5 Space Planning Tips to Help Your Relationship Flourish


It probably happened this week - a personal conversation erupted out of the blue with your partner at home. Some of the most intense (and necessary) talks take place spontaneously in the kitchen while cooking, in the bedroom while dressing, or in the living room after work. These conversations, though not planned, are vital relationship topics that range from finances to parenting. One of our goals at personalspace is to design spaces that encourage intentional, productive, and respectful communication among family members. With the right layout, a frictionless space can support families talking, listening, and working out important issues.

The strong relationship between interior design and psychology is well documented. I’ve studied many experts on the subject but one in particular is of major interest - E.T. Hall. He founded the concept of proxemics, the way people interact in their homes and buildings in relation to the organization of space.

Dr. Hall segments interpersonal space into 4 zones:

Intimate distance – 6 to 18 inches

This level of physical distance often indicates a closer relationship. It often occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.

Personal distance – 1.5 to 4 feet

Physical distance at this level usually occurs between people who are family members or close friends.

Social distance – 4 to 12 feet

This level of physical distance is often used with individuals who are acquaintances.

Public distance – 12 to 25 feet

Physical distance at this level is often used in public speaking situations. Talking in front of a class full of students or giving a presentation at work are good examples of such situations.


It’s important to note that, in my experience, the above zones can change based on the type of conversation and purpose of conversation and not just the relation of the people. For instance, you love your partner all of the time, but having a discussion about money requires a different physical distance than comforting them after a hard day.

When I am drafting a space plan for a family, I take into consideration the types of conversations that we want to take place in the space and how furniture can encourage those conversation. Let’s look at three rooms--living room, kitchen and bedroom. Here are just a few tips by room that will help create layouts supporting the purpose of the space and helping to create flexible distances for changing communications.

The Living Room:

A living room with flexible seating.

A living room with flexible seating.

The toughest room in the house for urban dwellers. Gone are the homes with formal living rooms and family rooms (my design friends in the South would completely disagree). We have become much more casual as a society, so the living room has to do triple duty by flexing between intimate, personal, and social distance zones.

1. Replace a coffee table with two upholstered ottomans. Place an ottoman or two in front of the sofa. These can be used to move closer and sit in front of your partner for an intimate conversation or move them away from the sofa for seating in social situations.

2. Group two swiveling armchairs. The flexibility is endless with swivel chairs. Turn to the sofa and chat or swivel towards each other and lean forward for more intimacy. I am very delighted swivels are making a come back!

Kitchen Living 1.jpg

The Kitchen:

3. Keep a stool handy. If you do not have an island or bar, place a chair or stool at the end of the counter for spontaneous pull-up seating.

4. Have a combo of stools with and without backs. If you have a bar, purchase two stools with backs and two similar stools without. This provides flexibility to move the backless stools closer to the cooking/cleaning zone for conversation. Kids also love kneeling on stools to help with dinner!

The Bedroom:

Photo by  Mr. Kate

Photo by Mr. Kate

The bedroom is most often the space where a personal conversations happen and I believe the most important room in the house for a couple.

5. Add an extra seat. Place an ottoman at the foot of the bed or within four feet of the bed. It is best to be able to create the opportunity for one partner to sit not on the bed but beside the bed. This creates face-to-face/eye-to-eye intimacy for important conversations and avoids the side-by-side nature of being in bed.

When space planning, these simple tips will encourage those spontaneous conversations that are so important to creating understanding and tranquility in our relationships. At personalspace, we design living and commercial spaces to promote self-confidence and individuality. We believe that communication is key to harmony and that happens when materials meet the soul of those who inhabit each special space. I

f you would like to work with a designer to rearrange the space in your home, reach out to us about our Style By the Hour service. Nelly will spend the afternoon with you rearranging furniture and revamping your home’s space.

Nelly Arnold is the owner of personalspace She coaches clients to build self-confidence through the power of personal style and interior design.

Nelly Arnold