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Smart Design With Suzette: Small House – Remodeling A Living Room – Budget And Floor Plan

on May 20, 2017 - 9:42am
Before and after living room remodel. Courtesy photo
Los Alamos

Here we are in the second part of remodeling a living room. Last week we discussed getting started with researching, considering your lifestyle, consulting the pros, determining your needs and identifying your style. Now we move on to budgets, floor plans and layout.


So, just how much is that living room renovation going to cost? The answer to that question ranges from a few thousand dollars for a paint job and new flooring to a few hundred thousand dollars for major construction and magazine-worthy interior design. But whether you are planning to give your space a minor facelift or a major overhaul, it’s important to know how much things are going to cost before the first demolition sledgehammer is swung. Otherwise, you could run out of money midway through the project.

To start honing in on a realistic budget for the changes you have in mind, go back to the wish list you’ve created for your renovation and prioritize it into “musts,” “maybes” and “someday down the line.” Then do some research about how much each element — or at least the “musts” — will cost.

Consult the Pros

To find realistic numbers for architecture, construction and design services, talk to a few professionals you might consider working with. Share your ideas for the project and ask them how much their services for such a plan might run and how much you can expect to spend on materials and subcontractors’ work, as well.

Be sure to have a contingency fund. I tell people to have a ten-percent contingency amount in the back of their mind for ‘unknown’ expenses such as possible city inspector requirements and hidden problems that can’t be seen until walls are opened. It also comes in handy for those amazing finds or extras you forgot about (artwork, rug pads, storage baskets, lamps, cool accessories). And put some money aside for a little “mission creep” too. You may decide you want to add a few things in other parts of the house, while the contractor is there and the house is dusty.

Good Things To Think About

Your home is your biggest investment and your biggest asset. So while you want your renovation to result in a space you’ll love living in, you want to make sure that you can recoup your money when you sell, or at least know that you are spending money that enhances your day-to-day living but not the market value of your home. Keep your focus on resale value.

Don’t Out-Glam the Block

No one wants to buy a million-dollar house in a half-million-dollar-house neighborhood, so be aware that if you make your house worth more than those surrounding it, you are unlikely to recoup your money when you go to sell. To avoid that trap, do some research on how much houses in your neighborhood are selling for. Then ask a few reputable brokers or realtors how much your house will be worth post-renovation and see how those numbers compare.

Splurge vs. Save

Allocate your living room budget wisely, for the best and most beautiful results. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you are going to have to cut corners somewhere — but where? Here are some good guidelines on where to splurge.

  • Splurge on quality craftsmanship. Don’t skimp on construction or installation. Cheap renovations just make you and your home look bad. The key is buying quality products and hiring quality, proven contractors.
  • Splurge on classic furniture pieces that will stand the test of time, but save on trends that are inexpensive — like throw pillows and lamps.
  • Splurge on fabrics you will touch and feel, like the couch and chairs you will sit on – not the curtains that will most likely just hang there.
  • Splurge on furniture like a media cabinet that needs to hold up well with sturdy hinges and quality drawers – not on an end table that will hold a cup of tea or magazine.

Floor Plan - Living Room Layouts and Ideas

The right layout makes your long, open or square living room attractive and welcoming.
One of the best ways to make sure your living room looks and feels inviting is designing a layout and floor plan that works for your space, not against it. The right layout allows you to entertain guests, relax with family, and do activities like watch TV or play games in comfort.

Measure and Draw the Room

Using a tape measure, determine the length and width of your room. Also note any installations or built-in furniture pieces that cannot be moved. Using a ruler and pencil, add the boundaries of the room to your graph paper. One box on the paper represents one foot.

Once you have your four walls on paper, add the location and size of your doors and windows. When adding doors, mark the direction door opens to note the lost space. Make sure to take note of heaters and outlets— the location of these items can limit furniture placement and be problematic if not considered before final floor plan decisions are made.

Tip: Once you have it finished, it’s a good idea to make a couple of photocopies so you can try different furniture layouts

Formulate Your Floor Plan

With your completed floor plan in hand, it’s time to answer four questions that will help you figure out the ideal floor plan for you.

Question 1: Where are the balance lines of this room? This is super easy to do. Simply take out your floor plan and draw a pair of lines that cut each wall in half. These are the balance lines of a room and they divide the room into 4 equal-sized areas. In order to have a balanced room, the visual weight of the furniture on one side of the room should be about the same as the weight of the furniture on the opposite side of the room.

Question 2: What are the traffic patterns? In essence what you are asking is “Where can I not place any furniture because it will be in the way of the natural flow of people as they move about the room?” Add 36 inches of clearance in front of every door opening. Allow 12 inches to 15 inches of clear space in front of windows.

Question 3: What is the focus of the room? This is the simplest question to answer. When you enter the room, what is the most important feature of the room that calls out for attention? All major furniture arrangements should be designed around that item. Some rooms have an existing focal point, like a fireplace. If your room doesn’t have a natural focal point, you must create one. Try a large-scale piece of art, a gallery wall, or a console and television.

Question 4: Where is the axis? Since we have positioned all of the furniture in relation to the focal point, the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to furniture arrangement is to not forget the walls. If the fireplace is your focal point, draw a line that runs floor to ceiling through the center of it on the floor plan.

In order to find your axis, simply draw an imaginary line that runs floor to ceiling from the center of your focal point. The purpose of this axis is to give you a line along which you can add decoration, such as a mirror or piece of artwork above the fireplace.

To take things a step further, extend the axis line to the wall opposite the focal point to create the same visual weight. In our fireplace example, you could perhaps feature a wall of bookcases flanked by chairs.

Start Arranging

Draw paper scale models of your furniture, or search for printable versions online. To draw your own, use the same scale of 1 box equals 1 foot to cut out shapes for your furniture pieces.

Before ordering new furniture or moving around existing pieces, use some painters tape to map out the arrangement on your actual floor. This will help you double-check that everything will actually fit the way you envision it.

Long Living Rooms

With two walls longer than the shorter walls at both ends of the space, a long or rectangular-shaped living room can feel narrow and claustrophobic. Really think about how you will be using the room. Instead of just putting things in the room to fill the space, find pieces that are both fun to use and help create function. Adding a built-in bar, bookcases or shelving can pull the look of a long living room together.

What you want to avoid is a long living room that feels like a hallway. Using narrow furniture will just emphasize the long lines of the room. Go for a sofa with a tailored feel and tight upholstery. Using smaller pieces and a variety of them, instead of one sofa and a coffee table, helps the space feel more cohesive.

Open Living Rooms

Open living rooms allow for easy entertaining and good traffic flow. But a living room that shares space with an adjoining dining room, family room or kitchen can present challenges for those who want some type of definition for each area.

To create an efficient layout for an open living room, keep the flow around furniture and accessories open so your family and friends can be doing numerous things at once while still being together.

Thinking about the function of the room will help you make smart layout decisions. An open living room often serves as a hub in the house, so make sure any floor plan includes comfortable spots for everyday activities like watching TV, eating or socializing.

Pulling furniture pieces off the wall and tying them all together with an area rug, balancing with ottomans and adding extra seating will visually balance out the room. Stick with one main paint color so the open spaces do not fight each other.

Square Living Rooms

Adding warmth and creating an inviting atmosphere can be a challenge for square living rooms. When all of your furniture is pushed up against the wall, which leaves seating far away from each other, you can make the space feel cold. But you can also make your square living room feel crowded or awkward if all the furniture is forced into one corner. Instead, float furniture away from the walls.

You can gain more surface space by having a console table behind a sofa and a variety of seating, like one sofa and four chairs that are not all the same that can float in a room and even be moved around and then use a cocktail table as the anchor in the center of the space. Once you have the furniture in place, hang textural or colorful artwork to visually fill the room.

Your Living Room: Tailored to Fit

Small-Space Living Room Layouts

Use smart strategies to make your small living room feel larger. When you take the time to consider your storage needs and daily lifestyle, you can create a small but smart living room that increases the enjoyment of your home.

Make sure the furniture you choose for your small living room is appropriate for the space. For example, avoid sofas with skirts. You want to go for furniture raised off the floor.

A tall lamp that draws your eye up and adds height to the room or a stylish chair with a pop of color or interesting back are other tools I like to use to make a small living room feel larger and give it personality. Other simple ideas include going for a space-saving flat-screen TV mounted on the wall to take up less space. Also, resist the urge to use only small pieces in your small living room. Instead, consider an oversized chair that gives unexpected scale to the space. Oversized wall art also expands the room.

Creating the illusion of more space is the way to go. A great area rug can be used to mark a seating area to help the room feel more spacious. Rethink the coffee table – just because you have a sofa doesn’t mean you have to have a standard coffee table. In a small living room, you can use ottomans that move out of the way when you need the space.

A few things to keep in mind, no matter what arrangement you decide on:

  • Try to keep 15 to 18 inches between upholstery and the coffee table.
  • Make sure you have 2 to 4 feet of walking space in a main pathway.
  • Try symmetry first — this often works well in living rooms.
  • Hang curtains high – curtains hung well above the window impart airiness and height. Also use extra fabric for fullness.

Next week we will dive into design styles, lighting, architectural details and flooring.

Feel free to contact Los Alamos/White Rock Interior Designer Suzette Fox to suggest specific design topics or for help with your home. For more information, find her on Facebook at and on her website