Start With A (Floor) Plan


Often when I speak to retail customers, most don't know where or how to begin picking out furniture. Some start by immediately shopping for a sofa or a table but once they are at the store, they don't have any idea how big a sofa or table they need, if it will fit their space, or align with their overall vision. Some will then make an impulse buy just hoping something will fit or look good. Some times this works but more often than not will lead to problems later. If you want to save some time and money or stop falling prey to charming salespeople or slick advertisements, I would recommend you first start with a floor plan of the room you're working on.

As an interior designer, I of course always start with a floor plan. As a professional, I need drawings to show clients my ideas in a comprehensive yet easily digestible form.

Before I start with any personal projects, I naturally draw a floor plan to assist me with measurements, placement, style, and even color decisions. If you are savvy with computers and apps and want to plan your project from start to finish, I would recommend getting a technical drawing app such as Roomsketcher. If you just want to scan a room with your phone to produce a precise floor plan so that you can later draw on it either by hand or electronically, you may want to use RoomScan by Locometric. Of course, there is a myriad of apps out there that could be useful in helping you design your space, but don't get bogged down with learning superfluous new skills like technical drawing or navigating a complicated app.

There is always the try and true way which I still use in part to this day and that is drawing by hand on graph paper with a number 2 pencil. As most people will not be designing more than a room or two, drawing by hand is quite doable. It will also allow you to learn the basics of floor planning and to do it on the fly without the need for complicated apps or gadgetry. Here, I will explain how I draw a floor plan by hand with separate individual furniture pieces which will allow me to dynamically design and easily change the layout of the target room by moving those pieces around. You can also use this information and some of these methods to electronically draw a floor plan on an app or your computer.

The basics that you will need to get down onto your floorplan are the walls, doors, and windows. Start with a rough sketch of the entire room. Then measure all the walls starting from one corner of the room and working your way around either clockwise or counterclockwise. Write down the measurements of individual walls onto your rough sketch. It is very helpful to have a second person working with you when measuring. One person can do the measuring while another can notate it on the sketch and keep track of the layout. Note where the windows are and how high they are off the floor as elevation, (ie elev=27".) This will help you to determine the height of a piece of furniture such as a sofa or a table that you might want to go against that wall with the window. Note where the doors are.

Once you are done with your rough sketch and measurements, draw it precisely on graph paper so that your drawing will be to scale. I normally do one 1/4" square on the graph paper to equal one foot. If your room is small, you can do two squares (1/2") to one foot. Whatever the scale, note it down on the drawing. That way it will be easy for you to count as you go along. Use a ruler to draw but you can always approximate any measurement that is not exactly to the foot. For instance, if a wall is 98" or 8'2", draw your line to include 8 squares and 2/12 or 1/6 of the 9th square. Simply divide the 9th square into thirds and then half it again to 1/6. Or if you are pretty good at visually dividing a square into halves and thirds in your mind's eye, you can simply eyeball it and give it a pretty accurate estimate which will adequately serve this purpose.

Remember, you are not building a house to code here. You are simply trying to get a better idea as to how big you want a living room sofa or a dining room table to be, give or take a few inches. Of course, once you think you know how big a piece of furniture you need, always remeasure the space in the actual room and if necessary, tape it out on the floor with painters’ tape or newspaper to get a full visual of how the piece will fill up the room. Once done with the line drawing of your room, make several copies of it as you may want a fresh line drawing later if your original becomes too messy or confusing.

On another piece of graph paper, draw simple line drawings of rectangles or squares to represent different furniture items. Squares can easily be edited later into circles so do not worry about that for now. Once you are done with a line drawing of a piece of furniture, you will then cut it out and place them on your room drawing like a player's piece on a board game. This is the creative part and will enable you to move the cutouts around your room drawing with ease to create your ideal layout. I like this part as it is so satisfying to arrange a room without picking up a stick of furniture!

Start your furniture line drawing with a simple rectangle that will represent the sofa. Again, this should be done on a different sheet of graph paper and to the same scale as your room drawing which in this example is 1/4" equals one foot. The standard size of a sofa is seven feet long and three feet in depth. Of course, sofa sizes will vary but this will give you a standard size to start with and you can always adjust from there. So, if each square on your graph paper equals one foot, then draw out a rectangle representing your sofa with seven squares on its length and three squares as its depth. Darkly outline it in with the pencil and cut it out with scissors or a blade and place it loosely on your drawing. You can even draw arms on the sofa and/or label it sofa so you know what that rectangle represents. If you want to play with the idea of a sectional sofa, draw a "return." A "return" is just an industry term for the other piece of a two-piece sectional that juts out perpendicularly to the main piece. The return can be any length but to keep it simple, I would make it the same size as your main sofa or a foot shorter. You can always change the size later with a quick edit to fit with everything else. Remember to keep the measurement of the depth (width) of your return the same as the sofa (three feet in this case.) Sectionals are almost always designed with the total depth of the sofa being equal to the depth of the return.

Once you have your sofa cut out, you can cut out more pieces representing other furnishings like the coffee table which can be drawn either as a two by four-foot rectangle or a three and a half by three and a half-foot square. The accent chair can be drawn as a three by three-foot square. Draw arms on the square chair cutout with parallel straight lines on each side to differentiate it from the coffee table square. End tables can be drawn as a two by two-foot square or smaller. Of course, all measurements can and will vary with the actual piece of furniture you might settle on. However, if you have a plan like this prepared before you begin shopping for furniture, you will have a much better experience. It's work on the front end but pure bliss when you are armed with information as you shop for furniture.

You will be more confident about what you need and be able to quickly adapt and change your layout as you move along with greater precision. This in turn will allow you to make better purchasing decisions with much less doubt, confusion, and ultimately costly mistakes.

Once you have decided on your layout, affix your furniture cutouts onto the room drawing with tape to keep it all in place. Do not use too much tape or make it too permanent as you may want to move the pieces around further, add or subtract some pieces, or change some sizes later as your project moves along. I use tiny, rolled up pieces of tape on the back of cutouts instead of glue so I can continue to move them and adjust my floor plan without too much hassle. Once the cutouts are in place, you can easily adapt to the real world furniture that you are considering and determine how those pieces will fit just by counting the squares on your graph paper; (ie. If you increase the size of the sofa, you may have to reduce the size of the end table, or get rid of it altogether, etc.) Also, keep in mind as you are placing the cutouts onto your room drawing that coffee tables are about a foot or so away from the edge of the sofa. Also, you can "float" a sofa or sectional in the middle of a room instead of it going against a wall. If you are creating a walkway or a hallway with your floating sofa, give it a minimum of thirty to thirty- six inches wide so two people can comfortably pass one another. Additionally, you should leave at least thirty inches (ideally thirty-six inches) of space from the edge of the dining table to the wall or sideboard to allow for the in and out movements of dining chairs. Dining room sideboards are about twenty inches deep and seventy-two inches or so in length. Once the furniture is in place, you can determine how big of a rug you want or can get away with.

Now that you have your plan with measurements and placements of your larger and most necessary items, the next step is to decide on a style and a color pallet. In the next blog post, I will be discussing how you can do exactly that. Meanwhile, have fun with your floor plan project!



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