Overcrowded Living Room Overcrowded Living Room

Q: I have a rather small living room, and it simply looks too crowded now. The room is 11 x 12, and has an entertainment center that is 72" high and 57" wide, and is used only for stereo components and collectibles. We also have two end tables, a cocktail table, a 63" sofa, and a loveseat.

Should we trash the sofa and loveseat and replace them?

A: It makes me so anxious to think about this that I need a meditative retreat in a feng-shui palace of austerity just to begin answering this one.

I'm not sure how you managed to get all that furniture into that room, and it will take some top-notch moving skills to maneuver any of it out of there, but yes, this is what you must do in order to save that room.

Luckily, you've addressed your question to not only the premier distance education program in interior design, but you've also addressed it to a design school located in one of the most highly designed cities in which people contend with small spaces all the time. Only the very wealthy in New York feel they have anything resembling enough room in their homes; most of us delight in showing off our home office tucked into an armoire, or a new shelving unit that serves as entertainment center and laundry center, with recycling under the bottom shelves.

The first thing I'd do is make sure you've got clearance around that window. One easy - and inexpensive - way to get a spacious look in any room is by stripping away the window coverings. If you live in a place where you don't need curtains for privacy, you can bare the window entirely; putting up an attractive trim around the window and painting it in a color that contrasts with the wall color would be best.

But if you do need some kind of window shade, by all means don't go with the heavy curtains and valance that would look better in a more spacious room. Instead, go with something minimal, like a Japanese paper shade. Many home stores now sell these, or their relatives, the cloth shades that you simply raise or lower. When raised, these shades will allow lots of light, and light means space. And when lowered, the shade will provide a clean line.

Once you take care of the window, the next step is to get rid of some of that furniture. If the "entertainment center" is really just being used for storing things, why have it at all? These things serve a good purpose when they're needed, but all too often people buy these centers without really considering whether or not it's best for their room. An entertainment center takes up a good deal of room no matter what; perhaps you could consolidate the stereo stuff and the collectibles and keep them on tall, narrow bookshelves instead.

Next, think of the Sheffield Guidelines to Interior Design: function, mood, and harmony. How much do you want your room to function as a place to entertain friends? The answer to this will help you determine how much seating you really need. If you have a family of six, you need enough seating so that six people can sprawl over the furniture without feeling cramped. But if you have a family of two or three, you may only need a small sofa and one or two easy chairs.

By all means take yourself out to the furniture stores and see what alternatives there are to your loveseat and sofa. Avoid anything overstuffed; in fact, you may want to consider a futon sofa and chair, which will have thin, sleek lines. Scandinavian furniture also often looks more sleek than the traditional American furniture.

If you live in a big city, it should be easy to find furniture stores that specialize in apartment-size furnishings, which will be a bit smaller but will still provide room for everyone.

And then, call the best moving company to get that stuff out of there, because they'll have to find creative ways around all that furniture.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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