Fireplaces, decorative or working, are habitual upstagers in a room. Whatever you do about decor and furniture placement, that gaping hearth demands attention. It can be awkward to arrange chairs to include the fireplace without excluding the rest of the room. But you can keep the home fires welcoming -- and off-limits to curious younger members of the family who invariably head for anything moving and shiny.
Block That Firebox
A firescreen isn't enough when there are toddlers and daring young explorers around. Make it easy on yourself by adding a low barrier to that beeline to the flickering firebox. Set two chairs on either side of the fireplace, angled so you and guests can enjoy the warmth and still converse with whomever is seated on the sofa. Between the chairs, slot in a low, backless chaise which provides extra seating, a view of the fireplace when unoccupied, and one more obstacle for the little speedster who is booking toward the flames. It goes without saying that no fire should be left unattended until your fearless adventurers are heading into their teens.
Simplicity of Symmetry
Where is it written that a living room needs a sofa? In a small space with the big design element of a fireplace, opt for chairs to handle seating, and set them at equal distances from each other around the fireplace for a tranquil sense of order. Four identical upholstered chairs, forming a square angled toward the mantel, allow a view of the entire fireplace, incorporating it smoothly into the visual design. An upholstered ottoman, which doubles as a coffee table and extra seating, fits into the center of the chairs, its corner pointing to the fireplace and drawing the eye there. Four identical floor lamps positioned behind the chairs create a comfortable reading room or can be switched on in various combinations to provide ambient light.
Backs to the Backdrop
Your living room with fireplace is cramped rather than capacious -- or the master bedroom is too small for the king-size bed and a separate seating area. How do you organize chairs before the fire without cutting off the rest of the room? Try something counterintuitive, face the chairs away from the fireplace. If you have two small, decorative chairs, Louis XVI or Art Deco armless styles, for instance, the seats themselves act as freestanding sculptures. Evaluate the lines of the chairbacks and the lines of the mantel behind them to choose art that will help meld all the forms together. Avoid placing a solid table or cabinet between the chairs -- an open, delicate or translucent table leaves enough of the fireplace visible so the furniture arrangement doesn't appear to be a blockade.
A corner fireplace is a design headache you can resolve with chair placement. Treat the corner like the center of the room and place one or two chairs on either side of the fireplace, angled to align with the walls. Fan the rest of the furnishings out from there -- the sofa may be slanted on the same angle as a chair. The coffee table should visually lead the eye toward the firebox. If a sofa faces the fireplace corner, be sure there is wide access to the seating area at either end of it. In a small room, angle a chaise from one side, partly across the fireplace, or substitute two poufs or two hand-carved stools on either side of the firebox instead of chairs.