull in the wonderful area rug -- so that the front feet of the sofa sit on the rug itself. O.K. now step back and look again. Now shift the WHOLE seating area (sofa/loveseat and tables etc.) toward the two windows slightly (this exact distance depends on moving the two wing chairs in front of the windows -- see instructions below)

3)Place the two tall bookcases WITH the shorter cabinet between them -- on that wall in front of the piano. Yes -- move/remove the one wingchair on the left-hand side of the fireplace to accomplish this task. This will create a "library" feel to the this end of the room -- so that the seating area will shift slightly toward the front two windows.

4)O.K. Place the two wing chairs -- one in front of each window -- Play with the angle and try and get one wing chair right into the corner -- inches count!!! :)

5)Float the modern armchair in front of the fireplace ...... you may have to stash the ottoman for now)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 6:18PM
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Future Possible Plans:

a)Custom storage cabinets -- (creamy painted wood) open and closed storage -- around the whole fireplace wall ..... additional lighting could be added too ....

b)New sofas with possible slipcovers -- see link to Mitchell and Gold -- just for discussion and measurements

c)New curtains panels in lined creamy fabric -- with added possible woven natural blinds (for a modern texture)

d)New lamps -- tall simple lamps for end tables -- standing lamp possible as well .......

Here is a link that might be useful: Mitchell and Gold -- sofa ideas

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 6:31PM
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Here is a gallery of room photos from Pottery Barn which may help with ideas .....

Here is a link that might be useful: PB -- photos of rooms for ideas

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 6:37PM
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Your living room and mine must be long lost twins -- well, fraternal twins not identical. Where you have a door and a window, I have a large picture window (all the better to see my car and driveway). My window to the right of the fireplace was replaced with a door to a screened porch.

I would show you pictures but it needs a lot of decorating work and might not help much. I will be following this with interest.

I don't have a piano but I do have a dining room table and chairs at one end since I don't have (or need) a dining room.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:31PM
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Holly- Kay

Oh my. your music cabinet is absolutely smashing, I love it. It is indeed very Zen. It will probably set the tone for your whole room.

I do understand your DH's passion for his books but I have never been fond of paperbacks and gladly gave them away when I finished one.

We recently started to redo the library which will probably become our dining room. I started sorting through my books and only kept my classics, reference, and historical books. I donated the rest. Having a Kindle or reading on my iPad has really reduced my book clutter.

This is a picture before my purge but it gives you an idea of how much can be stored with custom cabinetry. The drawers and the bottom cabinets are a mess and on my list of projects. The two units on each end that you can't see are all open shelves and store a lot of books.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:35PM
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The cabinetry is beautiful. And I love what you have done with it. Some books, hardcover, mixed with decorative items. That's exactly what I wanted to do, but it is what it is. My husband simply will not part with his books. Even ratty paperbacks. He grudgingly said he would allow me to replace them with new versions, even though they're not as good (to him.) he likes the actual volumes that he has read and handled. It really bugs me, because the number of novels he has read in the last three years can be counted on one hand, whereas I am an avid reader. A lot of those books he won't give up are ones that I bought, back in the day, and I have read but he has not. Really? "Scenes of Clerical Life," by George Eliot? I replaced every single one of those books with the Kindle version, but that is not acceptable, either. I can't do anything with him. He's not a hoarder, but he sure has trouble throwing things out.

Sorry, but I had to vent.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:02PM
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Holly- Kay

(((Hugs))) My DH gets frustrated with me too because he sure can stash away the most useless items that I want to toss.

It's probably the tactile experience of actually handling a book that appeals to your DH. I suppose in the grand scheme of things there could be worse problems.

If you go ahead with doing a cabinetry area maybe he will get excited about how beautiful it looks and make a concerted effort to cut down or at least store them neatly in baskets on your shelves.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 9:12PM
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It is almost impossible to part a reader from their books lol. I know because I'm a avid reader. over the last few years I have managed to replace all of my ratty old paper backs with hard covers by buying a few at a time at half .com now my book shelves look great and I still have all my old friends.
I moved all my book shelves to a spare room took out the bed and put in a sofa sleeper so I now have a library where I can sit and read and be surrounded by my books. It also makes for a lot less clutter in my living room.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 9:31PM
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I suggest putting the PB books in baskets or some other storage type of bin, and then put the basket into the book shelve. We did this with our 800 CDs and DVDs in our last house. It was much nicer to look at.

All the baskets need to be the same though, or it kind of bugs me.

DH shouldn't have to give up his books, but should be asked how he wants to have them put away enough that you don't find them to add too much visual clutter, but accessible enough that he can enjoy them.

If that won't work, then (I'm not kidding) sort them by color.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:11PM
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What about cabinetry with opaque glass for the books? And maybe something musical - art? - as a nod to your husband and the piano.

Some gorgeous panels and new frames would be great.

I really like the lines of your sofas - I think they would look great with a more modern upholstery.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:15PM
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Below is a link to a Houzz idea book on editing a LR. It may not work in terms of layout, but it has some good ideas about making it lighter and incorporating traditional and more contemporary elements.

Here is a link that might be useful: editing adn evolving LR

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 9:49AM
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I was going to suggest that you angle the piano into the corner (with the piano bench in the corner) but you may not have enough room to do that unless you move the love seat. It would create some wall space for the new sheet music cabinet against the far wall and also the music stand either there or near the window nearest the piano bench.

Your son's architect model is very nice and I think you should try to find a spot to display that (other than on the piano where it seems to be rather precarious) if you can. Built-in bookcases would be a great place to showcase that piece.

I love the ideas about putting your DH's PBs in a glass-fronted cabinet or basket. I appreciate he wants to keep them somewhere close and if there are few, I really think you should look at a different set of bookcases, whether the built-in ideas (would be wonderful if you can swing it) or a new set incorporated in the style you desire.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 11:15AM
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According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, there are between 500-600 books in the living room alone. And even more in the rest of the house--family room, upstairs bedrooms, etc. And that doesn't count my sons' books, which are also numerous, or the boxes upon boxes of my sons' books in the basement. They are still in the nomad stage of life, and living in small apartments, so they can't really take them yet. My older son will probably move back to NYC in a year and hopefully buy a house, so finally his books can go!

Anyway, I don't want to harp on it. I'm sure a solution can be found that will make both of us happy. Glass bookcases, or custom cabinetry, or something.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 11:31AM
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Finally managed to scan my scale-drawing. It's not perfectly accurate, but it should give you a better idea. For instance, the room is 13'3", not 13". But it's better than no floor plan.

The door at the far end opens to the porch. It's hinged on the left. The fireplace measurement is actually the mantel measurement. which sits on top of the two vertical supports and overhangs a few inches. So you could theoretically put a short something in there, like the music stand. Not that that's necessarily a great idea.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 1:42PM
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