Place seating furniture close together so guests can comfortably talk to each other.

How to Arrange a Room for a Social Gathering

by Michelle Radcliff

Don’t get caught unprepared when hosting a social gathering. A little preplanning can result in great success, whether it’s an intimate gathering of close friends or a formal event such as a wedding. Remember the first rule of design when preparing a room: Form must follow function. A well-decorated room must serve the needs of the activities planned. Guests are less likely to appreciate the décor if they are stumbling over poorly placed furniture.

1. Arranging Furniture for Large Events

Preparing a room for a large event should begin with a list of the furniture that is needed. Next you will need to decide what existing furnishings in the room will be useful and what items might need to be removed to make extra space. You’ll also need to decide if you will be bringing temporary furniture into the room, such as additional tables and chairs. Make a list of what will go, what will stay and what will be brought in. Knowing the dimensions of the room will help with furniture arrangement and space planning. It also helps to make a floor plan on paper or virtually before you start physically moving heavy furniture. You can find free designing software online that can help you create a floor plan even easier than drawing one.

2. Arranging Furniture for Small Gatherings

A small gathering of friends and acquaintances may only require a little creative thinking with your existing furniture arrangement. The emphasis should be less about the room's focal points and more on conversational groupings. In large rooms, create two or three separate conversation areas. Boundaries can be defined by area rugs, which help anchor each seating area. Sofa tables and consoles can be used to separate seating areas. Leave 12 to 24 inches of space between coffee tables and sofas. While adequate seating is a must for a dinner party, don’t worry if seating runs a little short at a cocktail party, as this encourages guests to mingle more. Pull furniture away from walls and group pieces closer together for easier conversation.

3. Traffic Flow

One important consideration when planning your furniture arrangement is traffic flow. Guests will need easy, unblocked access to all entry and exit points. Walk through the room yourself and make note of how the natural traffic flow works. You can use arrows on your floor plan to show traffic flow, which will help with proper furniture placement. It’s important that coffee and end tables don’t block access to seating. Your social gathering may significantly alter the room’s normal traffic flow, even in smaller gatherings, so you may need to get creative to ensure that entry and exit points remain open and all furniture remains accessible. Arrange furniture in a way that creates corridors and walkways.

4. Dinner Parties

If you like to cook and entertain with food, invest in a dining table that not only looks good but is also comfortable. Ergonomically designed furniture shouldn't begin and end in the home office. A properly scaled and designed dining table and chairs will fit well with the proportions of the room and the average adult body. The shape of the table is ultimately a personal choice, although round and square tables are typically the best choice for small spaces. Always choose the table first to ensure that the chairs you pick out will be the right fit. A minimum of 10 to 12 inches is needed between the top of the chair seat and the top of the dining table. There should be at least 36 inches of space between the edge of the table and walls or other furniture for adequate room for chairs to be pulled out. Dining chair seats should be 15 to 18 inches deep, 15 1/2 inches wide at the back and 18 inches wide at the front. Comfortable elbow room at the table can be provided with place settings at least 24 inches apart.

About the Author

Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at LoveToKnow.com and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images