Reader Design dilemma: Living room with no solid walls

Many older homes were built for a different kind of lifestyle--and different scale furniture--than we have today. One of the biggest challenge I encounter is how to make these spaces work for life as we know it.

Steph wrote to me with a major space plan dilemma:

What do you do with a room only 10 feet wide, with an entry door, a staircase, a big fireplace, and two large arched entryways defining its walls?  Both the dining room (above) and the den (below) open off this space, but right now this is a lot of wasted square footage, and a very awkward set up with the TV across the room and at an odd angle to the couch.

From the living room and family room, Steph and her family need:

- a conversation area
- toy storage and playspace for two kids
- a place to watch TV

Let's tackle the conversation area first.

With no solid walls, the only choice in the living room is to float an arrangement in the middle of the room, and the 10 foot width of the room limits choices to chairs or loveseats.  An arrangement of four chairs around a coffee table is one possibility, though I think I would go for a facing arrangement.

Options 1: A pair of 60" loveseats, like we did in this home of a similar vintage, in New Jersey.  Armless loveseats, like the one below, are particularly useful for keeping things open.

Jul/Aug 2011
Design by Lonny, in Lonny

Option 2: A loveseat and a pair of small scale chairs.  I like the use of these shell chairs here: they don't take up a lot of visual weight, and they are literally light, making them easy to move around the room.

Nov/Dec 2011
Paul Caddell, Lonny Mag

Options 3: A loveseat and a daybed.  Daybeds are great for a conversation area (less so for watching TV), and make a wonderful play surface for the kiddos.  And again, the armless/backless scenario means that it won't stop the eye, making the space look bigger.

Jan/Feb 2011
Jarlath Mellett in Lonny

Or, surprise option number 4, a loveseat and a pair of upholstered ottomans or benches.

Oct/Nov 2010
Celerie Kemble, Lonny

In any of these scenarios, go for an 8 x 10 rug to define the seating area, and a couple of small and lightweight occasional tables that can be moved wherever they are needed most.

Now let's kill two birds with one stone.
Moving the TV from the corner by the fireplace into the family room both opens up ample space for kid storage (shelves or closed baskets), and takes the TV watching out of the mail living space, tucking it into a cozier corner.

In the family room, I would swap out that couch for one just a few inches shorter, to keep it contained in one room, and mount the TV on the wall where the tall bookcase is.

In the fireplace corner, I would move those tall shelves from the family room, and tuck a small round table in front of it for drawing.

Bonus space
Believe it or not, there is still space for a little sumpin sumpin in front of the radiator at the far end of the living room.  Depending on need, this could be a slim desk with tuck-under stools, a chair in the corner for a reading nook, or a buffet for the adjoining dining room.  Whatever the case, I would hang floor length curtains to soften the window and bring height to that end of the room.

So, what do you think?  Can you see it?  How would you tackle a space like this?

pssst.  Have a design dilemma?  Email me at  Let's talk.