5 Simple Seating Tricks That Will Transform Your Living Room

iStock
iStock

Seating arrangements can make or break a social event. Whether it's a cocktail party, a book club get-together, or a Game of Thrones binge night, you want a setup that makes socializing easy and enjoyable. The right combo of comfortable chairs, tables, and other furniture is the key to making your abode more inviting and homey. We’ve got five ways to hack your living room seating for social occasions or everyday life.

1. MAKE THE TV THE FOCAL POINT OF THE ROOM.

When people are over to watch the season finale of your favorite show, the TV becomes the obvious focal point of the gathering. You can easily calculate the optimal viewing distance for your seating based on the size of your TV. For 1080p screen, double your TV's diagonal measurement to get the proper distance in inches, which you can then convert to feet.

Let's say you have a 43-inch TV—multiply that by two and you get 86 inches, or about 7 feet, as your best viewing distance. A 48-inch screen, which is one of the most popular sizes for living rooms, will allow you 8 feet of viewing space. If you have a higher-def 4K TV screen, you can sit a little closer: Experts recommend a distance of one to 1.5 times the screen size.

Now that you have the right distance in mind, arrange your couch in front and place other chairs at varied heights at the sides and behind it. Have plenty of comfy floor cushions for those who don’t snag a sofa seat so that everyone has a good sightline to the TV.

2. CREATE A CONVERSATIONAL CIRCLE.

When the social event doesn't require everyone to face the same direction, arrange the seating in a circle around a central point. This setup works best for book club meetings and gatherings where casual conversation is the main draw. Opt for a round table at the center for setting drinks and snacks. “At a round table you can see everyone at once, whereas at a rectangular table, there’s a chance you’re not seeing the faces of people on your side two or more seats down, making it difficult to chat with them,” Whitney McGregor of Whitney McGregor Designs in Greenville, South Carolina, tells Mental Floss.

A 2007 study suggested that people are drawn to circles and softer organic shapes because the rounded edges are perceived as less dangerous than sharp edges. Create a similar feel of safety, comfort, and inclusiveness in your living room with a set of chairs around a circular coffee table or a large tufted ottoman.

3. LEAVE SOME SPACE—BUT NOT TOO MUCH— BETWEEN SEATS AND TABLES.

Seating arrangement with turquoise curtains
iStock

To keep conversation flowing, leave at least 3 feet of space between each seat (not including couches, where people are expected to chat more intimately). For example, place arm chairs about 3 feet away from the ends of the sofa or 5 to 6 feet across from the sofa. The coffee table, whether round, square, or rectangular, should sit about 14 to 18 inches from the front of the couch—far enough to provide comfortable legroom, but close enough to set a drink down without getting up.

These cushions of space prevent guests from feeling like they're sitting on top of one another, according to Apartment Therapy. But a stretch of 10 feet or more is too much to converse easily, so pull out the tape measure as needed.

4. FRESHEN A STUFFY ARRANGEMENT WITH ASYMMETRY.

It's possible to switch up the whole feeling of your room—without purchasing new furniture—by changing the existing seating and accent tables from a symmetrical to an asymmetrical arrangement, and vice versa. “Asymmetry versus symmetry can be a fickle thing,” Christy Davis of Christy Davis Interiors in Columbia, South Carolina, tells Mental Floss. “Symmetry gives a sense of wholeness and completeness, whereas asymmetry makes you think a little more because it’s not as common as symmetry.”

Do you crave that whole and complete feeling? Put two matching chairs on either side of a table to make the room seem more visually balanced and formal. For a casual look with more energy, take those same two chairs and put them in a random order: One to the left of the couch as a discrete conversational seating area, and the other on the opposite wall and farther down in the room, along with a side table and lamp, as its own smaller conversation nook.

5. ADD SURFACES FOR DRINKS AND MORE.

With every good seat comes the need for a place to set a drink, your phone, or the remote control. While you want your coffee table at least 14 inches in front of the couch, the rules for accent table placement are a little looser. Try sitting in each location in your room and checking if there’s a place to set your glass within each reaching distance. If not, add a side table or garden stool, then dress it up with plants and photos. According to The Spruce, the side table should be about the same height as the arm of the seat it's next to.

How to Turn an Old Wicker Basket Into a DIY Cat Bed

iStock.com/Kurgu128
iStock.com/Kurgu128

From cat trees to stackable boxes, there are plenty of products out there for cat parents looking to spoil their pets. But you don't need to buy brand-name accessories to make your kitty feel comfortable in your home. If you have an old wicker basket, you can make a DIY cat bed that doubles as an accent piece.

For this craft project from Martha Stewart, get together a drill, two .25-inch screws, two fender washers, and a round basket. Align your basket where you want it displayed, with the flat bottom against the wall, and mount it by drilling the screws in their washers through the wicker. Add a soft blanket to make the nook an inviting spot for your pet.

Cats like to climb things: Being up high is a way for them to feel safe and expand their territory indoors. If you're not thrilled by the idea of your cat scaling the human furniture in your home, building an elevated cat bed just for them is a way to keep everyone happy.

This project isn't just for cat owners: The mounted basket can be used as a place to store throw blankets, towels, and even stuffed animals. And if you ever do decide to bring a cat into your home, there will be a spot waiting for them.

[h/t Martha Stewart]

10 Essential Items Every Bar Cart Needs

Antonis Achilleos
Antonis Achilleos

The 1950s style was all about fun—and some of that whimsy is reemerging in 21st-century homes. Witness the glorious resurgence of a '50s home staple: the bar cart. This retro piece of furniture pulls double-duty: If styled well, it not only serves as the focal point of a room, but come party time it takes center stage again as a functional, fashionable platform for crafting your guests' favorite cocktails.

There are countless styles of bar carts, as well as products to put on them. But what exactly do you need to get your cart up and running? A bottle opener and some booze are de rigueur. But beyond that? We turned to two experts: Vanessa Dina, author of The Art of the Bar Cart: Styling & Recipes (Chronicle Books); and Brooklyn-based bartender extraordinaire Ivy Mix, who routinely shows up on lists of the country’s top mixologists. Here are their suggestions for can’t-miss bar cart items.

1. Five Basic Spirits

The Art of the Bar Cart cover
Chronicle Books

This may sound obvious, but Mix—who designed and built her own modular red and orange bar cart so she could have a place for all of her tools—notes that there are five types of liquor that should always be on your cart: a vodka, a gin, a bourbon or rye whiskey, a rum, and a tequila. “They’re the standards,” Mix says.

2. Mixers

Negroni cocktail with an orange twist
iStock/bhofack2

Once you have your array of five essential spirits, you’ll need modifiers or mixers to create the drinks. “The ones that go the quickest in my house are my sweet vermouth, my Campari, and my Cointreau," Mix says. "I make martinis, margaritas, and Manhattans, so they’re really important. Having them right there makes it easy: A little bit of this, a little bit of Campari, and voilà—you have a Negroni. In fact, Campari is the most useful thing to make a tasty drink when other stuff is not around.”

3. Bitters

These flavorful, alcoholic extracts have taken the cocktail world by storm in recent years: Foodies craft them at home, bars highlight them on the menu, and multiple new brands and flavors are popping up everywhere. They’re also perfect for your home bar cart, Dina tells Mental Floss: “It’s an easy way to create a lot of variation in your drinks. They add spices, herbs, and other flavorful notes to a drink. But best of all, unlike liquor, bitters take up minimal space on a cart. I suggest a cubby to keep your collection organized.”

You can start with the classics—like Angostura and Peychaud's—or dive into flavors like smoked chili, cardamom, or chocolate.

4. Mason Jars

The internet abounds with recipes and ideas for adding a fun touch to your next shindig by serving cocktails in individual mason jars. But Mix sees the jars as an essential and versatile tool that can do the work of either a shaker or a mixing glass. “You can really do anything in a mason jar,” Mix says. “You can stir a drink in a mason jar and know that it’s going to be OK.”

5. Small Hand Juicer

“A lot of people don’t think this is important, but one thing I recommend to everyone is fresh juice,” Mix says. She notes that people frequently use a lime juice blend from the grocery store when making margaritas. “Most of the time it’s not actually lime juice, but this gross God-knows-what. Even if it is lime juice, [the manufacturer] had to pasteurize it or cook it in some way; it’s not right. But if you get one of those little hand juicers, you can squeeze a cup of lime juice in a couple of minutes. It’s a complete game changer.”

6. Citrus Peeler

When guests leave your next party, you want them to remember that the cocktails tasted fantastic—and looked even better. “That’s where garnishes come in,” Dina says. “Something as simple as an orange twist provides visual appeal as well as aromatics.” Lemon, lime, and grapefruit rinds created with a citrus peeler can also transform a simple drink into a professional-style cocktail.

7. Shaker With a Built-In Strainer

Cocktail newbies may not realize there are multiple varieties of strainers. A Hawthorne strainer is best for shaken cocktails; its flat profile and coil of wire that hugs the inside rim of the mixing glass keep chunks of ice, fruit, and herbs from slipping into the serving glass. Cobbler shakers come with a mixing vessel, strainer, and fitted top all built in; using one means that you won’t need to worry about misplacing your strainer. “They have a classic look that many people want,” Dina says. “In addition, it helps you pour and makes everything a little easier.”

8. Ice Container and Tongs

“Ice is an essential, and sometimes overlooked, player in cocktails,” Dina says. “Drinks would not be as tasty or inviting without the chill that ice provides, whether it’s large, small, hand cut, crystal clear, cubed, or crushed.” Ice buckets or containers not only keep your ice cool, but usually serve as a decorative accent as well. “If you have a theme for your bar cart, you can get an ice bucket to match,” Dina says. “I’ve seen a lot of them in rose gold recently.” Dina shares a tip: Buy some extra ice tongs so your guests can freshen up their own drinks.

9. Versatile, Attractive Glassware

From cordials to highballs to beer and wine, most drinks are supposed to be served in their very own style of glass. But not everyone has enough room on their home bar for multiple styles, so they have to pick and choose. “Short glasses are the most versatile,” says Dina. “You can serve everything from wine to a mixed drink in them and they take up less space. Also, it’s easier to find cute designs and styles at flea markets and home stores in the shorter versions.” Dina has cordial glasses displayed on her two-level home bar cart. Mix collects antique cocktail glasses; in addition, her father is a glassblower. “He uses his own colors so he can make beautiful, colorful glasses,” Mix says. “Having a really nice glass brings it the extra mile.”

10. Your Own Personality

Keep in mind that your friends are in your home—and not a bar—so parties are a chance to share a bit of yourself. Dina suggests that small frames with pictures of family, a piece of artwork that you picked up on a trip, or even foraged items like attractive branches can personalize your bar cart. She also recommends plants; her favorite are air plants. “A touch of nature freshens things up,” she says. “They are visually pleasing and make the whole area seem homier.”

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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