top of page

Designing for Small Spaces: Part Three

For Part Three of my series, Designing for Small Spaces, I am discussing furniture placement, lighting, and accessories. We’re going to get a little technical here, so get out your tape measure. Also, my suggestions work for homes of all sizes, so do read on for some useful tips, and be sure to pin this post for future reference!

First, determine the use of the room:

Dining? Watching TV? Entertaining guests? Twister?

As an example, we will discuss designing a family room. Remember that many concepts overlap and apply to other spaces (like the sizing of lighting fixtures).

Furniture and Placement

In a family room, there are usually two potential focal points, the fireplace and the television. Sometimes, a television is installed above the fireplace due to lack of space (or personal preference). Furniture placement should be based upon both the flow through the room and the desired focal point.

Also, you don’t have to buy a matching loveseat and sofa. In fact, a room is more visually interesting if pieces look collected. Unless you have a pair of lovebirds, seating two people on a loveseat is often too close for comfort. Two chairs or an additional, full-sized sofa may be more functional than a loveseat. See sample floorplans below:

Image Via Homedit

  • Unless you are short on space, sofas do not need to be pushed up against a wall. Often, with today’s open floor plans, it isn’t possible to do so anyway.

  • Avoid overstuffed furniture. Cleaner lines and lower heights can help make a space feel larger and open.

  • A scaled down sectional works nicely when space doesn’t allow for much more than a sofa. Armless models take away visual bulk.

  • Full sized sofas are usually 78 inches or longer. Apartment-sized sofas are typically 77 inches or smaller and can fit more easily into tight spaces.

  • Extra deep sofas should be avoided.

  • If your sofas and chairs will be seen from the back, make sure they look good all the way around.

  • Allow for at least 30-36 inches of walkway around furniture. Walkways should flow around furniture placement, not through it. It can get awkward (and cumbersome) to walk by a sofa and coffee table to get through a room (not to mention disruptive to seated guests). Kitchen walkways should allow about three and a half feet of space to enable the opening of cabinet doors and appliances.

  • Coffee tables are most functional when they are close to seat height and placed about 16-20 inches away from seating. The exception would be a tea table, which is taller in height and useful when the family room is used for eating.

  • Side tables work nicely when they are approximately three inches shorter than the arm of a chair or sofa and comfortably within reach when putting down a drink.

  • In tight spaces, round tables can help prevent people from walking into sharp corners.

  • Balance the room by making sure that the visual weight of opposite walls appears somewhat equal.


  • Layer your lighting! Good lighting offers huge impact in both functionality and appearance. At a minimum, include a ceiling fixture and table lamps. For added function and drama, add wall sconces, directional light for art installments, floor lamps, recessed lighting, and reading lamps.

  • Recessed lighting (referred to by some builders as “can lighting”) is very popular, but too many “cans” can have your ceiling looking like Swiss cheese. Don’t use recessed lighting in lieu of layered lighting.

  • To size your chandelier appropriately, add the length and width of a room in feet, then convert to inches. For example, in a 10’ x 12’ room, your light fixture should be approximately 22” wide. I prefer to go bigger rather than smaller, so in this example, if your choice is between a 20” wide chandelier and a 24” chandelier, I’d suggest the 24” fixture.

  • When hanging a chandelier, allow enough height for a tall person to walk comfortably underneath without hitting their head (about 7’). When hanging a fixture over a kitchen or dining room table in a room with 8’ ceilings, your fixture should hang about 30-34” from the bottom of the fixture to the table top. If your ceilings are taller than 8', allow an additional 3” for every additional foot of ceiling height.


  • Art work should be installed at eye level, typically around 57 inches high. I mention the specific height because eye level can vary tremendously from person to person.

I recall when we were building our home. I drove (almost daily) to check upon its progress. One morning, I arrived to discover the tile surround border being installed about a foot too low in height. As it turns out, our tile installer was rather petite, and he took the directions of installing at eye level quite literally. Luckily, I caught the issue in time, but the mistake would have been costly to fix to say the least.

  • Be a minimalist. Avoid clutter, and don’t over furnish your small space. Keep accessories to a minimum, but do include artwork and finishing touches, such as plants, to add charm.

Image Via Ashley Stark on Instagram

  • Size area rugs appropriately. Area rugs should be large enough to allow the front two legs of sofas and chairs to rest upon the rug. However, the rug should end at least 12-18 inches away from the wall.

Leave a comment and let me know what tips you found helpful!

Want more great design tips? Sign up for my blog. Subscribe here.

Live in the Charlotte, NC area and need a designer? Contact me here.

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Pinterest - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle
bottom of page