Designing the Perfect Living Room
NOTE: This is the fourth of a series of posts on designing and building a dream home. We just happen to be doing it in paradise. If you’re interested in home design, or just enjoy amazing home design pictures, follow us room by room in the Ahonui section of Aloha Dreams as we design and build our home. The posts can be accessed in chronological order at the bottom of the page.
Although I’d agree the kitchen is the heart of the home, we still need at least one, if not several, comfy spots where we can relax and hang out with friends or even a good book for company. Residents of Hawaii are fortunate in that there are often many places, including a shady lanai, which are perfect for this. But regardless of this wealth of options, Hawaiian homes always have a living room. The design principles of this room are no different than those of living rooms anywhere. They may be executed differently, but in essence they are the same. Let’s consider each design principle in detail, starting with function.
Possibly you’ve heard the old saying “Form follows function.” This is the first, and most important, principle in designing any room and too often it’s forgotten. So let’s think about the function of our living room, or in other words, how we’re going to use it. Are we going to be entertaining guests in it at some point? How about wanting a cozy place to snuggle up with a great book? Will there be a fireplace that we’ll want to sit in front of or gather round? How about a TV? Will we be watching TV in this room, or will we have a separate media room? Will we need more than one TV viewing spot? These are all important considerations for our living room.
The function of a room is supported by the furniture arrangement. Too often contractors (and even architects) simply carve out a space and designate it as the “Living Room”. And all too often the space allocated to these “Living Rooms” is entirely devoid of consideration of the furniture necessary to support the function. Let’s think about one of the most basic functions of any living room – entertaining company. We often have company over, and when we do, we need a place that is reliably clutter free to sit and talk with them. While this will probably be out on the lanai at Hale Ahonui, there will be times when we’ll prefer to be indoors. For those times we want a furniture arrangement in the living room which lends itself to conversation.
Next time you’re in someone’s home, look at their living room furniture arrangement and consider whether it lends itself to conversation. If the furniture is in an L shape or, worse, a straight line, it probably doesn’t, especially if there are more than 2 people. And this limitation on furniture arrangement is generally caused by the builder, or architect, not allocating sufficient space for the function of the room.
To allocate the correct amount of space for our Hale Ahonui living room, I’ve drawn it out on graph paper and then, in SketchUp. I started with the furniture. I knew we wanted a conversation pit (sounds like something from the 60’s, doesn’t it?) to accommodate at least 6 people. I also knew we wanted it in a semi-circle to facilitate easy conversation. But we have an additional consideration. We also want to accommodate TV watching. We will have a media room/library in Hale Ahonui, but it will be a more private space. We need a second location that multiple people can sit and watch television, so on one side of the ‘conversation circle’ (I like that term much better) we’ll incorporate a media wall. Perhaps something like this?
So to support these functions, how about this for the living room furniture arrangement with the TV console running along the empty right side similar to the picture above?
And speaking of function, when you design a room, it’s also important that you measure and mark the location for each electrical outlet and switch. You’ll want the outlets located where you plan to put the electronics and the switches located at each entrance to the space. You’ll also want to determine the location of each heating and AC vent to ensure that it doesn’t detract from picture placement. Next, measure the furniture you plan to use and place it in your floor plan. Generally, we’ll want the main furniture pieces directed toward the focal point, and we’ll want to keep the major traffic patterns open. We also want the 2 main couches at least 5 – 6 feet apart and preferably about 10 feet. In American culture this provides a comfortable conversation distance.
Here’s an interesting experiment. Next time you’re in a pool where some people are sitting on steps around the edge talking with other people who are floating free in the pool, note the distance the floaters (who can place themselves wherever they wish) end up from the stationary people. You’ll find it’s often about 11 feet.
Another consideration is tables placed so that each guest has a place to park their frothy Hawaiian drink.
Establishing a Focal Point
When you’re designing a room, it’s also important to visually establish a focal point. Often that can be a dramatic fire place, or an attractive work of art. Designing a home in Hawaii requires an entirely different mind-set. When you design a home on the mainland, you think about the living room, the dining room and the bedroom. And those things are all indoors, right? Well not so much in Hawaii. Given the year-round beautiful weather, very often those rooms – and especially the living room – have a sliding window wall which opens up the room to the outside. Like this.
Isn’t that gorgeous? This sliding window wall is made up of large retractable glass door panels which retract into the wall to allow the home to open up to the beautiful setting beyond. You’ll notice the ‘blank’ wall space to either side of the opening. That’s to allow the panels a place to stack inside the wall. I love the golden glow this room has. Don’t you think we want to incorporate that into Hale Ahonui? Me too!
One of the hallmarks of a successfully designed room is a focal point. That’s the feature you want to highlight and draw the occupant’s eyes towards. When you have a window wall the opening definitely becomes the focal point of the room, especially if you have a view beyond it like this.
You’ll notice there’s minimal art in this room. That’s because the view, or focal point, becomes the art work.
Creating a Cozy Scale and Space
Ever see a living room that just invites you to sit? I’m talking about a space that whispers, “come in, kick off your shoes, and curl up here with a good book and something wonderful to drink.” This is another important design principle. Here’s an example of that kind of space. Doesn’t this whole area just invite you to sit down and snuggle up? Everything looks soft and inviting. Without being too casual, the furniture looks like something you could get comfortable on, tuck your legs up under you and burrow back into the overstuffed pillows.
Like we discussed, you’ll notice it’s arranged for conversation. I think this is one of the most inviting living rooms I’ve seen. I think we need it!
Here’s another space that begs for a small group of 5 or 6 friends to sit awhile and chat (it’s called talk story in Hawaii.) Can’t you just imagine you and your friends relaxing here.
Here’s another example. Can you spot the similarities between these 3 pictures?
If you said the furniture in each picture is arranged essentially in a circle, reward yourself with a 3 Minute Virtual Vacation.
The last design principle we’re going to take into consideration for our Hale Ahonui Living room is incorporation of a WOW factor. If you’ve been following my AlohaDreams recipes and my Hale Ahonui design series by now you probably know I’m a firm believer that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing over the top. Why not? Folks get a kick out of being made to feel special. So whether it’s the guests at our table, or the guests in our home – let’s WOW ’em if at all possible.
With that in mind, I think we need a WOW factor for each room in Hale Ahonui. Wouldn’t you agree? So for our living room WOW factor, I can think of nothing better than a window wall view of the beautiful infinity pool melting seamlessly into the royal blue ocean beyond. We can even flank that infinity edge with a couple of fire pots! (I just love, love, love fire pots!! More on those to come.)
Putting it all Together
So with all that in mind, what do you think about this for the view from the front door into our living room?
With this being the view once we’re in it.
I hope you’ll join me again next month as we design an incredible dining room for our Dream Home in Paradise. Meanwhile…
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Hale Ahonui is on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Here the sleepy towns and countryside of the real Hawaii remain unchanged. Nestled between the wind swept terrain of Kohala Mountain to the east, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean on the west, Kohala Ranch rests on the grassy meadows in between.
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