Owning a small living room does not mean you automatically must squeeze a 7-foot sofa into it. There seems to be a tendency to buy the biggest sofa that one can push into the room; I think out of fear that there will not be enough seating.
Stop and analyze the challenged area for a minute. I'm suggesting you consider other arrangement options before you pull the trigger on an expensive purchase you will surely regret.
First of all, realize that guests will not line up on a sofa. It feels too much like a bus stop and goes against human ergonomics. People do not enjoy sitting elbow to elbow because it violates their personal space. They don't like it in doctor's waiting rooms and they certainly don't appreciate it in your living room.
So you have a fantasy that if you have a 7-foot sofa you can accommodate more guests? Forget it! Secondly, unless someone needs to sleep on a sofa, perhaps you can get by with a love seat. It will look more comfortable in a smaller space.
Next, let yourself imagine alternative furniture arrangements that might better fit your small area. For example, if your living room is really intended for ease, how about using two or four very comfortable chairs instead of a sofa and a couple of stiff, formal chairs? If you think about it for a minute, isn't it better to give four people extremely cozy seating instead of giving those same people one sofa and one bulky recliner?
There are many small swivel chairs on the market that are perfect in a space challenged urban living room or a traditional bungalow setting. The free movement gained by the swivel mechanism makes the chair much more appealing and relaxed.
Ask yourself how many people typically sit in your living room. Try to come up with an arrangement that is wonderful for those times instead of just on party nights. If the answer is that most of the time just four people are present, imagine out-of-the-box solutions.
Wouldn't it be cool to have a coffee table in the center of the space that could either function as a cocktail table or as a dining height table? Then you can add mid-size armchairs that are comfortable for dual purposes. You might find yourselves playing cards, dining in front of the soccer game or relaxing with a pitcher of refreshing drinks.
The key to flexibility in function is flexibility in thinking. Why not break a few long-held conventions in order to coax expanded use out of a smaller room?
Nowhere is it written that a living room must have a sofa. So if your household would better benefit by having two recliners and one home office setup, then embrace that layout with confidence. As long as the pieces of furniture are the appropriate size and allow for good traffic flow, I think the ultimate use of the space is up for grabs.
If your living room must double as someone's bedroom, consider buying the best sleeper sofa that you can afford. Options include futons, chairs that make into twin beds and blow up beds.
The classic Murphy bed was originally designed so that a single room could be used at night as a bedroom and during the day as a parlor. Murphy bed has become a generic term for the type of bed that folds up against a wall and into a bookcase. This concept offers a way to clear the floor space during the day, making it a great solution for a family with little kids. The living room can become the playroom during the day.
• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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