Sitting Comfortably?

I’ve recently put together a scheme for a school reception area and I really had to analyse what would and would not work for the area by way of seating. A sofa’s a sofa’s a sofa, right? But actually there’s a lot more to it than that. Proportions and style really do play a huge part in choosing the right piece for a space and the same is true of your home. First off, if your front room – or wherever the sofa is planning on being housed – is a dark space, do not choose something that is of a chunky build with a frame that goes right to the floor. This will make the space feel crowded and even more closed in.

sofas

These three leather sofas have similar proportions, they’re all three seater, they all have arms and removable seat cushions, but visually they are very different. You can see, its not just the dark colour that makes them feel ‘heavy.’ The way they are built, the style of the frame, and the distance of the frame from the floor really impact on the ‘weight’ of the piece. So, let’s look at some other shapes and analyse what their structure is doing visually.

2 seaters

These two seaters have a similar frame shape, they both go to the floor, they both have backrest cushions, but the shaped arm of the top sofa and the way the backrest is shaped to sit over the arm create a width that raises the eye level to the outer edges of the piece. Because the focus has moved, the sofa doesn’t feel as heavy. And when space is an issue, something that looks heavy takes up a lot of space in a room – with the same measurements, but different proportions – your room will feel less crowded.

sofa shapes

And here we have two traditional shapes, seen in many homes, that again illustrate a feeling of weight according to proportions. Both have arms of a similar height, both have removable seat and back cushions, but the top sofa seems more enclosed and less comfortable because the base goes to the floor and the cushions are contained inside the frame. The bottom piece seems more inviting because the cushions wrap the frame and although the two styles are very similar, it seems more contemporary because it has a wedge shape arms and the base is off the floor. Being able to see under a piece of furniture adds a sense of lightness to it.

And what about corner units? They’re a great use of space in homes that have regular shaped rooms, but usually theres only one place to put them. Naturally they work best in rooms with a dedicated activity – like a media room, or snug where the reason for being there is to curl up and relax in front of a big screen. But so many of us have front rooms that need to be multi functional and able to accommodate a number of people facing each for conversation. Corner units do not work well in that situation, because their seat cushions don’t tend to be as supportive and everyone ends up crowding together – not intentionally. They make rearranging the furniture almost impossible, so taking advantage of a log fire or the french doors being open is much less likely than something more freestanding and easier to move physically.

corner units

Again you can see how the proportions affect the overall weight of their appearances. The top sofa has a left-hand chaise and is smaller in dimensions than the other two, but all three have an open end designed for stretching out. The largest of all is the middle piece, but because of its slim metal legs, it appears more delicate than the bottom piece, which has a solid, chunky appearance. It looks robust, but a word of caution, such unstructured seat cushions will show wear quickly and look untidy much faster than the top or middle units will.

Sofa’s are not something to change every couple of years and as a result, they’ll be a part of your domestic life for quite some time. They have to stand up to the knocks and adapt to your changing needs. Choosing a sofa for a school reception area was very much an exercise in analysing shapes and with so many options available online, you can do the same very easily.

Try and be dispassionate and work out what is going to be the most versatile piece for your home. Get your ‘wish list’ together and look at the proportions, the style and the weight of the frame, before you decide that you absolutely must have it. Then when you go and look at them in the showroom, you’ll already know what shapes will work best in your space. You can sit on them and decide if they have the level of comfort you want, if you can seat enough people easily to give your room the flexibility it needs and then if you still love it – go get it!

Images sourced from Darlingsofchelsea.co.uk, Made.com and Sofaworkshop.com – with thanks.

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How Big is 150mm?

It’s not a very big measurement, but it can make a BIG difference to your space. I’ve recently worked on two bathrooms that for very good reasons needed to have walls moved – 150mm – to create a room that would fit a full sized bath, with shower over and still allow enough room for a towel rad, full sized hand basin and WC. 150mm or 15cm turns out to be the difference between having a space work and feel well planned or having your room feel cramped and not thought through. I’m a great fan of borrowing from cupboards if a room backs onto one! A deep cupboard sounds wonderful – but nothing can ever be found and the room behind will use that space to much better effect. So, while these room will never be large, they have room for everything, nothing is crowded, each has been placed in the best possible spot and that gives them a sense of spaciousness that the dimensions of 258cm x 168cm and 234cm x 226cm would ever lead you to believe would be possible.

floorplan bathroom

Planning is everything and it really isn’t enough to simply look at a room and think ‘ok, the bath is there and the handbasin is there, so those are the best places to keep them.’ They’re probably not, as it goes. In this bathroom – the smaller of the two mentioned – we wanted to take advantage of the natural light and to conceal the WC, which then allowed us to create a stud wall and install a double ended bath. This was almost the opposite of what was there originally – the loo was the view from the door, the bath was crowed in to the right of the window and the handbasin was in the darkest corner to the right of the door. Hopeless.

So many bathrooms are planned by people who don’t take into consideration the space a human being needs to get around objects. This is called ergonomic planning, the way in which you achieve the best, most practical use of a space or object. Without being aware of this fundamental component of any design, living spaces end up feeling clunky and ‘just not right.’ And spaces like that make you feel uncomfortable.

You only have to think about the loos in public buildings to understand what I mean – the architects or designers have been told that they have to have x number of loos per visitor to comply with regulations and so create a cavernous row of cubicles that don’t allow you to close the door when inside without doubling over. Who stands in a pose like that naturally? If they’d given the cubicles 150mm more depth they’d have improved the functionality for the user without compromising the circulation outside unduly.

beginning the fit out

Putting the loo aside for one moment, (although this photo shows the preparation for the planned locations of the concealed WC and handbasin opposite) access to the hand basin and bath is just as important. This is where water will be splashed around and trip hazards are most likely, so allowing circulation around these items is just plain common sense. If you live alone, then it is likely that there will only be you in the bathroom at any one time, but when you have friends over, bathrooms take on the persona of a processing plant – I’m thinking of girls trying to put their makeup on in front of the mirror at the same time – there’s jostling and vying for position – and all in the name of getting out of the house quickly. Go for a BIG mirror!

In this case we wanted to make a feature of this wall, to ‘push the walls out a bit’ so although the tiles in the rest of the room are honed (matt texture) this wall has a polished finish to bounce light around and enhance the fact that the room does have natural light.

using the light

So, establish the best features of the space and consider this in the planning. Consider too, if you like to take a bath or prefer to shower. Most working people are time poor and showering is the quicker option. If space is an issue as well, then give some thought to a shower room that really delivers on function and style – and use the rest of the space to create storage. Here’s an idea, move the washing machine to the bathroom if you suddenly find you have a 600mm space going free, house it in a cupboard and like magic, you have a utility ‘room.’

And now comes the tricky part, where is the door? Why is this tricky? Because access to any room is how it relates to the rest of the house. Does it open the right way for you to move freely inside the room when you’re bathing? Sometimes the door is actually best opening outwards toward the hallway – not my favourite option, but it does allow more space inside. In a family home this could be a problem, but in a space that is used mostly by adults with a schedule, this sort of detail isn’t an issue if it improves the function of the space.

rehanging the door to allow access

This was the decision we made on this job – even though I initially drew it hanging inwards – and because the internal space is small, it has a sense of calmness that you wouldn’t get if you had to remember that the door opens against the bath and that the door stopper was there and not to place the bathmat over it – or you’ll hurt your foot. This is the type of information that allows you to make a space function ergonomically. You have to think about how the space will be used and to mentally walk through it to understand the possible areas of difficulty.

When I start to plan a space, I let my pencil do the walking. I draw the access lines of any possible use that I can think of for that room. Door to handbasin, door to WC, door to bath/shower. Handbasin to bath/shower. Towel rad to bath/shower. WC to shower. When you have a spiderweb of lines through the central area, you start to see exactly what will cause problems and in the room above, our main issue was how narrow it was. We couldn’t change that, but the 150mm we ‘found’ when we stripped out the old bathroom suite and tiling meant that by changing the layout, we could put the bath by the door and thus reduce the amount of water likely to be on the floor in the central circulation space (because the shower screen protects that area and a bathmat is on the floor in front of the door.)

shower,WC and handbasin

The WC is concealed and the mirror is beside the natural light. The room feels larger because thought has been given to how the space will function. Of course there are some rooms that you simply can’t change because of structural issues like the location of the soil stack (waste pipework), but this shouldn’t stop you giving thought to how you will use the room. Draw your access lines on a graph paper floor plan and with a good builder, who takes the time to conceal pipework and to reposition lighting, you can improve the functionality of the space.

All it takes is a bit of planning and careful measuring. Now go and buy that graph paper and a retractable tape measure!

shower valve detail