I had two client visits yesterday. The first client had a great room with a fireplace. In her interior, the best place to install the TV will be above the fireplace, so we talked about installing wing chairs to flank the fireplace.
She mentioned that no one would sit there because you can’t see the television (example above).
via Design Sponge
The second client had a very awkward and narrow living/dining area in her tiny condo downtown. After going around and around on every possible layout for furniture, we decided that a dining room would look best in one area of the space, even though she wouldn’t use it very often.
How many of us have a dining room that is rarely used? But you still have dining room furniture in there right?
Or, you might have a large master bedroom with room for a sitting area. Some might argue that you’ll never sit there.
And, a more common argument for NOT refreshing a dated living room (vs. a family room) is ‘We rarely use this room’.
But here’s the thing. If you are committed to having a LOOK and a FEEL, you still need to have those chairs beside the fireplace, or the dining room that you rarely use, or living room furniture in your master bedroom, or a refresh of your living room.
Conversations in this house go like this “What will LOOK the best”, “Will it be PRETTY?”. “If we replace that, what will everything else around it look like then?”
If you were a fly on the wall, you’d often hear me saying things like:
“I hate that, it looks terrible”
“I’m not installing that, it will look bad.”
“No way, that’s just ugly”
On anything from a piece of furniture to where a wire will run (and what colour it should be) inside the garage because an outside light is being installed.
Terreeia is way more about FUNCTION than PRETTY than me, but she mostly goes along with my obsession with pretty because she loves the way the house looks in the end.
There’s nothing WRONG with function or comfort taking priority over pretty. However, I think when designers get stumped, it’s because they are trying way too hard to give their clients EVERYTHING.
Sometimes that’s just not possible.
When I work too hard trying to give a client both, only to come to the conclusion that it’s not possible, I usually realize that about halfway or 3/4 into the consult. Then I make myself wrong for not seeing it sooner.
It works kind of the same way as this diagram (below).
My Mom sat on the all the pretty recliners (that didn’t look like recliners) back in the day when we were shopping for them. She hated them all and declared them uncomfortable.
If you are in a situation where you want functional, low maintenance, practical and sublimely comfortable, oh, and by-the-way can it be PRETTY too? You might have to sacrifice ‘look and feel’ in order to get low maintenance, or comfort. Or it’ll cost a lot more.
It’s kind of like the saying,
People say “Won’t a white kitchen get dirty and won’t it mark-up easier?” Yes it will.
“What about a white sofa, won’t I have to wash it?” Yes you will.
“What about white grout? Will I have to bleach it?” Yep.
Related post: Is White Worth the Extra Maintenance?
Same goes for furniture you don’t need or won’t use very often. If you look at elaborately decorated, large interiors in design magazines, do you think every single chair gets sat on regularly??
No they don’t. But these are the interiors that have a ‘look and a feel’.
If you want that? Your entire conversation becomes very different from the one most people have which is often more about practicality and comfort.
Is it practical to have a chair or two you’ll never use? Maybe not, but it looks good.
If you want your room or home to have a ‘look and a feel’, BEAUTIFUL has to win most of the time, otherwise you just won’t have it.
Did I say there’s anything wrong if you have to give up pretty to have function or comfort? No, but just know that sometimes it’s impossible to have both.
Over to you my lovelies, which one are you? Pretty, practical or comfortable?
The Enchanting World of Atmosphere
Functional is also beautiful. A lot can be learned by observing where guests sit when they visit. I used to entertain 8-12 people on a fairly regular basis. I had a fairly large living room/dining room space. Even in that size group I found that no one used the smaller “conversation” groupings. People would pull up cushions on the floor, and bring chairs closer in than I had arranged. As a result, I reconfigured the furniture, and “floated” some pieces. It still looked good but guests were more comfortable and had a better time. Avoid the “dead space” in a room, isn’t that the basis of Feng Shui? I slightly modify furniture arrangement based upon the number of guests I am expecting.
Years ago I was at a clients home who wanted ideas on how to update her living room. I suggested that she get rid of the more than “broken in” lazy boy chair in her room. She was immediately insulted and did not have me back! (It is then I realized that it helps to have a degree in psychology if you are in the interior design profession.) You are so right, you can’t have it all and this person did not know what she was paying me to do. Pretty wins with me all the time!
Well, since following your blog, I definitely lean a lot more “pretty”! But with 3 kids I have to have a good dose of practicality and comfort to stay sane. It’s about finding that balance between enjoying how everything looks and not letting that feeling get overrun by the stress of keeping everything pretty.
I laughed out loud at the chart, especially when I spotted Nirvana. I love it and recognized myself immediately: I want things to be cheap and great but get stuck with a long duration. Thanks for bringing it home in a visual way.
Pretty! I love slipcovered furniture with lots of pillows (which is mostly comfortable) but I really detest recliners.
Oh man, this is always a struggle for me! I love both form and function – but the cheapo in me is always screaming for only buying what will be used. And a rambunctious one year old is another vote for function. But, not without a fight! I do what I can to put form first in whatever way I can – white chairs in Sunbrella fabric, beautifully patterned custom throw pillows that are still inexpensive enough to be replaced, cute accent tables that are placed in a corner so he’s less likely to pull it down. But, I definitely agree that for your home to have the look and feel that people really want, you do sometimes have to buy furniture that just may not get used that often!
Maria- excellent blog!
You are 100 percent right .
I’m all about pretty ! And yes you do have to have furniture you might not use .
A room needs balance .’
Doesn’t mean we have to stuff it either but a whole big empty wall doesn’t work .
Yes . Whites r not always easy to care for . But they r beautiful .
Thanks enjoyed !!
Excellent post! Thanks for that clarity I so often find myself going back and forth about in my head and with clients! Love the chart.
I love watching how guests use my furniture – I learn so much. The chairs that I thought were too over-sized were perfect for the gal who kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up beside herself. The ottoman that I thought was a great investment (flexible seating, dear) turns out to be too heavy and clunky for a guest to move into the conversation group by himself, so it is ignored. The absent side tables (because it would look too crowded, dear) leave guests making little flying motions, like pelicans perched on a post, looking for a place to park a sweaty glass. We have two sets of table-and-chairs; the set by the family room is not very comfortable, while the set 40 feet away is extremely comfortable. But even when I suggest they bring one of the comfortable chairs, they will drag up the nearest and least comfortable. So, what I’ve learned is, portable is the name of the game, smaller and lighter is helpful. Items should be placed informally so that guests feel comfortable rearranging slightly. A ceramic garden seat is can replace a full side table. AND, bonus, when you decorate with a thematic approach, the items pulled occasionally from one room to another actually enhance the appearance of the gathering space, rather than turning it into a budding garage sale. I agree with BillP, functional is beautiful; but my favorite situation is when pretty can be made functional.
Great reply – funny and I can totally see all those folks in your house. So, when can I come over for tea?
Haha, OMG I laughed out loud with your pelican story. . . thanks for your comment! Maria
yes..my guests constantly inform me..:) that’s very very true
(mine can spend hours around dining table..hours upon hours..just a cultural thing..the more informal the gathering is the less chance they’ll ever leave that table..))
Just love this post … I have small rooms that tiny LR dining thing …hate that … so I sacrificed that tiny dining space into what I call a ” Denlet” 2 chairs , art , 1 bookcase for a tiny TV it functions as an LR add on. I personally love dining
Spaces but mine is now off the kitchen not my favorite but sometimes sacrifices are necessary . The Denlet functions
Perfectly for me , I read or sometimes paint there creating a mess … again a sacrifice to ultimate appearance or use . But Maria you’re right and while I drool over those beautifully designed rooms with the perfect everything , it’s not what I have nor would work where I am.
Great article , great questions to ask oneself and the designer. I’m happy when someone can live in their dream home !
I am without a doubt one who likes to create “pretty”. Sometimes I give in to a recliner in the family room to please the husband because he likes to sit there and watch sports. There are now recliners that are both good looking and functional. (Well, I still don’t like the looks of recliners regardless!) It is sort of like painting a picture where all of the colors are harmonious, the furniture placement and scale are correct and the accessories finish the picture. Most of the time the women are happy with “pretty”. Not so much the men. Men don’t always see the big picture or maybe they could care less. I think that usually they want function rather than an aesthetics.
Ours is a happy home, filled with comfy, practical, pretty things. Oprah once said your home should “rise up to meet you.” I love this!!! It doesn’t have to be expensive to “feel” good?
I would agree largely! If you think about it differently…it’s like art…you’re paying to get a look and feel, but no, you aren’t “doing” something with your art.
Sometimes ugly can be disguised, like a throw on the puffy recliner. Comfort is important because it can affect your posture and when bad posture becomes a habit, it can affect your internal organs and health or gait which causes pain and restrictions in movement, setting up more failing health issues.
For example, my mom is shrinking due to osteoporosis. The sofa she sat on was uncomfortable for her and dad. Dad had problems with arthritis and had to sit in a dining chair with arms to be able to get up and couldn’t get out of the recliner nor did Kom have the strength to make them work. Mom’s knee was bothering her when trying to get out of the sofa.
Eventually, we got two non recliners custom designed for her that swivel in front of the fireplace, and a sofa and love seat where the seat depth and height were made just for her. Tall people are welcome, but don’t live there, so it’s not designed for my former 6’4″ boyfriend. We chose fabric that went with her hardwood floors and the fireplace surround stone. We got pillows that tied in the artwork my sister and I had given them years ago for their 25th anniversary. No rug because of trip and fall hazards. She loves it. It needs a rug in my opinion, but my dad fell 11 times in the 24 months before he died from the last fall, so I’m not pushing the rug idea.
I should add that we had the arm styles and heights designed to be perfect for her, too. And the seat firmness, too. When you’re 80, you’ve earned the right to be comfortable.
Those two chairs flanking the fireplace make a complete conversation area… rooms that have all the furniture directed towards the TV look like rooms where nobody ever wants to sit and talk to each other. So they are functional as well as looking good, just for different times/ uses than TV watching.
That’s why I buy mostly vintage and hunt stuff for weeks, months, sometimes years..:)
Otherwise would be impossible to afford.
Especially as I’m also crazy about books, art, plants, lights, throws, pillows, teapots..:) And they also cost money.
(some furniture though I do buy new..and some, I can even go for custom..if it something that makes a lot of sense..and the best is to stumble upon something vintage AND custom! you truly feel you have a piece of history in your hands..)
I had a revelation though lately that never I’ll feel as great sitting on a leather sofa as I’d feel on a velvet one..as much as I try..and as much as I like the lines and the colors of what I’ve got..and as much as I love the low maintenance…
So at some point..some distant point..I’ll be after that velvet…:)
PS hate recliners..unless they’re pretty but then they’re rare..I’d agree to something like that recliner that Design Within Reach sells..it’s very light looking, delicate, pleasure to look at, yet extremely comfortable(I tried it)..but it 3 K or something..:)
I’d never do TV over the fireplace because I find it being both not pretty and extremely not comfortable. It’s a pity that many new houses are planned in such a way that basically constrains a poor homeowner to have their TV’s there, and there only. Well, it’s not the only mistake often done in these new houses, usually extremely poor planning of the space…and why it costs what it costs in our area, truly beats me. You’d think that one can put a bit more heart and soul in his work. whatever his work is, including planning houses.
I agree with you, AprilNeverEnds! I personally find that watching a TV above a fireplace is a bit like having to sit in the front row of the movie theater–a very uncomfortable viewing angle for most of us who SIT (not lie back or stand) in front of it! I also agree with you that it really detracts from the beauty of a fireplace and the kind of ambience a traditional fireplace creates, however, if you are going for a very modern look, I guess it fits that look, as in the photo above!
I understand though that Maria, and any designer, has to do what the client wants and often, as you say, there is no good alternative location for the tv. Sigh….as far as the look and atmosphere I’d like in my home, I would prefer to be able to hide all technology as much as possible — thank goodness that my husband’s music all fits in his iPhone now and we don’t need all that stereo equipment anymore and those HIDEOUS speakers! Bless those engineers at Bose who came up with that tiny speaker system for the iPhone!!! Just my 2 cents.
Good news . . . velvet is one of the most durable fabrics that exist.
When we had our old house, I made my husband get rid of his much loved blue leather recliner for a more design-worthy one. He hated the new one and complained about it constantly, so I found another recliner that didn’t look like a recliner that I thought he’d like. Nope. He hated it and complained constantly about it not being comfortable. Before we moved into our new house, at the estate sale, he bought the recliner that the previous owner had used. It’s a brown recliner. There are now ifs ands or buts that it is a recliner. It LOOKS like a recliner with the puffy arms and everything. I do not like the way it looks, but at least the color coordinates with the decor, unlike his much loved blue one. It’s ugly, but it makes him happy. I can live with an ugly recliner much easier than I can live with a grouchy, complaining husband.
While it’s too late for you, earlier this year, I did a kitchen, pantry and laundry room project that grew to the lining room and after a break will include the den and bathroom. In the living room, we recovered the two leather wing back recliners from Ethan Allen (that their dogs shredded with their nails) and got a new sofa and swivel rocker and ottoman. The upholstery guys did a perfect job and we had lots of leftover fabric to redo a bench in the entry way. The rest of the lower level will be done after the college graduation party they had this month.
It certainly shows you could not have gone to design school. You can have both !!
Did you mean for this comment to sound as nasty and petty as it does…?
Of course she meant to be nasty. She is obviously one of those designers who can’t bear it when someone without a design degree . . . designs.
It probably burns her butt to see Maria’s success at teaching color undertones too.
It’s hard to pick just one–I guess pretty, because that’s where I won’t compromise. But I like comfort and want our guests to be comfortable, so I bought extremely comfortable dining room chairs that people can sit in for several hours (instead of the ever-so-charming small, hard-backed chairs paired with backless bench) and make sure that no matter where you sit, there is always someplace to set your drink. When we entertain large groups buffet style, many people stay in the dining room, where there is lots of seating and people can move chairs around to form groups. You do learn a lot from observing your guests.
I usually win with PRETTY and manage to include practical and comfortable. I am thankful that my husband is a big fan of PRETTY as well. We have a beautifully decorated formal dining room and while we don’t entertain there as often as we used to (husband back in grad school, Ph.D this time around) it makes me happy as I pass through it the kitchen. I have also taken to using that room as my own home office since he has taken over what used to be our shared office space. It makes me happy to work or play with crafts in that room since it is so pretty. And our 4 Siamese cats use that room because it has exposure to the warm afternoon sun and the table becomes Kitty Beach. I promise, I do clean it off before we dine, lol!
I vote for pretty! Great post, Maria! !
GREAT POST! I have always erred on the side of pretty. The eye needs comfort as much as the body. You can always splurge one at least one super comfy AND beautiful sofa or chair, but how that unused table, ottoman or chair LOOKS from my vantage point on that comfy piece effects my emotional comfort far more than any practical furniture.
Pretty is the first rule but I won’t compromise on functionality or comfort either. Yes, it does turn out to be expensive and the hunt is sometimes very long but I always find a way to do it. Practicality, that’s not important at all to me. My 5 year old daughter has Scalamandre Leopardo pillows on her bed and a Fortuny upholstered chair in her bedroom and my son a large antique Heriz rug so I’m clearly nuts but I think that a beautiful, harmonious environment is more important for a person’s health and happiness than it’s given credit for. How you feel, and can live, when you walk into a carefully designed house as opposed to a sloppy, carelessly decorated environment is very different. I know I’m preaching to the choir here but there are so many who don’t realize this and will fight me tooth and nail to retain the status quo in their house while simultaneously wanting something else. Like another poster mentioned, you practically need to be a psychologist to help some people just to arrange their furniture.
I bought an upholstered chair for an empty corner in the bedroom. My husband thought it was silly because he thought it would never get used. But it sure made the room look nicer.
And I do use it…occasionally.
I also thought my living room needed another chair. I bought a spool chair thinking it was a classic. Sure, it’s attractive but I can’t say it’s a comfortable chair. Live & learn.
I’ve learned that I decorate my home on form first. And if it’s easy to clean second. Function comes in third. If I find something that meets all those requirements, that’s my sweet spot.
Terrific post and great comments! I love the way everyone is sharing what is necessary for them. My living room needs a roll arm sofa, as I am a curl-up-in-the-corner of the sofa person. Sitting with my feet on the floor on an armless sofa feels as though I am sitting on a park or bus shelter bench with some pleasant padding for the seat, and a recliner makes me feel as though I’m at the dentist’s. I know a room looks better without a zillion side tables, but I usually have tea, knitting, books and/or magazines, and I want a place for them, along with the table lamps I prefer, because I dislike overhead lights or floor lamps in a living room. As for all seating oriented to the TV, it’s already too much of an altar in our world. On the other hand, I wouldn’t dream of doing without a reading chair in my bedroom, even though I usually read in bed, not on the chair. But the chair makes the room more of a retreat, and that makes me happy and more tranquil, good feelings in the place where you love and sleep. So I guess I try to find a balance between comfort, practicality and pretty. But if you care about pretty, that IS an important element of comfort, and it’s certainly necessary for pleasure.
Pretty!!! But you can adjust it! The dog sees the soft blanket come out, and he’s begging to get up on that stiff button back sofa! They don’t care about pretty, but oh they love comfort!!! Maybe they are the smart ones!! Haha
PS Love the blue stripe dress?
We have recently redone our family room and I did give in to my 6’4″ husband on his choice (with guidance from me) on a Lazyboy recliner that hubs loves and thinks is comfy. It’s not puffy and is a very nice dark brown high quality looking leather. I actually don’t think it looks bad. We also have a tv over the fireplace, but because our ceiling is just 9 ft and we have a mount that allows tilt, it IS comfortable. Our family room is set up both for pretty and comfort! We have both a leather ottoman and glass rectangular coffee table. I have a super pretty cream colored chair with nailheads that is soft and I can curl my feet up in it. Our two sofas are pretty and comfortable. We are almost done, but we are stuck on drape color. We plan on also installing those Hunter Douglas shades. (Nantucket) I guess we wouldn’t buy furniture that was pretty only…., but it does have to be good looking!
Great points, Maria! You may think that I am a rebel. I replaced the furniture in my seldom used dining area with three comfy chairs placed around a circular coffee table. I love having this pretty conversation area open to the adjoining living room. Why does it have to be so difficult to find pretty, practical and functional in what we bring into our homes? Today I find myself craving the pretty. Fun question to think about. Thanks for asking.
I’m not saying a dining room should be a dining room PERIOD, THE END. I’m saying if you can’t turn your dining room into something else because it kills the entire look and feel of the space, then sometimes it’s better if it’s a dining room like in the example I gave in my post.
Hum.. pretty, comfort or function. We have moved a ton and it mostly depends on the room and finances. My best success was in the great room in our tiny apt in toronto. I decorated from scratch and spent months before moving in – getting it together. The dining chairs got switched to functional with mid century style (free!). Last house we had 4 bedrooms. One had some matching cherry queen anne pieces. I went nuts buying used white wicker bedroom items for the others so I was able to change things as needed. I sold all of it before moving and have mismatched now. Mostly we fall into function and comfort and I try for pretty! However.. I never buy new furniture unless forced and then sorry.. cheap. Paint and slipcovers help alot. Oh well! Thanks for sharing.
I try to have all three: pretty, practical and comfortable. However, for me, I can’t be comfortable if something isn’t pretty…and that’s just not practical is it??
Great post! I’m glad I’m not the only one that struggled with this. I’ve redecorated two of my own houses three times in the last five years. (Moving and such). I’ve learned comfortable and quality are my most important features. BUT I will not even consider a piece of furniture that does not have good scale or classic features. I wouldn’t be able to buy anything without trying it first. My husband insisted on two recliners and we found some that look decent and not bulky. I can’t tell you how many people love them! It’s a small compromise for my hard working husband. Shhh… the truth is I sit in it more than hubby!! ; ) .
I also have a dining room that I knew I would never use. I’ve turned it into a nice office. The office chairs are light enough to pull into an adjacent family room for more guests. We use every single piece of furniture in our home but we have favorites.
i appreciate the nice comments from guests about the house being cozy and pretty. Makes me feel like I did my job right.
I, too, am on the hunt for a nice looking recliner for my 6’2″ tall husband. May I ask which recliners you bought and from where? Thanks!
Pretty, functional, comfortable and versatile is what I shop for in an attempt to decorate my home with. For example; I am currently looking for a love seat for my Living Room which could also be used in my bedroom however the one I did try with similar lines though pretty, was unbelievably deep! In fact, I am convinced its manufacturer may have styled it for Wonder Women’s fictional eight to nine foot Amazon Warriors as my legs dangled hopelessly as my feet would not touch the floor when I sat on it and I am ‘not’ what you would consider short. That said; regardless that I am still on the hunt (as I know it is out there somewhere in Furniture Land) I feel by prioritizing my needs and using this formula paired with a little patience, I can still have the whole enchilada. -Brenda-
Sorry, that should have read …. For example, I am currently looking for a specific style in a love seat for my Living Room etc….. -Brenda-
I LOVE that Venn diagram, “Cheap, Fast, Great”! It corroborates my experience totally! I have been a bit too much of the “cheap” and “great” kind of person, so it takes me way to much time to find that (almost) perfect item and a really great price (due to my very real budget constraints.) Lately though, I’m wondering if it would make more sense to just get a second job and go for the “Great” and “fast” and just pay the high price!!! I need to show my husband this diagram–he just doesn’t understand why it takes me so long to find items for the house!
You read my mind with this post. We recently downsized, and want to make the best (and lasting) furniture choices going forward. Thank you!
I agree with your Venn diagram, but don’t think that fast, cheap or great are interchangeable with pretty, practical or comfortable. I believe you can have pretty, comfortable and practical all at the same time! Logically, a piece of furniture or a room full of furniture is not practical unless it looks good and is comfortable. Why would you buy it otherwise? If it’s pretty and no one wants to sit in it, it’s not at all practical. On the other hand, if it’s comfortable, but you cringe every time you look at it, how long will you put up with that in your home? Don’t settle for something that isn’t all 3. Of course it won’t be cheap.
I’m amazed that I haven’t seen this in the comments so I’m going to say it. “Form Follows Function”. This rule was pounded into my head when I attended Interior Design school. It is the Interior Designer’s job to creatively figure out a solution – that is why you’ve been hired. Figure out what works – then make it beautiful.
Cheap and great=high-low decorating, which works well for my needs. Spending more on a few standout investment pieces mixed with well designed bargain finds and makeover items. Taking the time to do it right is an enjoyable process for me.
I recently read “Remodelista,” in which this hi-low practice is emphasized in every example. While my personal style differs from their minimalist, modern industrial designs, I appreciate the creative spirit of their repurposing philosophy. We did this in the 90’s with the Shabby Chic look, and it can be done in any style.
To improve the flow of our living room, we are replacing pieces that we’ve had for 30 years. I am educating myself about soft furniture construction to decide where the money is best spent. A great sofa and reading chair paired with cheap, but chic occasional chairs for guests. I am reading all of your sofa blogs. Thank you for the great topic.
In the room shown at the top, the reason to put chairs flanking the fireplace is so the room can function as more than a place to watch TV. With the TV off, you can have a conversation facing each other, so it is actually functional.
I am all about the “pretty” too, but never at the expense of function. That way of thinking annoys me and I believe it gives interior designers a bad name. To me, making sure a room functions well is part of design.
I have a friend who was helping his sister cook on a holiday. He reached for a kitchen towel that was draped over the oven handle, and she chastised him. He was taken aback. Apparently, that towel was only there for decoration and he was supposed to know this. The useful towels were kept in a drawer. Insufferable!
I love white, but I am starting to see more kitchen cabinets painted in blues and greens now. Perhaps they will be the solution to being pretty and easy to keep clean.
You CAN have a practical white sofa now if the fabric is treated with Crypton. It’s world’s away from the old Scotchguard, which had unhealthy chemicals. Crypton permeates the fabric permanently so spills bead up.
Therein lies the problem….I want all three – pretty, functional and comfortable. I have an open concept floor plan for the main living functions…alas my beautiful dining room also serves as a jigsaw puzzle space, an office for my son when he comes to visit, Or a storage space for his photography equipment. It can’t serve all three requirements at the same time. But! When he’s not here (the majority of the time) it’s a perfectly lovely space that serves as my window to the outside world because of the nice bay window that overlooks my garden. At this stage of my life (I’m 68) function is primary…but it must be comfortable for the way we live and as pretty as I can make it – allowing for the dreaded recliner my husband requires.
I definitely prefer for things to be pretty. I bought a pretty dark blue bench to go in our living room. When I put it together, I cringed at how cheap it was and realized that with someone heavy sitting on it, it could easily break. Of course I kept it because it was pretty. I did not expect anyone to actually sit on it- we have a sofa and loveseat that are much more comfortable. And yet, for some reason, all the guests that come, sit on this bench. I say a little prayer every time my father-in -law sits on it. However, the bench is still there. It’s just too pretty to take away.
I agree with your position but I also think you are missing part of the conversation. In the example of the wing chairs…yes they bring visual balance to the space and “look pretty” but they also create a room where the focus doesn’t always have to be the television. By having seating opposite the sofa, you create an opportunity to have a conversation or play a game and expand the functionality of your space.
The same is true of a formal dining room. Expand the way you can use the space. Add a bookcase or two . Add closed storage for kid’s art supplies or grown-up hobbies like scrap booking or knitting. You will still have a welcoming space for holiday meals but the rest of the time you gain functionality that might otherwise be lacking in your home.
The cheap/fast/great diagram is a wonderful way to help clients understand how to budget for their spaces. I try to explain that the more specific your wish list is for a single piece of furniture (3 seat sofa with a single cushion and a slipcover and exposed feet) the more likely you will either have to pay more to get it or compromise on a feature or be willing to wait for it to go on sale (or be made to order).
I try to create spaces in my clients’ homes that they will use often and also to encourage them to uses every space on a regular basis. By adding functionality you don’t need as many square feet to live your best in your home.
Hi Maria, I love this post! It’s very timely because we have been decluttering furniture quite a bit this month along the lines of ‘minimalism’. I realized very quickly that it’s nice to have less furniture but there is such a thing as ‘too little’ to feel inviting. We need some furniture placed as you suggest, just for the feel of it… like an upright wing chair near a bookcase just because it invites you to consider sitting down and reading a book. It makes me happy just to ‘see’ the reading nook.
We have mostly new furniture now–hard to believe it–and have started buying things as much for their aesthetics as their functionality. Tim helped me rearrange the furniture in the living room this month and chided me for forcing miscellaneous pieces of furniture to fit in the space over arranging it all to be ‘pretty’. Who knew he cared? Great post!
I’m thinking the priorities might change for some of us as we age or have an illness. If you’re in your later 50’s or greater, remodeling/redecorating AND plan to stay in your house – it might be a good idea to consider aging when planning some things.
I used to be for “pretty” even when living on a sailboat, but now comfort and low maintenance come first. I am trying to keep in mind “pretty” while I plan for the others. I’m not too old (63), but chronic illnesses and back problems means less energy and more pain – and the RA in hands means dusting and cleaning has to be a minimum. Dust mite allergies means as little fabric as possible. Overstuffed furniture is out unless covered with leather or similar (even though I’d rather have fabric). I also don’t want to be pulling slip covers off to wash every other week, so putting one over a leather sofa won’t work. If I lay on my current sofa, my sinus’ immediately clog up – and it gets HEPA vacuumed and cushion covers washed often – but it’s the stuffing that harbors the mites and feces.
I’m still working on these concepts in my “new to me” downsized (fixer upper) house…. and it’s a challenge! But if I don’t do this, my health and too much cleaning become my whole life. Sometimes it’s not what we’d like, it’s what frees us to enjoy life and minimize stress. So if you like pretty first, please go for it – and appreciate it for as long as you can!
I have nice colorful “beachy” artwork that will help – and needs little maintenance. Living in a beach community means that casual will work. I have a “built-in” for books, objects and space for mounted tv in mind- but there must be glass doors on the openings to keep dusting down. Amount of furniture does make a difference when vacuuming. Getting rid of chairs (as much as possible) that require moving to vacuum – so the bar stools and table will be on pedestals instead of legs – which can be quickly dusted and vacuumed around. Anything the vacuum won’t go under will have casters or sliders if possible. As many “off the floor” and built-ins as possible – so a carpenter will be replacing (or augmenting) some furniture purchases. I’m coming up with more ways to make this “new lifestyle” work for now and for aging in place. That also means widening the doors to both baths . Hoping challenges like this will bring out some creativity! And perhaps a learning experience for the poor architect/designer/decorator I need to hire for help. The baby boomers are starting to age, so it’s a good opportunity to learn how to help this population….
In an earlier house, I discovered that my friends automatically gravitated to a 6′ long, 4’wide counter height bar that jutted out from a galley kitchen into the family room, giving seating on both long sides and one end. Bar stools were backed, padded and comfortable. They ignored both the family room and living room furniture. It was just more comfortable and casual to have the bar for elbows, drinks, maybe snacks and the closeness to chat. So I’m replacing the current kitchen island with something similar, maybe a nice curve, with storage underneath. A striking countertop and lighting on the bar will probably be the focal point for the whole room. The pantry means no upper cabinets needed – just artwork, mirrors, etc. so it blends better with the rest of the room and, instead of screaming “kitchen”, it screams “cozy bar”. (This works even if you don’t drink).
When I was younger and healthier, none of this would have crossed my mind! But now, I’m sort of excited with the prospect of freeing up my life instead of bemoaning “what used to be”.
Well said…..I just turned 66 and like to tell folks, I’m an Oldie, but not Moldy. My husband and I are moving out of a 2800 sq. ft. 2 level Townhouse to a one level 2200 sq. ft. open floor plan coastal home on lake lot (being built as I write).
I declared “66” as the start of my Golden Years….No fuss, no muss….Comfortable living and entertaining. Practical purging, not a certified Minimalist…We are married 46 years and have no children….Friends that do constantly tell us, “our kids don’t want our stuff OR the stuff they stored at our house”!!
This certainly is not our first rodeo, but your perspective does change from 30’s to 60’s!
Thanks for your input:)
Several years ago we were shopping in Arhaus Furniture and sat on THE most comfortable, handsome recliner ever. Closed, you would not guess it is a recliner. It is my husband’s chair any time he sits down.( I grab it when he’s not in the house!) Point is, if you look hard enough for handsome AND practical, you will find it. Like great good looking comfortable shoes! ( Check out Joseph Siebel shoes sometime!)
The lumbar support in Italian couches is often superb! Yes, you pay the price, but try a cheap mattress…..how’s that workin’ for ya’?
With internet to preview the great stuff and cars to take us anywhere, why get ugly?
I rest my case.
I love this post! You managed to capture into words exactly what I think every time I encounter this situation (“I don’t want to spend a lot because we never sit in here”, etc). You are so right!!!! Such great points! Thank you for posting this.
I think this is a great question. Agree with everyone who commented about a balance between comfort, function and pretty.
What about folks who don’t want a lot of furniture, no matter how pretty is is? Sometimes a little space is luxury. I know the bedroom photo was to make a point but it looked like a place to host a party, not a relaxing bedroom space.
It also perplexes me why people continue to install TVs at less than optimal viewing height (you can google it). You lose a lot of function/comfort if you’re having to look up.
Oh, how I wish my husband cared more about the pretty! It doesn’t matter so much for the decorating things as he leaves that to me, but when it comes to remodeling type work he is all about the (his phrase) quick and dirty construction, where expedience always wins over good design unless I am hovering over him ready to fight about it. I’m blessed that he has the skills to do almost all house/construction work since we’re a young family on a single income without much extra for prettying the house — I definitely do the cheap/slow method on your diagram. We just bought a new house that needs some remodeling and the tension between our priorities is real!!
Great post!! I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with this.