Take some time to plan before decorating a long, narrow space.

How to Best Arrange a Long, Narrow Space

by Debby Huvaere

Transforming a space into a harmonious room can be a challenge, especially when the area you are working with is long and narrow. It may seem easiest to place as much furniture as possible parallel with the length of the room, but that will only accentuate the verticality of the space. It’s key to avoid creating a "tunnel" or "bowling alley" effect. Before you start moving furniture around, formulate a strategy that will help you design a well-balanced, functional and beautiful room.

Aim for Flawless Flow

Whether your room is self-contained or a pass-through, one of the first things to acknowledge in a long and narrow space is the location of its doors. Imagine how people will walk into the room, and how they will easily walk through the room. This will allow you to create the room’s main traffic line. Keep foot traffic on one side, so that nobody needs to zigzag around haphazardly placed furniture. Ideally, leave 36 inches between furniture and a wall, or in between pieces, to maintain optimal and natural flow. For example, placing a couch with its back toward the passage can visually mark the intended pass-through.

Guide the Eye

A focal point will distract the eye from the room’s deep perspective. By creating vertical lines on the longer walls, you’ll break that perspective. Work with what’s available: Painting a fireplace in a different color, for instance, creates an excellent breaking point in the sight line. Alternatively, a floor-to-ceiling bookcase or cabinet will get the same result. Framing windows with ceiling-high curtains will also optically break up the space.

Define Different Areas

Oftentimes, a long, narrow space will have more than one function. An area rug not only unifies the furniture placed upon it, but also visually marks the area’s purpose. A dining space separates itself distinctively from a conversational grouping when those sets of furniture are placed upon two different rugs. A golden tip when using an area rug under a sofa is to place at least the front legs on the rug. When the rug extends under the sofa, it will make the room feel larger. A rug under a dining set should ideally be at least 36 inches wider than the table on all sides. Avoid using rectangular shapes, as these will only emphasize the room’s stretch. Go for circular or square forms instead.

Clever Furniture Placement

Positioning two sofas facing each other and perpendicular to the room’s length is one excellent way to break up the long space. However, if the room is too narrow, an L-shaped sectional is a worthy substitute. Add an armchair placed at a 45-degree angle to break the sight line. If a focal point is available, have the furniture facing this point, which will create a more intimate atmosphere. Place a desk or lower cabinet against the shorter walls and hang some artwork above: Marking horizontal lines on these walls will make the room look wider.

Special Effects

Using a patterned wallpaper or a darker color paint on the short end walls of the room will make the room look shorter. A decorative mirror on the longer walls will make the space look wider. Play with form: A round dining table or coffee table will counterbalance the room’s rectangular shape.

About the Author

Debby Huvaere is an interior designer with over 10 years of experience in the industry, holding a bachelor's degree in architecture and interior design. Huvaere is the founder of the Design Sprouts project and blog, and used to write for the Belgian magazine "CHANGE Think Positive."

Photo Credits

  • David Sacks/Digital Vision/Getty Images