How to design a functional living room

The living room is one part of the home that has to suit all tastes at all times if it is to fulfil its basic functions. The main activities of the household usually take place in the living room, where members of the family meet, work, read, pursue hobbies, listen to music, watch television or entertain friends. If it is going to accommodate all these comfortably, it must be efficient and adaptable; so choose the room you want to use – and all its components -with great care.

Creating space

First look closely at the existing living area and decide whether this could be allocated to a more suitable room in the house. Up to the time of our grandparents, sitting rooms were often on an upper door and work areas were consigned to the lower level where there was less light and more noise and fumes. If your ground floor comprises a kitchen. living room and dining room, it might be possible for the living room to change places with the first floor master bedroom where daylight is not so necessary. A downstairs bedroom, if used by adults. will not be affected so much by traffic and other outside noise since it will normally be in use only from the late evening onwards.

Structural alterations require more money and trouble ; but you can often get quite dramatic results by removing a wall altogether where possible. For example, a dining room is used only for short periods each day – and perhaps not at all some days if meals are taken in the kitchen. See if you can take down the wall separating the dining room from the living area; this will give you one room which seems much larger than the total of the two smaller original areas. In addition the dining table can be used for other activities such as sewing or letter-writing without the person involved having to be separated from the rest of the household.

You may also be able to remove the wall which separates the living room from the hall; this will give you a greater area of living space without sacrificing any other rooms in the home. You could remove both the dining room and hall walls to increase further your living area.

Of course if either of these are supporting walls. they will have to be replaced with a rolled steel joist or some other suitable support; so always contact a surveyor or architect before you attempt such a scheme. Other than this the only real problems involved in knocking two rooms into one are those of heating and insulation; but these can be partly overcome by draughtprooling the windows and the front door – and even by extending a run of full-length curtains to cover the whole of the external wall, including the door.

You can create extra space by rehanging a door to open outwards or replace it with a folding or sliding version. If possible, reposition any radiators where they interfere with an efficient arrangement of furniture and add electrical outlets so you are not stuck with a particularly unsuitable location for the lighting, television or hi-fi.

Taking away a chimney-breast will also add space; but before you do this, be absolutely sure you get expert advice on any structural problems which could arise. Also make sure you will never want an open fire again – and remember that a working fireplace is a much better focal point for a room than a television set. which should be only an accessory. If you cannot remove the entire breast, at least take away the surround and plaster over the opening. Nothing looks. sadder than a bare. blocked-up fireplace. Alternatively leave the recess and use it to house an ornament or large plant and retain a focal point.

Using colour

Colour can make a great difference to the feeling of any room; but the important thing with the living room is to decorate with shades and patterns that are relaxing and easy to live with. This is not the place to indulge your fantasy for dark brown or bright pink walls – the immediate effect might be dazzling, but it is unlikely you will be comfortable with it for several hours each day and over a long period of time.

Choosing FURNITURE

The particular pieces of furniture needed for this room will differ widely with the age. interests and number of people who will be using it; the needs of a young couple in their first home will be very different from those of a large family plus, possibly, an elderly relative. The basic requirements are seating, storage, occasional tables and any equipment needed for entertaining such as a television. record player, tape recorder or radio.

The best way to plan is with the help of a scale drawing of the room on graph paper and cut-out shapes to represent existing and planned pieces of furniture. This paperwork might save you a great deal of time and money if it teaches you that the sofa you saw in the sales will be just that bit too long for the recess you had in mind for it, or that the huge bookcase which took three of you half an hour to move will not fit after all. •

Even after the most meticulous planning you may find, with such a complex room, you can arrive at the optimum arrangement only after living in it for a time. If you need extra furniture or furnishings, you do not have to rush out and buy them all at once. Start with the bare necessities and add only those items you really need or like very much. For example, if you are not sure about material for curtains, first fix cheap white or cream blinds which will always be useful and will give you sufficient privacy; postpone the final choice until you are quite sure what you want. You will find the finished room is much more efficient and pleasant to be in if you take a great deal of time and thought over everything that goes into it. SEATING The main sitting area should be your first consideration. There is no reason to line the walls with furniture like a public waiting room; people probably converse most comfortably when sitting at right-angles to each other, so some kind of’L’ or ‘U’ shape arrangement is ideal. Where possible make sure people do not have to walk through or near this area to cross the room and check it is free from draughts and excessive noise. You might like to plan your seating arrangements to take advantage of such features as a working fireplace or a window with a particularly appealing view.

You will need at least one accessible low table so people do not have to balance a cup or glass on their knee or leave it on the Moor where it might get knocked over. Incidentally, it should follow that any arrangement which is comfortable for those who live with it will be right for any visitors using it as well.

STORAGE Needs will vary enormously according to the household – and the use of the room. Try to be flexible in terms of location. An empty wall is the obvious place for books, hi-fi equipment and drinks, but you may find a run of open shelves for these things will make an efficient room divider to cut off a dining or sitting area from the place where children watch television or where the telephone is located. Look for double-duty furniture such as seating with storage underneath or tables with a lower shelf as well as the top surface.

Make sure the dining table, if it is to be in the living room, is close to the kitchen. When you have guests, you will not want to be carrying dishes and pots of food past them while you are preparing the table. Ideally there should be a hatch from the kitchen through to the serving area; otherwise try to make the route between the two as short as possible.

Above all, plan a living room for the people who will be using it. Although you will always gain by reading decorating books and articles and gleaning ideas from them, in the end it is your own needs and preferences which must come first – not any fancy designs or special effects.

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