Experts weigh in on what to do instead.

By Wendy Rose Gould
May 27, 2020
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Whether moving into a new home or simply redecorating, there’s no doubt you have every intention of maximizing the space, tapping into your personal aesthetic, and promoting good flow. Striking the balance between all three can be tricky, but it’s definitely doable and will make your space feel way more inviting. With expert interior designer help, here are the most common flow-disrupting mistakes people make and what you ought to do instead.

Arranging the bulk of your furniture against walls is a default move, but it can hinder the flow of your space. While some rooms may be more difficult to work with—such as those with multiple focal points, like a fireplace or massive window—you do have options.

“Instead of pushing all your furniture against the walls, pick the focal point you use more frequently and forget the other,” advises Liz Caan, an interior designer based in Boston, Mass. “Try placing a dominant piece of furniture—like a sofa, for example—in front of the focal point—like a large window—and treat it as you would a wall. Not only does it create ‘a moment’ within the space, but it also serves to provide some architecture and visual interest.”

Some other options include pulling that accent chair out from the corner and further into the room or positioning your bed at the center of the wall instead of tucking it into the far corner.

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Interior design “obstacles” can be either a physical hindrance or a visual eyesore, sometimes both. The rule of thumb is that it should feel easy to walk into a space.

“Take an office as an example,” says Kevin Dumais, an interior designer in New York City. “Here you want to avoid having your back face the entrance of the room. Doing so leaves you feeling vulnerable and can even create a feeling of being unwelcomed to the room.”

Alternatively, he says to position the desk so that you face the entrance when sitting down. This creates a conversational area for you and others who walk in. If this arrangement isn’t possible, hang a mirror on the wall over the desk so you can see the entrance and others can see your face.

Extrapolating this advice to the rest of your home, your largest piece of living room furniture ought to face the entrance, and all entryways (including those leading from one room to another or the front entrance of your home) should be free of all physical blockades.

Martyn Lawrence Bullard, a Los Angeles-based interior designer, says that one of the biggest culprits hindering flow is not getting the scale quite right.

“An understanding of scale is everything; to put furniture that is too big or too small into a space can totally kill the feel of that space,” he says. “Soft furnishings are usually the worst culprit. For example, buying a sofa that is too large can really ruin a room.”

Not only does it look “off” and make a space feel less inviting, but it can make it difficult to physically navigate the room, like we mentioned above. Furniture that’s too small can feel strange, as well, and won’t make the most of your space.

Caan agrees, adding that that it’s important to also apply this advice to décor items, such as lighting or even artwork.

“If you invested in a ‘status’ piece of art, that’s great. That doesn’t mean it belongs on the most prominent wall of your home floating in a sea of plaster,” she says. “Art should be appropriately scaled to the wall it is hung on. The goal is less about ‘showing off’ and more about a sense of place.”

Nailing scale requires a goldilocks approach, and it’ll take some practice to get it right. Bullard recommends creating a blueprint (even if it’s just hand-drawn) to get a better feel before purchasing items.

One of the best things you can do for any space is to make the most of your natural light. This should then be supplemented with beautiful, welcoming artificial light.

“Having natural light in a space is a privilege. Treat it like gold and make sure to enjoy how the light changes throughout the day,” says Florida-based interior designer Deborah DiMare. “When possible, ensure living and gathering areas are close to a window. Exposure to nature, landscapes, and fresh air help invite a sense of togetherness and allows for us to bring that positive, grounded, energy into our spaces.”

Also make it a goal to create layers of artificial light that allow you to make the most of your space once the sun begins setting. Dumais recommends following Richard Kelly’s theory of lighting.

“The theory says that every space should have three distinct types of lighting: focal glow, ambient luminescence, and play of brilliants,” says Dumais. “Focal glow can be a reading lamp or desk lamp, a picture light, or accent light on artwork. Ambient light fills a space evenly. This can be achieved with floor lamps, a glowing pendant or surface mount lights. Play of brilliants can be a sconce, chandelier, or even candlelight. Something that sparks the imagination or excites the senses.”

From a pile of unkempt shoes near the door to a few-too-many keepsakes lining your mantle, clutter is surefire way to disrupt the overall flow of your space.

“A cluttered home or office can lead to a cluttered mind. The more clean, tidy, and open the space feels, the more energy can flow,” says DiMare. “Every item you bring into your home should ‘speak’ to you and resonate with your inner energy. When reassessing items in your home, I recommend going through one room at a time and analyzing each item. Ask yourself whether it’s useful or if it makes you happy; decide accordingly and donate what you can.”

As for non-decor pieces of clutter, such as shoes, cords, coats, and knick-knacks, do your best to conceal or create designated spaces. For example, a small tray on the coffee table can house remotes, an enclosed shoe rack or entry closet can serve as home for coats and kicks, and a small, hidden entryway shelf can collect keys, sunglasses, and phones.

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