One of the frequent design questions I am asked is ‘How do I place the furniture around a corner fireplace?’ This is a bit of a problem. The guideline in design that covers this is that the main piece of furniture in a living room (the sofa) should be oriented toward the focal point. In English this means that the sofa should be placed in front of the fireplace, on the same angle as the front of the fireplace: parallel.
Doing this creates a rectangle or square area around which the rest of the furniture will be placed. That sounds easy and simple but the variables that enter in here make all the difference. For example: is there enough room to put the sofa where it should be? What do we do if the room is not big enough and the sofa must go against a wall? Well first of all if you can’t keep the fireplace and the front of the sofa exactly parallel don’t bother.
If the angles are off – if the sofa points in one direction and the fireplace in another, things will look way too off skew. Better to leave the fireplace at an angle and place the rest of the furniture straight.
When you are working with a corner fireplace – or maybe a corner window- you will need to decide if it is, in fact, the focal point of the room. Depending on the usage of the room the fireplace may be secondary to, for example, the TV. In this case, the TV becomes the focal point and the furniture arrangement starts there.
Start with a room usage list – make sure you know what the room is going to be used for- and design your floor plan with the TV as the focal point. Place the main piece of furniture oriented toward that, keep your angles consistent and the rest will fall into place. a perfect example of this arrangement is Frasiers’ living room on the TV series – the sofa and Martins’ chair are oriented toward the TV and away from the fireplace.
Now, having said that, the next guideline that you really should address is traffic flow- how people move through the room. Try to establish the furniture arrangement in such a way that people will not be moving between the main focal point (the fireplace ) and the main sitting area (the sofa) as they pass through the room.
Please remember that just because you move the furniture it does not mean you will move the traffic flow. We are creatures of habit and if the quickest way through the room is in front of the sofa, that is often where people will walk, even if they have to dodge around other things to get through. A well balanced furniture placement plan will help direct the traffic flow, not interrupt it.
(Think again of Frasiers living room, the sofa table helps direct the traffic around the back of the sofa – it creates a resting place for books, briefcases, bags of groceries, etc. as it ‘points the way’ to the coat rack around the corner and the kitchen) )
This is the (true) story I use to get my design students to remember the importance of traffic flow: Several years ago my sister lived in a small two room log cabin on a very peculiar piece of land. Lots of animals and lots of hills. They moved the cabin to the top of a hill and built an addition. Cute little place. I was visiting, we were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when the house shook, accompanied by a loud bump. Really loud. I thought it was an earthquake; she was calm and said.. ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing’. Happened again. And again. I got up to go look and she said ‘ Don’t worry, it’s just the buffalo. We put the house on his trail and he’s trying to move it’.