How Much Furniture Do You Really Need? (More Than You Think)

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I had two client visits yesterday. The first client had a great room with a fireplace. In her interior, the best place to install the TV will be above the fireplace, so we talked about installing wing chairs to flank the fireplace.

She mentioned that no one would sit there because you can’t see the television (example above).

via Design Sponge

The second client had a very awkward and narrow living/dining area in her tiny condo downtown. After going around and around on every possible layout for furniture, we decided that a dining room would look best in one area of the space, even though she wouldn’t use it very often.

How many of us have a dining room that is rarely used? But you still have dining room furniture in there right?

Or, you might have a large master bedroom with room for a sitting area. Some might argue that you’ll never sit there.

Candice Olsen

And, a more common argument for NOT refreshing a dated living room (vs. a family room) is ‘We rarely use this room’.

But here’s the thing. If you are committed to having a LOOK and a FEEL, you still need to have those chairs beside the fireplace, or the dining room that you rarely use, or living room furniture in your master bedroom, or a refresh of your living room.

Conversations in this house go like this “What will LOOK the best”, “Will it be PRETTY?”. “If we replace that, what will everything else around it look like then?”

If you were a fly on the wall, you’d often hear me saying things like:

“I hate that, it looks terrible”

“I’m not installing that, it will look bad.”

“No way, that’s just ugly”

On anything from a piece of furniture to where a wire will run (and what colour it should be) inside the garage because an outside light is being installed.

Terreeia is way more about FUNCTION than PRETTY than me, but she mostly goes along with my obsession with pretty because she loves the way the house looks in the end.

There’s nothing WRONG with function or comfort taking priority over pretty. However, I think when designers get stumped, it’s because they are trying way too hard to give their clients EVERYTHING.

Sometimes that’s just not possible.

When I work too hard trying to give a client both, only to come to the conclusion that it’s not possible, I usually realize that about halfway or 3/4 into the consult. Then I make myself wrong for not seeing it sooner.

It works kind of the same way as this diagram (below).


My Mom sat on the all the pretty recliners (that didn’t look like recliners) back in the day when we were shopping for them. She hated them all and declared them uncomfortable.

So the puffy recliner won.

If you are in a situation where you want functional, low maintenance, practical and sublimely comfortable, oh, and by-the-way can it be PRETTY too? You might have to sacrifice ‘look and feel’ in order to get low maintenance, or comfort. Or it’ll cost a lot more.

It’s kind of like the saying,

People say “Won’t a white kitchen get dirty and won’t it mark-up easier?” Yes it will.

“What about a white sofa, won’t I have to wash it?” Yes you will.

“What about white grout? Will I have to bleach it?” Yep.

Related post: Is White Worth the Extra Maintenance?

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Same goes for furniture you don’t need or won’t use very often. If you look at elaborately decorated, large interiors in design magazines, do you think every single chair gets sat on regularly??

No they don’t. But these are the interiors that have a ‘look and a feel’.

If you want that? Your entire conversation becomes very different from the one most people have which is often more about practicality and comfort.

Is it practical to have a chair or two you’ll never use? Maybe not, but it looks good.

If  you want your room or home to have a ‘look and a feel’, BEAUTIFUL has to win most of the time, otherwise you just won’t have it.

Did I say there’s anything wrong if you have to give up pretty to have function or comfort? No, but just know that sometimes it’s impossible to have both.

Over to you my lovelies, which one are you? Pretty, practical or comfortable?

Related posts:

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

Two Questions to Ask Before you Renovate or Decorate



leave aREPLY

  1. Great post! I’m glad I’m not the only one that struggled with this. I’ve redecorated two of my own houses three times in the last five years. (Moving and such). I’ve learned comfortable and quality are my most important features. BUT I will not even consider a piece of furniture that does not have good scale or classic features. I wouldn’t be able to buy anything without trying it first. My husband insisted on two recliners and we found some that look decent and not bulky. I can’t tell you how many people love them! It’s a small compromise for my hard working husband. Shhh… the truth is I sit in it more than hubby!! ; ) .

    I also have a dining room that I knew I would never use. I’ve turned it into a nice office. The office chairs are light enough to pull into an adjacent family room for more guests. We use every single piece of furniture in our home but we have favorites.

    i appreciate the nice comments from guests about the house being cozy and pretty. Makes me feel like I did my job right.

    • I, too, am on the hunt for a nice looking recliner for my 6’2″ tall husband. May I ask which recliners you bought and from where? Thanks!

  2. Pretty, functional, comfortable and versatile is what I shop for in an attempt to decorate my home with. For example; I am currently looking for a love seat for my Living Room which could also be used in my bedroom however the one I did try with similar lines though pretty, was unbelievably deep! In fact, I am convinced its manufacturer may have styled it for Wonder Women’s fictional eight to nine foot Amazon Warriors as my legs dangled hopelessly as my feet would not touch the floor when I sat on it and I am ‘not’ what you would consider short. That said; regardless that I am still on the hunt (as I know it is out there somewhere in Furniture Land) I feel by prioritizing my needs and using this formula paired with a little patience, I can still have the whole enchilada. -Brenda-

    • Sorry, that should have read …. For example, I am currently looking for a specific style in a love seat for my Living Room etc….. -Brenda-

  3. I LOVE that Venn diagram, “Cheap, Fast, Great”! It corroborates my experience totally! I have been a bit too much of the “cheap” and “great” kind of person, so it takes me way to much time to find that (almost) perfect item and a really great price (due to my very real budget constraints.) Lately though, I’m wondering if it would make more sense to just get a second job and go for the “Great” and “fast” and just pay the high price!!! I need to show my husband this diagram–he just doesn’t understand why it takes me so long to find items for the house!

  4. Maria~
    You read my mind with this post. We recently downsized, and want to make the best (and lasting) furniture choices going forward. Thank you!

  5. I agree with your Venn diagram, but don’t think that fast, cheap or great are interchangeable with pretty, practical or comfortable. I believe you can have pretty, comfortable and practical all at the same time! Logically, a piece of furniture or a room full of furniture is not practical unless it looks good and is comfortable. Why would you buy it otherwise? If it’s pretty and no one wants to sit in it, it’s not at all practical. On the other hand, if it’s comfortable, but you cringe every time you look at it, how long will you put up with that in your home? Don’t settle for something that isn’t all 3. Of course it won’t be cheap.

  6. I’m amazed that I haven’t seen this in the comments so I’m going to say it. “Form Follows Function”. This rule was pounded into my head when I attended Interior Design school. It is the Interior Designer’s job to creatively figure out a solution – that is why you’ve been hired. Figure out what works – then make it beautiful.

  7. Cheap and great=high-low decorating, which works well for my needs. Spending more on a few standout investment pieces mixed with well designed bargain finds and makeover items. Taking the time to do it right is an enjoyable process for me.

    I recently read “Remodelista,” in which this hi-low practice is emphasized in every example. While my personal style differs from their minimalist, modern industrial designs, I appreciate the creative spirit of their repurposing philosophy. We did this in the 90’s with the Shabby Chic look, and it can be done in any style.

    To improve the flow of our living room, we are replacing pieces that we’ve had for 30 years. I am educating myself about soft furniture construction to decide where the money is best spent. A great sofa and reading chair paired with cheap, but chic occasional chairs for guests. I am reading all of your sofa blogs. Thank you for the great topic.

  8. In the room shown at the top, the reason to put chairs flanking the fireplace is so the room can function as more than a place to watch TV. With the TV off, you can have a conversation facing each other, so it is actually functional.

    I am all about the “pretty” too, but never at the expense of function. That way of thinking annoys me and I believe it gives interior designers a bad name. To me, making sure a room functions well is part of design.

    I have a friend who was helping his sister cook on a holiday. He reached for a kitchen towel that was draped over the oven handle, and she chastised him. He was taken aback. Apparently, that towel was only there for decoration and he was supposed to know this. The useful towels were kept in a drawer. Insufferable!

    I love white, but I am starting to see more kitchen cabinets painted in blues and greens now. Perhaps they will be the solution to being pretty and easy to keep clean.

  9. You CAN have a practical white sofa now if the fabric is treated with Crypton. It’s world’s away from the old Scotchguard, which had unhealthy chemicals. Crypton permeates the fabric permanently so spills bead up.

  10. Therein lies the problem….I want all three – pretty, functional and comfortable. I have an open concept floor plan for the main living functions…alas my beautiful dining room also serves as a jigsaw puzzle space, an office for my son when he comes to visit, Or a storage space for his photography equipment. It can’t serve all three requirements at the same time. But! When he’s not here (the majority of the time) it’s a perfectly lovely space that serves as my window to the outside world because of the nice bay window that overlooks my garden. At this stage of my life (I’m 68) function is primary…but it must be comfortable for the way we live and as pretty as I can make it – allowing for the dreaded recliner my husband requires.

  11. I definitely prefer for things to be pretty. I bought a pretty dark blue bench to go in our living room. When I put it together, I cringed at how cheap it was and realized that with someone heavy sitting on it, it could easily break. Of course I kept it because it was pretty. I did not expect anyone to actually sit on it- we have a sofa and loveseat that are much more comfortable. And yet, for some reason, all the guests that come, sit on this bench. I say a little prayer every time my father-in -law sits on it. However, the bench is still there. It’s just too pretty to take away.

  12. I agree with your position but I also think you are missing part of the conversation. In the example of the wing chairs…yes they bring visual balance to the space and “look pretty” but they also create a room where the focus doesn’t always have to be the television. By having seating opposite the sofa, you create an opportunity to have a conversation or play a game and expand the functionality of your space.

    The same is true of a formal dining room. Expand the way you can use the space. Add a bookcase or two . Add closed storage for kid’s art supplies or grown-up hobbies like scrap booking or knitting. You will still have a welcoming space for holiday meals but the rest of the time you gain functionality that might otherwise be lacking in your home.

    The cheap/fast/great diagram is a wonderful way to help clients understand how to budget for their spaces. I try to explain that the more specific your wish list is for a single piece of furniture (3 seat sofa with a single cushion and a slipcover and exposed feet) the more likely you will either have to pay more to get it or compromise on a feature or be willing to wait for it to go on sale (or be made to order).

    I try to create spaces in my clients’ homes that they will use often and also to encourage them to uses every space on a regular basis. By adding functionality you don’t need as many square feet to live your best in your home.

  13. Hi Maria, I love this post! It’s very timely because we have been decluttering furniture quite a bit this month along the lines of ‘minimalism’. I realized very quickly that it’s nice to have less furniture but there is such a thing as ‘too little’ to feel inviting. We need some furniture placed as you suggest, just for the feel of it… like an upright wing chair near a bookcase just because it invites you to consider sitting down and reading a book. It makes me happy just to ‘see’ the reading nook.

    We have mostly new furniture now–hard to believe it–and have started buying things as much for their aesthetics as their functionality. Tim helped me rearrange the furniture in the living room this month and chided me for forcing miscellaneous pieces of furniture to fit in the space over arranging it all to be ‘pretty’. Who knew he cared? Great post!

  14. I’m thinking the priorities might change for some of us as we age or have an illness. If you’re in your later 50’s or greater, remodeling/redecorating AND plan to stay in your house – it might be a good idea to consider aging when planning some things.

    I used to be for “pretty” even when living on a sailboat, but now comfort and low maintenance come first. I am trying to keep in mind “pretty” while I plan for the others. I’m not too old (63), but chronic illnesses and back problems means less energy and more pain – and the RA in hands means dusting and cleaning has to be a minimum. Dust mite allergies means as little fabric as possible. Overstuffed furniture is out unless covered with leather or similar (even though I’d rather have fabric). I also don’t want to be pulling slip covers off to wash every other week, so putting one over a leather sofa won’t work. If I lay on my current sofa, my sinus’ immediately clog up – and it gets HEPA vacuumed and cushion covers washed often – but it’s the stuffing that harbors the mites and feces.

    I’m still working on these concepts in my “new to me” downsized (fixer upper) house…. and it’s a challenge! But if I don’t do this, my health and too much cleaning become my whole life. Sometimes it’s not what we’d like, it’s what frees us to enjoy life and minimize stress. So if you like pretty first, please go for it – and appreciate it for as long as you can!

    I have nice colorful “beachy” artwork that will help – and needs little maintenance. Living in a beach community means that casual will work. I have a “built-in” for books, objects and space for mounted tv in mind- but there must be glass doors on the openings to keep dusting down. Amount of furniture does make a difference when vacuuming. Getting rid of chairs (as much as possible) that require moving to vacuum – so the bar stools and table will be on pedestals instead of legs – which can be quickly dusted and vacuumed around. Anything the vacuum won’t go under will have casters or sliders if possible. As many “off the floor” and built-ins as possible – so a carpenter will be replacing (or augmenting) some furniture purchases. I’m coming up with more ways to make this “new lifestyle” work for now and for aging in place. That also means widening the doors to both baths . Hoping challenges like this will bring out some creativity! And perhaps a learning experience for the poor architect/designer/decorator I need to hire for help. The baby boomers are starting to age, so it’s a good opportunity to learn how to help this population….

    In an earlier house, I discovered that my friends automatically gravitated to a 6′ long, 4’wide counter height bar that jutted out from a galley kitchen into the family room, giving seating on both long sides and one end. Bar stools were backed, padded and comfortable. They ignored both the family room and living room furniture. It was just more comfortable and casual to have the bar for elbows, drinks, maybe snacks and the closeness to chat. So I’m replacing the current kitchen island with something similar, maybe a nice curve, with storage underneath. A striking countertop and lighting on the bar will probably be the focal point for the whole room. The pantry means no upper cabinets needed – just artwork, mirrors, etc. so it blends better with the rest of the room and, instead of screaming “kitchen”, it screams “cozy bar”. (This works even if you don’t drink).

    When I was younger and healthier, none of this would have crossed my mind! But now, I’m sort of excited with the prospect of freeing up my life instead of bemoaning “what used to be”.

    • Cheryl,
      Well said…..I just turned 66 and like to tell folks, I’m an Oldie, but not Moldy. My husband and I are moving out of a 2800 sq. ft. 2 level Townhouse to a one level 2200 sq. ft. open floor plan coastal home on lake lot (being built as I write).

      I declared “66” as the start of my Golden Years….No fuss, no muss….Comfortable living and entertaining. Practical purging, not a certified Minimalist…We are married 46 years and have no children….Friends that do constantly tell us, “our kids don’t want our stuff OR the stuff they stored at our house”!!

      This certainly is not our first rodeo, but your perspective does change from 30’s to 60’s!

      Thanks for your input:)

  15. Several years ago we were shopping in Arhaus Furniture and sat on THE most comfortable, handsome recliner ever. Closed, you would not guess it is a recliner. It is my husband’s chair any time he sits down.( I grab it when he’s not in the house!) Point is, if you look hard enough for handsome AND practical, you will find it. Like great good looking comfortable shoes! ( Check out Joseph Siebel shoes sometime!)
    The lumbar support in Italian couches is often superb! Yes, you pay the price, but try a cheap mattress…’s that workin’ for ya’?
    With internet to preview the great stuff and cars to take us anywhere, why get ugly?
    I rest my case.

  16. I love this post! You managed to capture into words exactly what I think every time I encounter this situation (“I don’t want to spend a lot because we never sit in here”, etc). You are so right!!!! Such great points! Thank you for posting this.

  17. I think this is a great question. Agree with everyone who commented about a balance between comfort, function and pretty.

    What about folks who don’t want a lot of furniture, no matter how pretty is is? Sometimes a little space is luxury. I know the bedroom photo was to make a point but it looked like a place to host a party, not a relaxing bedroom space.

    It also perplexes me why people continue to install TVs at less than optimal viewing height (you can google it). You lose a lot of function/comfort if you’re having to look up.

  18. Oh, how I wish my husband cared more about the pretty! It doesn’t matter so much for the decorating things as he leaves that to me, but when it comes to remodeling type work he is all about the (his phrase) quick and dirty construction, where expedience always wins over good design unless I am hovering over him ready to fight about it. I’m blessed that he has the skills to do almost all house/construction work since we’re a young family on a single income without much extra for prettying the house — I definitely do the cheap/slow method on your diagram. We just bought a new house that needs some remodeling and the tension between our priorities is real!!