A sofa's not just for sitting anymore

A sofa's not just for sitting anymore

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Question: Where to put the sofa in an open plan room? We have a fireplace, but no walls -- the space just wraps around into the dining area. Should I put the sofa facing the fireplace or at an angle to it?

Answer: Successful furniture arranging is all about creating comfort, and that includes visual comfort.

We humans crave a certain amount of organization. We also need certain kinds of furnishings to make our lives work: chairs, sofas and loveseats to sit on ... tables within arm's reach to hold our books, drinks and such ... lamps to illuminate the circle in which we are sitting.

All these elements work together to form a cohesive arrangement that's known in decorator talk as a "seating area." Sister Parrish, the famed New York design doyenne, made her reputation by creating intimate, inviting "seating areas," some as simple as two chairs and a table pulled up together. By encouraging small gatherings within large overall room spaces, she de-formalized the stiff Victorian parlors of her upper-crust clients and opened the way to the more human, slightly more relaxed way we all like to live today.

Where you decide to locate your own seating area -- or areas -- depends on the space you're dealing with and the problems you need to solve. For you, the problem is taming all that free-flowing space, so you should locate your seating area where it can also serve as a psychological space divider.

In the photo we show here, the sofa (from Hickory White Furniture) is placed perpendicular to the fireplace, which is the focal point that anchors the seating area. By turning its back to the dining "room," the large sofa effectively divides the space without closing in the room itself.

Q: What's up in design for the new year?

A: Here comes January. Can predictions be far behind? Looking at a brand-new year, it's hard to resist drawing up lists, citing the best this or the top that. So not wanting to be list-less myself, here are a few wetted-finger-in-the-wind predictions of what we'll be wanting to live with in 2012:

-- Bling! Maybe we see sparkle and shine as an antidote to the gray gloomy clouds still hovering over the economy, but who'd have thought we'd be clamoring crystals everywhere, even embedded in furniture and glittering from the wallpaper! Hats off to Swarovski for brilliant marketing.

-- Glamour. Might as well spell it with a U because U will be thinking of satins and taffetas, even for upholstery. Plus polished marble floors and mirrors, mirrors everywhere, especially on 30s-style furniture.

-- Smaller spaces. We've had it with Grand-Central-high ceilings and echo-chamber bedrooms. Goodbye MacMansion -- you're so last century (to quote a study by the International Furnishings and Design Assn.). Hello, "right-sized" homes (to quote author Gale Steves). We're moving back to sensible spaces that fit us "like a well-tailored suit" (to quote architect Sarah Susanka, author of "The Not So Big House" books).

-- Quiet. Shhhhh is chic. Just when you thought you could no longer hear yourself think, there seems to be a collective craving for quiet. It's the ultimate luxury, the arbiter of quality in everything from car doors to dishwashers. At home, more insulation is the best answer, but also to consider: upholstering your walls in fabric, adding another layer of window curtains and sliding thicker padding under all your rugs.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design.

Set at right angles to the focal-point fireplace, a sofa defines an intimate seating area within an all-in-one room. Photo: Courtesy Hickory White Furniture.

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