Living room decorating can be a challenge. You've got some great things inside - yet how do you arrange them so that each gets its share of the design spotlight?
Even the most beautiful furnishings won't work together if they're not arranged in a way that beckons you to come in and sit a spell.
And decorative objects that are poorly placed or lost amid neighboring items often look extraneous rather than ornamental.
When it comes to living room decorating, the number one rule is that the arrangement of a room's contents is nearly as important as the contents themselves.
How do you know if your furniture placement needs some professional polish? Take a look around your living room - is your furniture flush against the walls?
To create a sense of depth and softness, you should position furniture at an angle or floating away from the wall. This makes the room feel less boxy, more intimate, and inviting.
Start by placing the largest piece, usually the sofa, so it faces the room's main focal point, such as a window with a view or a fireplace.
Next, group the rest of the seating a maximum of 10 feet (3m) from the sofa - farther away makes conversation while seated difficult.
Balance pieces of similar size by placing them across from each other.
For example, a pair of upholstered chairs placed opposite the sofa will provide a better balance than would a pair of delicate wooden chairs.
Within your conversational circle, allow 3 feet (1m) between pieces for natural traffic flow into and out of the seating area.
Balance the room by putting major elements on separate walls; the television armoire will be more prominent if it isn't right next to the fireplace. Place darker pieces where they'll get the most light, by a window or floor lamp - a dark cabinet will disappear in a dimly lit corner.
If the room is large, set up a secondary area to make the room feel cozier and do double duty: Add a desk and chair to a window corner or create a family game area with a small table and a few chairs.
To create the illusion of more space in a smaller room, place the furniture, starting with the sofa, on a corner diagonal. This prominent placement takes the focus off the room size and puts it on the furnishings instead.
Resist the urge to fill up the room with every stick of furniture you own. Bare areas imply spaciousness.
Whatever your living room's size, you should arrange its furniture in a way that makes living comfortable.
If you plan to use it for entertaining, are there enough places where guests can set down glasses and plates? If a coffee table is out of reach from some chairs, place small tables beside them.
Will you be watching Humphrey Bogart classics from your sofa? If so, make sure there's a shelf or cabinet nearby with space to store your videotapes of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.
Now that you've got the foundation - your furniture - in place, it's time to consider the placement of your decorative objects.
Your collections, artwork, and photographs are the elements that project your personality into a room. Why not show them off as a designer would, making the most of each piece?
Start with the walls. Is your picture arrangement boring? Consider rehanging your wall treasures in asymmetrical groupings rather than in straightforward rows; this creates a sense of drama.
Place the bottom edge of the lowest piece 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) above the top of the furniture; work upward from there, going as high as you like.
Hang small groupings behind an elegant table or chair, a single large picture in the back of your ample sofa.
A multitude of tiny treasures spread about a room may seem homey, but the overall effect is usually unfocused rather than appealing.
Instead, group items that have a similar texture, shape, or theme together on shelves, on a coffee table or end table, atop the armoire - and leave a hand's breadth or more of space between each grouping for maximum effect.
Consider your plant placement. If you've stashed that lovely ficus or palm tree in the corner, bring it out! Ideally, plants should enhance something nearby, such as a chair or a lamp, instead of looking like an afterthought.
If your room is dark, here's a simple way to lighten it up: Purchase a trio of inexpensive ready-made mirrors, and add ornate or interesting frames.
The frames should have a common element, such as a similar shape, finish, or theme: If you're going Victorian, choose a trio of similarly ornate, perhaps gilded, frames; if you're after an Art Deco feel, three floral motifs will work nicely together.
Mirrors bring light and depth to a room. For the most significant benefit, hang your mirrors with their horizontal center just a bit higher than eye level on the wall opposite or adjacent to a window.
As an alternative, install several small wall-mounted spotlights positioned to shine down on your favorite pictures or your beautiful shell collection.
Finally, take a tip from home-design magazines and designers themselves: Any room quickly becomes both brighter and more inviting when you add a coxy throw blanket, a sparkling crystal vase or sculpture, or a polished brass or gilded picture frame.
By adding a few of these, and by making the most of what you already have inside the room, you can give your home professional design polish.