Steve and Barbara, a couple in their late twenties, had recently been relocated to Baltimore. Their modern three bedroom apartment didn't have any distinguishing architectural features, but it did boast 9 1/2' ceilings and beautiful herringbone wood floors.
The 15'x 21' living room had one large window at the far end, across from the entrance to the room. On the left wall, near the large archway into the room, stood a tall armoire. Opposite it, on the right wall was a 1916 baby grand piano. Straight ahead, under the window, was a beige leather modular seating unit that extended to the wall in a L shape.
A coffee table was also placed against the left wall, and a small end table was tucked into the corner in-between the modular pieces. A simple wheat colored sisal rug lay in the middle of the room. In addition, a built-in storage cabinet under the window enclosed the air-conditioning and heating units.
Having all of the furniture pushed up against the walls was not conducive to easy conversation because no matter where you sat, you had to twist your head-or body- to face the person next to you. (Long L-shaped configurations, whether they are made up of modular pieces or a loveseat and sofa combination, always foster uncomfortable conversations.)
The transformation began by rotating the seating arrangement 180 degrees. With the sofa in front of the windows and the wing chairs opposite, the major visual and physical obstacle to the flow of the room was immediately eliminated.
To begin, we reconfigured the modular sofa so that three of the pieces, on the long left wall, created a 'sofa' under the large oil painting on the longest wall. This re-arrangement reinforced the painting as the focal point of the room.
The two remaining armless sections were moved to the opposite side of the room and placed on angles facing the sofa. The coffee table was then centered among the three pieces where everyone could easily reach it. This new arrangement enhanced the traffic pattern, permitted access to the built-in storage units, and most important, allowed people to face each other comfortably while seated- an arrangement that is as functional as it is attractive.
To soften the overall look of the room, I suggested slipcovering the upholstered pieces. As it happened, cream-colored slipcovers with a black piping had already been made and used in their previous home but were set aside in the chaos of moving. Within a hour, the room had been pulled together into a configuration so versatile that it could be used around most any focal point that we choose to make - a window, a fireplace, or a wall unit.
In this case, the painting became the focal point. We also re-positioned some of the artwork to complement both the existing furnishing and the clean lines of the room. Later, Steven and Barbara purchased a few accent pillows and a black chenille throw.
Excerpted from: Use What You Have Decorating by Lauri Ward.