Decorate a Long Narrow Room

Michelle Radcliff
Contemporary living room design by Pangaea Interior Design
Room design by Pangaea Interior Design

Long narrow rooms pose specific design challenges. Adding dysfunctional furniture arrangements can then make the room feel cluttered, off balanced and difficult to navigate. However, with a few simple design tricks, you can divide and conquer a long narrow room and make it a functional, easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable living space.

Design Challenges

A long narrow room serving as a main living space may have two or more entryways connecting other high-traffic areas. When furniture is scattered throughout the room without taking the entryways into consideration, the room feels cluttered and you may feel like you're walking through a maze.

The entry and exit points are significantly important to determine traffic flow and should influence how the room is arranged and decorated. Use these elements to create walkways through a long narrow room.

Single Walkway Solution

Single walkway in living room

In most cases, a major walkway on one side of the room works best. To accomplish this, arrange seating furniture on one side of the room. Two simple options include:

  • Create a U-shaped conversation area on the long wall opposite the fireplace or television and console table. Place a sofa against the wall, facing the fireplace and place two armchairs facing each other at each side of the sofa.
  • Place two small sofas or loveseats facing each other in front of the fireplace, perpendicular to the wall. Separate the sofas with a coffee table.

In the first example, the walkway passes between the fireplace and the conversational grouping. In the second example, the walkway is located along the wall opposite the fireplace and face-to-face grouping. A major walkway should never pass through the middle of a conversational furniture grouping. Do place an area rug under the furniture, leaving a bare strip of flooring that helps indicate the path of the walkway.

Dual Walkway Option

If there are two doorways, one on each side of an end wall, the room will need two walkways, one on each side of the room. In this case, float larger pieces of seating furniture in the middle of the room, creating natural walkways along each long wall.

This type of furniture layout also works well if one of the long walls contains sets of doors leading out onto a patio or interior courtyard. To help unify a large space such as this, use matching area rugs and similar colors on upholstery and wood finishes.

Centered Walkway

In a long, narrow room that isn't particularly large and has an entry situated near a corner, strategic furniture placement can create a walkway passing through the center of the room.

  • Create a cozy conversation area in the corner opposite the entry, using just two seating pieces such as a couch and armchair or two arm chairs. Include a coffee table and fill the empty corner between the seats with a floor lamp, decorative screen or large potted plant.
  • Place a console table along the wall opposite the grouping and containing the door to encourage a natural walkway at an angle through the center of the room.
  • Offset the corner grouping of furniture with a large casement piece such as an armoire or china cabinet in the opposite corner.

The main walkway in a room should be about 3 feet wide, allowing two people to pass by without bumping into each other. Walkways passing between furniture pieces, such as the back of the sofa and a console table or bookcase flush against the wall should be about 2 1/2 feet wide, providing ample space for one person to pass through without needing to turn sideways.

Balance a Long Narrow Room

In general, arranging furniture on one side of the room is a design faux pas. In a square room where the walls are all equal lengths and even in most rectangular rooms that aren't particularly narrow, furniture arranged on one side will throw the room's balance off. The only reason it works in a narrow room is because the walls are so close together. Additional decorating tricks can also help keep a balanced look to the room.

Color and Décor Create Balance

Paint the opposite wall a dark or warm color

To further balance a narrow room with furniture arranged on one side, paint the opposite wall a warm or dark color. Warm colors appear to advance while dark colors carry the most visual weight.

So if you have a U shaped conversational grouping on the wall opposite the fireplace, paint the wall around the fireplace an earthy burnt orange, muted crimson or chocolate brown. Walls with built-in architectural features also make the best accent walls.

  • To visually shorten the room, paint the end walls in dark or warm colors. Stick with a light neutral color on the long walls.
  • If the furniture is placed alongside the fireplace wall, keep that wall a lighter color and hang a large painting with dark or bold colors on the opposite wall.
  • A dark, narrow console table and a few large earthenware vases won't impede the walkway and will add visual weight on the opposite wall of the fireplace.

Tunnel Effect Challenge

created using autodesk homestyler

Long, narrow rooms can feel like tunnels or bowling alleys when nothing stops the eye from one side to the other. The room won't feel cozy or conversational if seating furniture is spread too far apart.

The solution to this problem is to create separate zones in a long narrow room depending on how you plan to use the space. In many cases, a room such as this is combined into two living spaces.

Dining Room Zone

To create a dining area, place a dining room table and chairs near one end wall. Large area rugs can also help define borders between different living spaces in one long room.

  • Position the long side of a rectangular or oval table parallel to the end wall.
  • Center a square or circular table in the middle of the room, near the end wall.

A large china cabinet placed behind the table on the end wall helps stop the eye to combat the tunnel effect. An oversized antique clock, large painting, or framed art print would also be effective.

Living Room Zone

Arrange a comfortable conversation area on the other side of the room focused on a fireplace, picture window, or entertainment center.

  • If the fireplace is on the other end wall, float a conversation area in the center of the room. Face the sofa toward the fireplace, so the back acts as a natural divider between the dining and living room. Add a sofa table to provide visual interest and mid-room lighting with table lamps.
  • If the fireplace or entertainment center is on the long side wall, you can float a face-to-face grouping directly in front of it or arrange a grouping on the opposite wall. An L-shaped sectional sofa or two arm chairs placed side by side can also serve as the dividing line between the two living spaces.

Keep a balanced look in the combined living space by accenting walls without large furniture with framed art. Add dimension and extra texture by installing shelves and displaying knickknacks in a variety of materials including wood, glass, ceramic, stone and metal.

Bedroom Zones

Modern bedroom with shelves

Functional zones apply to single rooms as well as combined rooms when working with a long narrow space. In a bedroom, you'll need to decide how to position the bed first and then the remaining zones can fall into place.

End Wall Option

Place the head of the bed against the end wall and allow the length of the bed to follow the shape of the room. Paint the wall behind the headboard a dark color to visually stop the eye and emphasize the bed as a focal point. Give the bed a built-in look by installing tall, vertical open shelved cabinets on either side.

Situate a desk or vanity table along the long wall near the center of the room. One or two chairs paired with an end table and a floor lamp make a cozy reading or conversation area on the other end of the room.

Alternatively, float a loveseat and coffee table in the middle of the room and position a desk or vanity table along the other end wall.

Long Wall Placement Option

Place the head of the bed against one of the long walls. Hang an oversized painting, framed print or metal wall art sculpture on the wall behind the bed or cover the entire wall in wallpaper.

Place a writing table on the diagonal near the far end wall. Position a chair behind the table so its back faces the corner. Position a dresser in the opposite corner, against the end wall or the long wall opposite the bed.

In the near corner, along the same wall as the bed, place an arm chair and ottoman. Mount a flat screen TV on the wall opposite the bed. Place a narrow console table underneath the TV.

Keep in mind the location of the closet will also influence the layout of bedroom furniture.

Designer Tricks and Tips for Functional Rooms

Narrow living room

A well-designed room should function as well as it looks. Designer tricks that make a long narrow room look good always keep function in mind.

  • Folding screens and double-sided bookcases can help break up the space in a long room.
  • Balance a narrow room with furniture arranged on one side by using dark colors, wall art, and decorative accessories on the opposite wall.
  • Large pieces of furniture situated near end walls help to visually stop the eye and combat the tunnel effect.
  • Intimate and functional conversation areas are created by dividing long narrow rooms into separate zones with furniture and seating grouped closely together.
  • Repeating patterns on fabric and repetitive shapes on accessories such as lamp shades and pillows can help unify the separate zones in a long room.
  • If a long, narrow room has high ceilings, hang oversized pendants or chandeliers to fill empty vertical space.

Exploring Your Options

Rearranging furniture in a long narrow room can be labor-intensive work. In order to do it only once, explore your arrangement options with a floor plan. Take accurate measurements of the walls and furniture to make scaled sketches of the room or use a free online design program to virtually arrange your furniture and explore colors for walls.

Decorate a Long Narrow Room