How to Plan Your Space Like a Designer

The pros share their secrets for a well-designed room.

Kitchen with gray cabinets, white paneled walls, island, and hanging pendant lights

Werner Straube Photography

The interior design pros have a knack for picturing how a room will come together. So we went straight to the source and asked the experts how they go about planning a room—from selecting the right-size sofa to adjusting the lighting. Try some of their best space-envisioning tips to avoid a jumbled finished product.


You can determine the right size and placement without doing too much math. In the dining area, there should be enough space to comfortably walk around—not shimmy sideways—when the chairs are occupied. That means the table belongs at least three feet from the walls or other furniture. The sofa you select may fit through the door, but don’t add it to your cart until you have a grasp of its bulkiness. Mark the width, height, and depth with painter’s tape on the floor and wall, then fill in the outline with furniture or boxes so you get a sense of volume. (Use this trick with other potential pieces, such as armoires and desks, too.)

Area Rugs

If you plan to cover most of the floor, the edges of the rug should land about two feet away from the walls. If you absolutely love a vintage or off-the-rack rug that’s just too small, consider placing it over a larger, natural fiber rug for a layered look. And if you have a big, open-concept space, delineate cozy conversation areas by using a few rugs instead of a single huge one.


When choosing pendants and chandeliers, start with an easy calculation: Add together the length and width of your room in feet. The diameter of your light fixture should match that number in inches. So if your room is 10 by 12 feet, find a fixture that’s about 22 inches in diameter. In most rooms, the bottom of the light should be about 7 1∕2 feet off the floor. (Imagine basketball players are coming over—you want them to feel comfy!) In the dining room, though, aim for about three feet between the bottom of the fixture and the tabletop.

Kitchen Fixtures and Appliances

To create the ideal workflow, follow the fundamental rule of kitchen design: Your sink, fridge, and stove should form a triangle, and each side of this triangle should not exceed nine feet. Filling out your cook space with an island? Be conscious of how close it is to your perimeter cabinets—placing it three to four feet away should do the job. That will let you open doors and use appliances and still have room to walk around easily.

See It in Your Room

Some big-box retailers like Wayfair, Target, and Ikea offer a free augmented reality function on their apps so you can try before you buy. Scan the room with your phone’s camera, and in seconds the product you’re interested in will appear on your screen. Other digital platforms like Roomle and Homestyler let you create 3-D mock-ups using blank templates and floor plans along with images of furniture from a variety of sellers.

Ginny MacDonald, founder and principal of Ginny MacDonald Design in Los Angeles

Emilie Munroe, interior designer at Studio Munroe in San Francisco

Taniya Nayak, TV personality and interior designer at Taniya Nayak Design in Boston

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