They aren’t interior decorators who impose their own sense of design. They aren’t “stagers” who remove every touch of personal taste from a home on the resale market. They are arrangers. And they’re part of the fastest growing trend in interior design.
Professional arranging has grown so popular that membership in the Interior Arrangement and Design Association has tripled in three years. Judy Alto isn’t surprised. “People love to come home and see how we’ve used what they already own to create a new look,” says the professional arranger based in Annapolis, Maryland.
According to Alto, most people hire an arranger because they sense something is wrong with a room but can’t quite figure out what. “They think, ‘I like my stuff, but I want to make changes,’” she says.
Unlike interior designers, professional arrangers provide a service but not a product. They won’t sell you a new brass lamp or swank Louis XIV chair. They won’t hire a painter to faux finish your walls. “Essentially we use what you already own to create a new look,” Alto explains.
Best of all, arrangers don’t judge. Instead they help clients express themselves with what they have on hand. “We give people permission to display their stuff, but in a way that works within the architecture of a space. Plus we teach them how to live in 100 percent of their home.”
The process is deceptively simple. After an initial meeting with the client, the arranger (and usually one or two assistants) strips a room bare, then piece by piece (largest to smallest) reloads the space. The trick? Determining where the weight or focus of the room has to land. That can range from a bay window to a fireplace to an alcove. Notice that everything comes out, meaning it’s likely that a monstrous entertainment center will no longer be the center of attention.
A typical session lasts three to four hours. At an average of $100 per hour, a professional arranger can offer a brand new look for less than the price of an ottoman.
In the following pages, professional arranger DEBORAH COBURN, owner of Naturally Inspired in San Rafael, California, shows how she’s turned rooms from ordinary to extraordinary—and shares her redesign wisdom as well.
Margo’s Living Room
• Furniture placement is not oriented toward the fireplace, the room’s architectural focal point.
• The TV is positioned for viewing from one chair only.
• The corners of the room are not equally weighted so the room is not in balance.
• Without color or pattern, the room is not warm and inviting.
• There is only one randomly placed piece of art.
• The mantel is cluttered with small objects; the beauty of the mirror is lost.
• The bookcase contains a hodgepodge of accessories, all of the same height.
• The two sofas are placed around the fireplace (focal point), creating an intimate conversation area.
• The rug, bought at a garage sale, visually holds the furniture grouping together, establishing the palette and providing a pattern.
• Decorative pillows and a throw connect to the color scheme and soften the heaviness of the solid navy sofas.
• A glass-top coffee table, made from an old iron gate, holds a few favorite and well-chosen accessories.
• The vintage poster of a circus elephant, moved from another room, adds color and interest, as well as giving height and weight to the corner. The TV, placed on the diagonal in the opposite corner, becomes part of the furniture grouping, balancing the sofas and strengthening the focal point.
• The mantel and top shelf of the bookcase are cleared of clutter. Accessories are placed thoughtfully, creating shape by varying the heights (with some objects put on pedestals), and theme by grouping the elephant statues near the poster.
• The chair and ottoman are placed diagonally in the far right corner to balance the TV (in the far left corner), creating a comfy reading area. Art, a standing lamp, and a plant add to the vignette; two pillows make the color relationship.
Sarah’s Multipurpose Room
This beautiful room serves many functions: home office, TV room, bedroom for occasional guests, and storage for art and craft supplies. Yet one purpose was not served: There was no work surface for Sarah’s art projects.
• There is no focal point. The antique pie safe, a potential focal point, is jammed into a corner.
• The room “tips” badly to the left.
• Lack of color, pattern and art.
• Office alcove lacks a strong focal point; the central window is just a hole between bookcases.
• The pie safe, placed between a pair of windows, creates the focal point. It’s made more important by placing art on either side and above.
• Sarah’s art space fills a perpendicular wall, with its large view window providing natural light.
• Three thirty-six-inch-high sets of wire baskets function as both pedestals for the work surface and storage for supplies.
• Floor space in the center is left empty for Sarah’s new yoga practice.
• To lead the eye up to the lovely ceiling, a simple silk valance tops all windows. In the office alcove, this valance ties the two bookcases together and strengthens the centrality of the window.
• The swag drapery panel adds color and pattern. When guests arrive, it fills the alcove opening, hiding the office.
• Art in each area is treated individually but also integrates all parts of this multipurpose room.
• Cornering a pair of prints in the TV area changes the focus from the TV to the art. The frames are identical, hung at the same height, the same distance away from the corner line.
• Creating a column of art on both sides of the worktable defines the space.
Proportion is the key to a well-balanced room, says Coburn. Here are some rules of thumb:
• Traffic lanes should be a minimum of twenty-four to thirty-six inches wide.
• Eight feet is the maximum distance between seats for conversation.
• Side tables should be no more than twelve inches away and no more than two inches above or below the arm of the sofa or chair.
• The coffee table should be within comfortable reach, no more than twelve to eighteen inches from the main sofa.
• Allow no less than twenty-four inches per person around all sides of the table. It’s best to have twenty-six inches for side chairs and thirty inches for arm chairs. Allow thirty to thirty-six inches behind chairs.
• The rug should be at least thirty-six inches larger on all sides than dining table.
• Round dining tables should be twenty-four inches for two people, thirty-six inches for four, forty-eight inches for six, and fifty-four inches for eight.
• The bottom of a chandelier should be no less than thirty-four to thirty-six inches above the table’s top.
• Allow twenty-four to thirty-six inches of space on either side of the bed and forty inches in front of the dresser.
To read more advice on how to best arrange your furniture, see the article "Tricks of the Trade: Furniture Arranging and Interior Design Tips."