The Goods

Design by numbers: Simple standards to instantly improve your living room layout

Steven Sabados shares his tips, tricks and tools of the trade

Steven Sabados shares his tips, tricks and tools of the trade

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As simple as it sounds, numbers are everything when it comes to design. More specifically, measurements are key. It goes without saying that you want your new couch to fit where you envisioned it, but making sure it will actually fit through that sharp turn in your hallway is also integral to realizing the stunning design you've envisioned. That's why our seasoned design pro Steven Sabados took the time to share some simple yet enlightened tricks to making numbers work for you when it comes to designing your space—trust us when we say they'll come in handy.

Tools of the trade

Tape measure


Although they're pretty straightforward, tape measures can be frustrating to use—and one bad measurement can ruin an entire project. Even Steven Sabados has messed up his measurements in the past: he forgot to measure the entire edges of a fancy headboard and ended up scratching the floor in his client's home. To make the design process as easy as possible, look for new advancements in tape measures, like one with fractions marked out for ease. Something as straightforward as a clearly marked tape will save you time and possibly even a headache or two.

Laser measure

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This tool will cut the time it takes to measure just about anything in your home and it is 100% accurate. A laser measure sends a pulse of laser light to a target and measures the time it takes for the reflection to return. The device also takes into account its own size so you place the back against one wall, place your laser beam on the other wall—or where your measurement ends—and then just press the measure button. It's instant, super precise and perfect for renos, and may just leave you wondering why you spent all those years dealing with a tape measure.

Standard living room measurements

Armed with your best measuring tools, any new design project requires some precise planning before furniture is incorporated. Measuring before you decorate could seem like a given, but this often overlooked step could result in cramped spaces and seriously impact the flow of your space. Here are some essential clearances in a typical living room.


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It's always best to keep a minimum of 36" for walkways. Anything tighter will be uncomfortable. If you're in a smaller space such as a condo, Steven recognizes that keeping that much space in between might be a bit difficult. Instead, think of having lighter furniture, or maintain 3 feet from the wall to the coffee table instead of ottomans, as pictured in Steven's diagram.

Sofa to coffee table

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Aim to keep 20" between your sofa and coffee table. If you're in a smaller space, 18" is the absolute bare minimum because anything narrower and your knees are going to hit the coffee table. Plus, less space makes it increasingly difficult to stand up and walk away from the sofa if you're seated with others—it'll help you avoid walking like a crab.

Conversation zones

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Ideally, conversation zones should be no wider than 96" wide. So when you're arranging your living room, try to maintain this distance between the sofa and accent chair. Anything more than 8 feet and you'll have a hard time chatting with the other person—unless you want to yell across the room.

Sofa to TV

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The most important one on the list, this measurement is dependent on your living space. The rule of thumb is to keep a distance 2x the size of your TV (in inches) between your sofa and your TV. Note, this distance should be to the seating part of the sofa, not the back of the sofa.