5 Simple Measurements to Help Set Up Your Living Area

Sure the kitchen may be the heart of the home, but your living areas are the soul. By living “area” we mean any place where lounging and visiting are the primary purposes – whether that be with friends or family. You might call the space a living room, family room, great room, or den, but if the predominant furniture is comfy, upholstered seating, this article can help you set it up.  Whether you are shopping for some new furniture, or just rearranging what you already own, these measurements will help your room feel right.

5 Measurements to Help Set Up Your Living Area


Maximum distance between seats in a conversation area


Comfortable distance for pathways in and out of the room


Maximum distance from coffee table to sofa.

Maximum ratio for length of coffee table in relationship to the sofa

Arm Height

Maximum height of a side table should match the height of the chair / sofa arm near which it is placed.


Let’s look at these dimensions more closely.

Seats in a conversation area should be no more than 8-10 feet apart.

Keeping your seating area compact is the most important factor in making your space feel cozy and welcoming. For many rooms, this means pulling your furniture off the walls and in towards the center of the room!  So go ahead, measure your seats right now, and see if your room meets this criteria! If not, try scooting some things in. Now sit down with a partner for a chat. Doesn’t that feel better?

Shari’s real living room is quite large, but the conversation area is grouped tightly around the fireplace.

But what if you room is large? Then create more than one gathering area. You might have pair of chairs off to the side for an intimate conversation or a game of chess. Or maybe you turn a corner of the room into a reading nook, or put a desk under a window. The large great rooms that are popular in today’s architecture are designed to have more than one thing happening!

Here’s the “other half” Shari’s real living room; it’s well used for playing music and games (at the table).

Keep major walkways a comfortable 3 feet width.

If you previously had your furniture lined up against the walls, you might not have had to worry about traffic flow (it was probably just cutting through the center of your conversation area), but now that your sofa and chairs are pulled into a tighter grouping, you need to assess your pathways. Main paths in and out of the room should be no tighter than 30 inches (with 36 inches being more ideal.) Perimeter walkways – say between a coffee table and fireplace – should be no less than 24 inches.

Place the coffee table about 18 inches from the sofa.

This assumes, at least, that you want to be able to comfortably use your coffee table – for drinks, magazines, feet – or what have you. Actually, it is the only time it’s ok for the “walkway” to be less than 24 inches. If your room is small you could have as little as 12 inches between the two pieces and still be OK. As someone who almost always has a drink of some sort in hand, I must say, not being able to reach the coffee table is really a pet peeve mine!

The coffee table in Kate’s real living room sits near the anchoring sofa, and is the perfect length!

A coffee table should be about ⅔ the length of your sofa.

This just visually looks right – and it means people on either end of the sofa can reach the table. (Because really – how often is someone sitting in the center anyway?) The ratio can be as low as ½ – especially if you are working with a round piece instead of a rectangular one. Just try to ensure that every seat in your room has a place to easily set a drink. This means, if they can’t reach the coffee table, there should be a side table nearby. Speaking of . . .

A side table should be no taller than the arm height of the chair of sofa next to which it sits.

A couple inches shorter is OK, but visually you want the height to be similar. This not only looks right, but it makes it easy to set down a book or a glass of water. If you’re currently looking at table that is much shorter and you don’t want to go out and buy a new one, try this “real home” trick. Add some height with a stack of oversized hardcover books. Then place your lamp  and drink coaster on top! Of course, you can also get creative on what constitutes as a side table. In my real home, I use stacked, lidded baskets near one chair, and this antique storage box near another. So long as I have somewhere to set a cup of coffee, I’m happy!


Now, the math nerd in me could go on and on about all the ratios and dimensions that make good design what it is, but these 5 key measurements will go a long way in making your living room both beautiful and functional.

Questions? Do you have any real home issues preventing you from following these guides? Ask us about them in the comment section.

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