Measuring Up: Living Room Design

(Great Neighborhood Homes)

A well-designed living room is functional and aesthetically pleasing—whether it’s for Sunday morning papers, a glass of wine in the evening or a gathering of friends that goes late into the night. Simple rules of thumb for size, distance and scale can create an inviting space and prevent nuisances like banging your knee on the coffee table, pulling a muscle when setting your glass down or having to shout so your book club buddies can hear what you really thought about The Goldfinch. Here are a few guidelines.


For comfortable traffic flow, leave 2-4 feet around the primary seating area (which is ideally situated in the center of the room). This is especially useful when entertaining as people tend to mill around and get up and down for drink or appetizer refills. The same goes for pieces of furniture, bookcases, etc. that are outside of the main seating area.

Couch Size

While there are no hard and fast rules if you apply the above perimeter metrics, your sofa should be at least 2-4 feet away from all walls. You don’t want the couch to swallow the space. The rest depends on how much other furniture you want or need in the space and the scale of the room. A modern room may need little more than a large, low slung couch and table while a more traditional room might have additional cabinets, tables and accessories necessitating a smaller sofa.

Coffee Table Size

The right size table balances the room and is proportionate to the seating area. Aim for a table that is approximately two-thirds the length of your couch. The shape depends on your style and the size of the room. A round or square table can help fill and anchor a larger space, and slimmer rectangles and ovals make sense for smaller or narrower living rooms. Ottomans are a good choice for more casual arrangements where feet-up is a desired option and large, heavy trays can provide steady ground for knickknacks, beverages and snacks.

Coffee Table Distance

A coffee table in front of a sofa should be 16-18 inches away for a comfortable reach to set down a glass and enough space to get up and move around.

Coffee Table Height

A good rule of thumb is 1-2 inches below the height of your sofa cushion. So if your couch is 19 inches from the floor to the top of the seat cushion, your table would be around 17 inches tall.

Side Table Height

A side table next to a sofa or chair should be approximately the same height as the arm of the seating, making it easy to set down a drink, book or turn on a lamp.


To facilitate conversation and preserve a little personal space, leave 4-10 inches between seating. Any more than this and the space can feel a bit chilly and formal—any less could make it a little too intimate.

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