The Right Way to Lay Out Your Living Room: The 7 Formulas Interior Designers Rely On
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The Right Way to Lay Out Your Living Room: The 7 Formulas Interior Designers Rely On

What size should the rug be? How high the coffee table? Design pros don’t just wing it. They follow these guidelines.

Mon, Jul 31, 2023 8:24amGrey Clock 4 min

“DESIGNING A ROOM is like putting a puzzle together,” Paul Corrie, an interior designer in Washington, D.C., told me. Despite my having interviewed dozens of design wizards as a journalist, my own suburban Colorado living room remains “unsolved.”

So I reached out to my decorating contacts to see if they could prescribe formulas for living rooms: from optimal rug sizing to how high to hang lights. None of these rules are etched in parquet, but even experienced designers largely stick to them. And they’ll help you (and hopefully me) map out a handsome but homey living room.

1. Keep Your Friends Close

Conversation can sputter fast if your seat is too far from—or discomfitingly near to—your chatmate. The minimum distance between the fronts of seats, says Atlanta designer Vern Yip, is 42 inches. Anything within that “feels like you’re intruding on somebody’s personal space,” said Yip, author of “Design Wise” (Running Press, 2016). The max separation is 120 inches. Any farther and “you no longer feel like you’re in the conversation.”

When laying out seating in a living space, Ellen S. Fisher, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the New York School of Interior Design, often conjures an image of three sides of a square for inspiration. “Why this shape? Because everyone likes a corner seat and to sit at right angles to others when conversing,” she said. Passageways between pieces that will see traffic should be at least 24 to 36 inches wide, says Yip.

2. Serve Up Comfort

My own coffee table is all wrong: a 33-inch wide ellipse of marble that, at just 12 inches tall, means my 6-foot-5-inch husband stoops like a drooping tulip just to pick up his morning tar. Ideally, says Yip, the table surface and seat should be the same height (as should a side table and sofa arm). And place the coffee table no further than 15 inches from the sofa, says Fisher, author of “Home: The Foundations of Enduring Spaces” (Clarkson Potter, 2018). Or even 12 inches, said Fisher. “That might seem too close, but if the table is too far away, a person on the sofa can’t pick up an hors d’oeuvre.” And the table should be one half to two-thirds the length of your settee, “small enough that you can negotiate around it but large enough that people sitting on the ends can still easily access the table,” Yip said.

3. Lower the Lights

You probably know to layer your lighting. An optimal scheme, says Yip, includes recessed, atmospheric and task lighting. But are you aware of ideal placements? Table and floor lamps, for example, should be low enough “so when you’re sitting, the shade doesn’t go above eye-level,” he said. Chandeliers need a minimum of 76 inches from the floor to the lowest point of the light but a maximum of 84 inches. “You see a lot of houses that have double stories—you know, homes in suburbia trying to be mansions—where the poor fixture is hugging the ceiling and doesn’t feel like part of the room,” said Yip. The aim is to have walking space while lending “ambience, atmosphere and scale to the space,” said Yip. Got sconces? Place them on either side of whatever they’re bracketing, be it a painting or mirror, aligned with the centerline.

4. Roll Out a Big Rug

Though I loathe the bland, taupe wall-to-wall carpet we inherited from our home’s previous owners, I have to admit, it creates a boundless horizon and feels dang good underfoot. Conversely, a too-small rug is bound to shrink the room. At minimum, the front feet of the furniture should sit on the rug. Better: all four feet, said Fisher. Yip takes it a step further, often custom-ordering expansive rugs so they extend to within 12 to 18 inches of the “limiting factor” (such as a wall or fireplace hearth).

5. Careful With the Couch

“A 6- to 8-foot long sofa is going to give you the most flexibility in designing a room,” said Corrie. As to the depth of the seat, a person can sit back about 24 inches before he or she starts to recline. Anything deeper calls for throw pillows. As for the overall depth of a sofa, “less than 33 inches starts to feel like a bench seat, and more than 38 inches creates a footprint that will impact everything else,” Corrie said.

6. Aim Higher

I dream of flinging open silk velvet draperies each morning, like a “Downton Abbey” maid. But if I make the splurge, how high should they be hung? “It doesn’t matter if you have thousand-foot-tall ceilings,” Yip said. “Take your drapery as high as you can go,” and don’t stop short of the floor. If you have crown molding, roost your curtain rods just below it. Yes, this costs, but it also makes rooms feel voluminous.

7. Max Out the Viewing

Whether placing a TV, mirror or painting, consider where the observing peepers will be. Hang art so that its center is 60 inches from the floor—“the average human eye level,” said Yip. Televisions, since they’re watched while sitting, can be hung as low as 48 inches floor-to-center. Ideal viewing distance? “Roughly 1½ to 2½ times the diagonal measurement of the screen,” Yip said. For example, a 60-inch screen is best placed 90 to 150 inches from your seats. Any closer and you’ll notice a breakdown in picture quality, says Yip. “Any farther and you won’t feel engaged.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Expert tips for prospective buyers looking to purchase a home in 2024.

By Josh Bozin
Fri, Apr 12, 2024 3 min

For aspiring homeowners, be it a first-time buyer, downsizer, or investor, picturing your idea of homeownership bliss is the easy part. But before deliberating on furniture choices or scouting for that perfect neighbourhood coffee, understanding your purchasing power stands out as the most important step in ensuring your success in homeownership.

And with the Australian property market gaining momentum in 2024, there’s never been a better time to come to grips with your financial options.

In 2023, amid the changing financial landscape that saw rising interest rates and the cost of living skyrocket, among other factors, the total amount borrowed for property purchases across Australia was estimated at $300.9 billion, a 12.7 percent decrease from the previous year, according to PEXA’s latest Mortgage Insights Report.

Each mainland state also experienced a decline in new lending, according to the report, with Victoria and New South Wales seeing the biggest drops to $84.1 billion and $109.5 billion, respectively.

While this trend reflects the repercussions of such financial hardships on the everyday Australian, John Morello, director and auctioneer at Jellis Craig, said we’re seeing renewed confidence in the property market during the first quarter of 2024, particularly in Melbourne.

“Auction clearance rates have started the year strongly and consumer sentiment is rising. This lift is driven by cooling inflation and an improved outlook on interest rates. At Jellis Craig, as with the rest of the market, we are experiencing an increase in volume of property compared to the same period in March last year (up 28% in 2024),” Mr Morello said.

“Melbourne’s property market, in particular, is showing its ongoing evolution and resilience.”

PEXA’s report revealed that, while borrowing saw a decrease in 2023 in Australia, Australians still invested $613.0 billion in property purchases in 2023. In 2024, purchasing confidence is only going up, as prospective first home buyers, seasoned downsizers, and savvy investors look to capitalise on a flood of new property hitting the market, coupled with the lowering of interest rates across the board.

“With more certainty in the economic outlook, along with an increase in volume of property available, we are seeing these factors translate to early signs of a boost in confidence in both buyers and sellers,” said Mr Morello.

“Further encouraging data shows that whilst there is more property available to purchase, more people are inspecting property, again indicating that demand has increased broadly across our marketplace.”

If you’re in the market for a new property, the biggest question you must ask yourself is how much house can I afford?

A great starting place is to speak with your mortgage broker or financial professional, who can guide you on your lending options. This is critical, as you need to know what your future repayment options might look like, and ultimately, what you will typically be able to afford.

A useful tool for judging whether you can afford a specific property is to factor in the 28/36 rule — a rough guide that suggests you should not spend more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income on housing, and no more than 36 percent on all debts. Another useful tool is the idea of a debt-to-income ratio (DTI); a formula whereby an individual can divide all of their monthly debt payments by gross monthly income to arrive at a number that one can measure as a way of managing monthly mortgage payments.

Mr Morello emphasised the need to understand affordability and what’s feasible for each individual when looking to make a purchase, no matter the budget, on a property in 2024.

“It’s pivotal to work out what you can afford. Get your finances in order. Consider all associated costs with buying, and research what concessions and grants are available,” said Mr Morello.

“It’s easy for individuals to begin the process today. Start actively searching potential properties on a weekly basis, and research areas you are interested in. Check weekly sales results, attend inspections and auctions, to get a feel for the process. Just remember, it’s important to be really comfortable in understanding your living expenses, and what the ongoing expenses will be once you have bought a property.

“For example, mortgage repayments, council rates, water, power, owners corp fees, insurances, maintenance costs; if you are buying as an investment, the Land Tax payable on that property which is an ongoing tax. There’s many factors to consider.”

To see what’s possible for your specific circumstances, visit our Finance Portal for specific tools, guides and tips—as well as our own mortgage calculator—to assist you on your property journey.


35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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