1. What is flow?
Drawn from feng shui (China) and Vastu-sastra (India), flow refers to the way rooms allow people and energy to move in and around them. When a room is laid out well, it not only works better, looks good, and is easy to maintain; it is also more energetic. To put it more succinctly: it will make you happy.
“Flow is the biggest secret to creating a healthy, beautiful home.”Maxwell Ryan
Unhealthy flow happens when energy is directed in a straight line; let’s call this “bowling-alley syndrome.” Furniture lines the walls, and the center of the room is hollowed out, so you rush straight through a space, noticing nothing.
Bad flow also occurs when energy gets trapped. Think of this as “pack-rat syndrome“. Too much furniture is crowded into a room, blocking access to certain areas.
A healthy energy flow meanders, gently curving and moving forward to reach all the corners of a room. This is what you want to design for. The goal is to have multiple routes through a space, without blocking windows or doorways.
2. The Good Flow Guide
Every home is different. Each has its own set of issues, whether awkwardly shaped floor plans or teeny-tiny rooms. But a few overarching rules will help you set up your space with as much good flow as your square footage allows.
Bedroom: The bed should be perpendicular to the wall and centered, so you can reach it from either side.
Living room: Try pulling the sofa away from the wall. Creating a path behind it allows access to the fourth wall and helps you avoid “bowling-alley syndrome.”
Dining room: The table should not touch a wall, so all sides are available for seating. It’s also a good idea to leave enough room for people to walk between the wall and the back of your dining chairs when—and this is the important part—the chair is pulled away from the table (as if you were standing up).
Kitchen: Much of the makeup of this room is immobile, but if you have the flexibility to choose where your appliances go, pay particular attention to how they open. Be sure the oven door doesn’t open into the dishwasher, and always adjust your refrigerator’s hinges so that its doors open toward the closest wall.
3. Virtual Floor-Planning Tools
Draw a floor plan (or upload one to trace), then choose from a library of furniture and design items to play around with. The first project is free; after that you’ll need to upgrade to a Plus or Pro account.
Select from loads of existing floor plans and add your own details—doors, windows, furniture, actual brand-name appliances, even paint colors (over 40,000 options)—for free. Bonus: It tracks material usage (flooring, paint), so you know how much to buy.
Floor Plan Creator
Google Play App
With this free app you can start with a predefined room or draw your own. Symbols for doors, windows, furniture, and other details make it easy to use on a smartphone or tablet. Note: It’s worth purchasing the add-on that allows you to sync to your cloud and share between devices.
Step away from your measuring tape! For a small fee this app allows you to “draw” accurate floor plans—accounting for windows and doors—by tapping your phone against every wall. You get measurements in minutes.
Talented interior designers, including Hilary Unger in New York City (buymyeye.net), offer floor-planning services virtually. Ask if they’ll do just furniture planning, so you don’t pay for services you don’t need. On average, small rooms start at $450—but research designers in your area.
4. One Room, Four Ways
Sometimes a major room update is just a few strategic furniture moves away. Proof in point: we used the same basic components to reconfigure this space.
A. Divided Rooms
The sofa is your most powerful tool in dictating a room’s flow. Here, it creates a “wall,” splitting the living and dining spaces. The rug is centered on the fireplace, emphasizing the room’s width.
IDEAL IF YOU WANT: separate eating and living areas; a fireplace that’s the center of attention.
FLOW: meanders in and around the living area, following the direction of the rug.
B. Angled Room
It’s refreshing to work outside a room’s typical right angles. Here, the sofa and rug face the fireplace, but they’re rocked 45 degrees to create some surprising views.
IDEAL IF YOU WANT: a room that’s cozy and unconventional.
FLOW: nice and open, from the dining room (left) to the windows (right) with interesting routes between seating.
C. One Big Room
The location of the sofa closes this room off—as opposed to the openness of the “adjacent” scenario—so it feels more cozy. The rug is turned horizontally (in line with the hearth) to emphasize the length of the room and pull the long space together.
IDEAL IF YOU WANT: open space but a less formal arrangement.
FLOW: with the back of the sofa facing the windows, the flow snakes between the living and dining areas, connecting the two at multiple points.
D. Adjacent Rooms
The rug is flipped horizontally (and left slightly off-center from the hearth) to highlight the openness of this space. The sofa faces the fireplace, grounding a lovely, semiformal seating area. And the easy movement between living and dining rooms allows for chairs to be added and subtracted between spaces.
IDEAL IF YOU WANT: versatile seating for entertaining; a formal space centered on the fireplace.
FLOW: multiple entry and exit points, with winding paths that lead from the dining table straight through to the side windows (right).