Arrange Furniture More Easily: Create a Scale Drawing With Movable Furniture!




 I absolutely hate arranging and rearranging furniture.  I don't hate the end result of an attractive and functional living space, but I hate trying to figure it out the traditional way - you know, moving everything around over and over again, just to see how a different arrangement will look or work?  Yeah, I hate that.  And I hate the fact that sometimes I will just accept a half-baked or not very attractive or useful arrangement, simply because I'm tired of dragging stuff around.  But I don't want to be a hater - so let me tell you something I love!

I have discovered a relatively easy way to decide where to put my furniture - to experiment with different arrangements, to see how a particular arrangement will flow, work, and look - without having to call up a bunch of friends to help me (or drag the sofa back and forth by myself)!

Creating a scale drawing of the room you plan to rearrange (as well as scale cutouts of the furniture you will be arranging) takes a little time up front, but is worth it in the long run.

I have also used this technique upon first moving into an apartment, to decide where the furniture goes in the first place.  It is easier to measure the rooms before I have all my crap in them, in any case.  :-)

Okay - are you totally pumped for this?  Let's begin with Step 1 - Gathering Necessary Tools And Materials.  All right, let's move!

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Step 1: Gather Necessary Tools and Materials

In this step, you will gather the necessary tools and materials to complete this Instructable.

(NOTE:  All dimensions given in Imperial units, as this instructable was created in the U.S. - one of only three countries in the world that does not currently use the metric system.  So if you live anywhere but the U.S., Liberia, or Burma, congratulations!  You will have a MUCH easier time doing the scaling required for this little project.  If you live in the U.S., Liberia, or Burma, don't fret - it's still possible.  just a little more inconvenient.)  :-) 


:  For this Instructable, you will need the following tools/materials:

Graph paper.  I used a standard pad of 8 1/2" x 11", blue-lined paper.  The pad I used was made by Gold Fibre, and had graph paper on one side of each sheet, and lined paper on the back of each sheet.  Also, it is helpful to use a pad that has perforated edges, in case you want to remove sheets for storage later.  (More on this in later steps.)

2.  #2 pencil..
 Use a sharp pencil, okay?  And a clean eraser is important here!  Drafting is often trial and error, especially when you're dealing with scaling.  I have used this technique probably 20 times before doing this instructable, and still had to erase due to math mistakes, crooked lines, etc.  Precision is relatively important in this instructable, so feel free to let the little perfectionist inside you run wild.  :-)

3.  Tape measure.
 I used a 25'  Craftsman tape with a 1" heavy-duty blade.  The length of the tape is driven by the size of the room you plan to rearrange furniture in.  The room I measured (my living room) is 18 1/2' x 14', so obviously a 10' tape would not have been sufficient.  If you don't even have a rough idea of how big the room is, I would recommend at least a 25' tape.  The heavy duty blade isn't necessary, but it saves time when measuring long distances (a heavy duty tape doesn't bend and curl up as easily as the thinner, cheaper tape measures that sometimes come with small home repair kits.)

4.  Scratch paper.
 You will use this to record measurements, work out long division, doodle when you get bored of doing math, and other fun manual stuff.  You can use a sheet of your graph paper, if you don't mind wasting it.  I recommend against napkins - they are hard to read, and you don't want to lose any important data to a mustard stain.

5.  Scissors.
 You will be using these to cut out the scale drawings you make of your furniture.  Sharp craft or kitchen scissors will be perfect!  Safety scissors might work, but... seriously?  You need those?

6.  Ruler with a clean, straight edge.  
You will be using this to draw the outlines of the room and the furniture on the graph paper, and possibly to help you measure small distances on the graph paper.  I would suggest a solid aluminum or steel ruler without divots along the edges, to ensure that your lines stay straight.  (Did I mention that I'm a perfectionist?  Is it obvious yet?)  :-)

7.  Calculator (not pictured).
 The software calculator on your computer will work just fine.  A calculator isn't a requirement, but if you want to avoid doing long division by hand, it will be helpful.

8.  Envelope.
 This is where you will store the small, delicate paper cutouts of your furniture, if you choose to keep them.  Otherwise, they will get probably get lost, ripped, crushed, or thrown away.  (Hey, life's not fair sometimes.)  I suggest a different envelope for each room's worth of furniture you draft.

9.  File folder or Manila Envelope (not pictured).
 Some sort of file folder is useful to store your drafted room along with the envelope containing all your little furniture pieces.  If you draft three rooms in your house, you could have three file folders - one for each room!  This way the pieces don't get mixed up, and you always know where your scale drawings are if you ever decide to rearrange!  (If you have a file cabinet, that is.)  Again, I suggest a different file folder/manila envelope for each room you plan to draw to scale.


If you've gathered the nine items listed above, we're ready to rock and roll!  Let's get started with Step 2 - Measure Your Room.

Step 2: Measure Your Room

In this step, you will measure the length of each of the walls in the room you want to make a scale drawing of.

 For this step, you will need a tape measure, a sharp #2 pencil, and scratch paper.

1.  Pick a side, any side.
 Hopefully your room has four sides.  Pick one, and using your tape measure, measure the length of the wall as accurately as possible.  (If your tape measure has the ability, I suggest measuring only in inches, rather than in feet and inches.  For example, "98 inches" will be an easier figure to work with later than "8 feet 2 inches."  I'm just sayin'.)  :-)  If the wall has doors or openings, don't worry about this yet - we'll come back to it.  Just measure the distance of the wall from end point to end point.

2.  Record the length of the wall.
 With your #2 pencil, note (in some way that will make sense to you) on your scratch paper which wall each measurement applies to.  You may want to "name" the wall, as I did.  I used pictures or other items that were already hanging on the walls as a reference - I had "sunflower wall," "graffiti wall," "coat rack wall," and "calendar/clock wall."

3.  Repeat 1 and 2 (above) for each wall in your room.


You should now have the measurements for each wall recorded on your scratch paper.  If so, we're ready to move on to Step 3 - Determine Your Scale.  Pick up your pencil and your scratch paper, and let's do it, yo.

Step 3: Determine Your Scale

In this step, you will find the scale factor that you will use to draw both the draft of your room and outlines of your furniture.

 For this step, you will need basic math skills, a sharp #2 pencil, a calculatorscratch paper, and graph paper.

1.  Review the wall measurements
you recorded on your scratch paper.  Select the longer measurement.  (In a truly rectangular room, there will be two longer measurements that are equal.)

2.  Which side(s) is longest?  
The longest measurement (representing the longest wall[s] in your room) will run along the long side of your graph paper.  (My longest walls were 222 inches, so I drew these walls along the 11" axis of my graph paper.)

3.  Count the number of rows of squares
from the top of the page of graph paper to the bottom of the page, along the long axis of your paper.  This will require your basic math skills - namely, counting.  My graph paper had 43 rows of squares from top to bottom.  (Note:  Do not count half rows.  You are only interested in full [and thus usable] rows of graph squares.)

4.  Do some subtraction.
 Using your basic math skills, take the figure you just found in (3) and subtract six from it.  (This is to give you a margin of at least 3 full rows of squares at both the top and the bottom of your graph paper, useful for titles, notes, and measurements.)  My calculation looked like this:  43 - 6 = 37.

5.  Long division (underachievers may use a calculator).  Since you will draw the longest sides of the room along the longest axis of your paper, you are now interested in comparing two figures - the actual length (in inches) of the longest side of the room (222 inches for me) and the number of rows of usable graph squares (the figure you found in [4], above) that run along the long axis of your graph paper.

For my living room, the two figures I am comparing are 222 inches and 37 usable rows of squares.  The question I want to answer is:  "How many inches can I represent per square?"  And - it's like magic - division will answer this question for us!  

Now, using your basic math skills, divide the actual length of the room (222 inches, in my case) by the number of rows of usable squares (37 for me).   (In most cases, this is where the calculator will really come in handy. Aww, come on... I was just kidding about the "underachiever" thing.)  Here is what my calculation looked like:

222" / 37 = 6"

What this quotient means (and I got extremely lucky here with the round number) is that the shortest distance I can represent with each graph square (and still have my design fit on one sheet of paper) is 6" exactly.  So I can choose to use each side of a graph square on my graph paper to represent as few as 6" of my room.  Note that I can choose any length over 6", but personally, I want my drawing to be as big as possible within the physical constraints of my graph paper.  (I don't see so good.)  So, tentatively, my scale is 6" per square.  However, I need to check one last thing before I settle on this scale permanently.

6.  Rinse, repeat.
  Using your basic math skills, do the same comparison (it's just long division, dude) explained above for the shorter sides of your room.  For example, my living room had short sides that were 168", and these sides would run along the short axis of my graph paper, which had 33 usable columns of graph squares (minus six columns for margins) = 27 total usable columns of graph squares.  So I need to divide 168" by 27.   And here we go:

168" / 27 = 6.222"

Uh oh.  You see what happened here?  This result means that across the shorter axis of my graph paper, I could use each square to represent as few as 6.222" of actual space, and my design would still fit on one sheet of graph paper and give me the 3-square-wide margins around each side that I wanted.  But although my quotient for the longer axis of the graph paper (and thus my first minimum scale factor) was 6", I can't go as low as 6" on this axis and still keep the drawing on the page, and still keep the margins I originally wanted.  Luckily, I am okay with losing a bit of margin, so for the sake of easier calculations later, I will stick with my first scale (1 graph square = 6").  

Note:  Whatever your quotient ends up being, you can always round up if you get a quotient with a decimal place in it.  For example, if the smaller of my two quotients in (5) and (6) was 6.53 inches, I could round that figure up to 7 inches, leaving me with a scale of 7 inches per graph square.  This would make the drawing a little smaller, but rounding up to an even number will make the scale far easier to work with later, and will just give you a little more margin around the edges of the page.

So remember - you will usually choose the higher of the two quotients from (5) and (6) above as your scale, and only ever round that figure up if needed.  Be careful if you decide to do what I did (use the lower quotient), because at the very least you will lose some margin - and it may blow the drawing up too big to fit on the graph paper.

7.  Record your scale.
 Using your #2 pencil, write down the scale you decide on.  I wrote down my scale in two places:  first, somewhere it would be more permanent (mine went on the inside cover of my graph paper pad); and second, in the far upper right corner of a clean sheet of graph paper (which I knew I would later use for the scale drawing of my living room).   I represented my scale like this:  

1 square=6"

Recording your scale ensures that you will always know what the scale is if/when you go back to the drawing later.


Okay - got your scale recorded in two places?  Are you thoroughly confused?  Do you remember why you hated math so much in school?  Yes?  Then we're done determining the scale!  HOORAY!  Ahem.  Let's move on to Step 4 - Draw a Scale Draft of Your Room.

Step 4: Draw a Scale Draft of Your Room

In this step, you will draw the rough outline of the room (not including doors, openings, and windows).

Materials:  For this step, you will need steady hands, a ruler, a sharp #2 pencil, and graph paper.

1.  Select a starting point.  I used the far top, far right of my graph paper.  Remember - originally, I wanted three graph squares of margin all around, but my poor decision-making skills interfered with that desire when I later chose 6" as my scale factor instead of using 6.222" and rounding up to 7".  In any case, to compensate for this, I could only give myself a margin of two squares on the right side of the page (see illustration).  

 If you followed the instructions from the last step (unlike your ungracious host), you may give yourself three squares of margin at both the top and the right side.  Using your steady hands and a #2 pencil, draw yourself a dot at the bottom of the third full usable row from the top, and three full usable columns from the right.  Again, don't count half-rows that may be visible at the top or side of the page - start counting with the first full usable row/column.

2.  Determine how many squares to use for the length of your wall.
 If your scale is (for example) 5" per graph square, and the length of your wall is 100", you will divide the physical length of the wall by the scale factor.  For this hypothetical example, your equation would be:

100" / 5" = 20    Which means that on graph paper, your wall will be 20 squares long.  

Now you need to find this figure for the wall you want to draw.  Using your basic math skills and a calculator, divide the physical length of your wall by your scale factor (as shown above).

(Note that you may also wind up with a quotient with decimals here.  For example, if your wall is 103" long, and your scale factor is 5", your quotient would be 20.6.  This means that 20.6 squares is what it will take to represent the length of your wall precisely to the scale you have chosen.  Because I wouldn't want to fool with trying to measure .6 of a square, this is where I would fudge the numbers just a smidge.  In this case, I would round down to 20.5, and use a line 20 1/2 squares long to represent the wall.  I know, I'm shorting the wall 1/2"... and happily, that's an inaccuracy I can live with.  Despite my strong perfectionist streak.) 

3.  Draw the line.
 Using your steady hands, a #2 pencil, a ruler (used here only as a straight-edge), and the clean sheet of graph paper on which you recorded your scale in (7) on the last step, start at the dot you made in (1), draw a line that runs for the number of graph squares you found at the end of (2).   Draw this line neatly along one of those nice, pretty, straight blue lines that are on your paper.

Remember, if you're drawing one of your long walls, you will draw it along the long axis of the paper, and if you're drawing one of your short walls, you'll draw it along the short axis of the paper.

When you're done drawing this wall, you can label it with a name of your choice along the outside of the line, in some part of that (now very handy) 3-square margin you created for yourself.  I didn't do this, because my room is oddly shaped enough that I know where each wall is, but if you have a more regular room, labels like this will help.)

4.  Draw the other lines.  Repeat (2) and (3) for the other wall that meets the dot you made in (1).  Again, for this second wall, draw this line neatly along the nice pretty blue line that the dot should be sitting on.  

Then repeat (2) and (3) for the other walls.  Here, depending on what your quotient was at the end of (2) the first two times you did it, you may not be directly on one of the pretty blue lines.  This is okay, as long as your finished line is parallel with one of the pretty blue lines.  (Assuming your room has parallel walls, of course.)


Phew!  My math skills are rusty!  Okay, got the outline of your room drawn?  Good.  Then we're ready for some more measuring in Step 5 - Measure Openings, Doors, and Windows in Your Room.

Step 5: Measure Openings, Doors, and Windows in Your Room.

In this step, you will measure the length of doors, openings, windows, and other "permanent fixtures" in the room you are drawing, as well as their distances from the nearest wall.  

 For this step, you will need a tape measure, a sharp #2 pencil, and scratch paper.

1.  Measure the length
of each door, opening, window, or other fixture in the room using a tape measure.  Use the same suggestions used for measuring the room (e.g., measure in inches only, when possible).

2.  Record these measurements
with a #2 pencil on scratch paper, using a new line for each window, door, opening, or fixture.  Be sure to specify which wall the window, door, opening, or fixture belong on.  For example, I had a window that was 36" on the graffiti wall, so I recorded it like this:

Window 1 = 36" (Graffiti wall)

3.  Measure the distance from the nearest wall to the edge
of each door, opening, window, or other fixture in the room, using a tape measure.  You're going to want to know exactly where to draw the window or door in your scale drawing.

4.  Record these measurements
with a #2 pencil on scratch paper.  It will help if you record these measurements on the same line the measurements for the door or opening or fixture they go with.  For instance, if I had a window that was 36", and it was 24" from the nearest wall, I would record those two measurements on the same line, like this:

Window 1 = 36" (Graffiti wall)  -  24" from Calendar wall


Got your measurements recorded?  Good!  Then we're ready to move on to Step 6 - Finalize Scale Draft of Your Room.

Step 6: Finalize Scale Draft of Your Room.

In this step, you will add representations of the doors, openings, windows, and other "permanent fixtures" to your scale drawing.

Materials:  For this step, you will need basic math skills, a ruler, a sharp #2 pencil, scratch paper, a calculator, and graph paper.

1.  Figure the scale size (in graph squares)
of your doors, openings, windows, and fixtures.  Use the measurements from the last step and your scale.  Use your basic math skills, a #2 pencil, scratch paper, and a calculator to divide the measurements of these elements (from the last step) by your scale factor.

2.  Figure the scale size (in graph squares) of the distance
from the nearest wall to each door, opening, window, and fixture.  Use the measurements from the last step and your scale.  (I won't repeat the instructions and the materials required - I'm kind of hoping you've gotten the hang of converting actual size into scale size by now.)

3.  Draw the doors, openings, windows, and fixtures to scale
directly on the scale drawing of your room using a #2 pencil and a ruler.  (See the illustrations below for examples.)  Remember - there are two important figures you need to know before you draw each element - the scale size of the element itself (found in [1] above) and the scale size of the distance from the nearest wall to the near edge of the fixture (found in [2] above).


Once you've got all the elements drawn into your scale drawing to your satisfaction, we're ready to move to the last bit of measuring we have to do in Step 7 - Measure Your Furniture.

Step 7: Measure Your Furniture

In this step, you will measure the length and width of all the furniture pieces you plan to arrange in the room you have drawn.

For this step, you will need a tape measure, a sharp #2 pencil, and scratch paper.

1.  Measure each piece of furniture
you plan to have in the room with the tape measure.  If you have irregularly-shaped furniture, the easiest thing to do is to treat each piece of furniture as a rectangle (from a bird's eye view).  Measure the longest length and the widest width of the furniture.

2.  Record measurements
for each piece of furniture on the scratch paper using your pencil.  My small coffee table, for example, measures 24" x 48".  So I wrote down:  

Small Coffee Table = 24" x 48"


Simple enough, yeah?  Once you've got the measurements for all relevant furniture recorded, we can move on to the last bit of drawing we'll do in Step 8 - Draw Scale Drafts of Your Furniture.

Step 8: Draw Scale Drafts of Your Furniture

In this step, you will draw scale representations of your furniture.  

For this step, you will need a ruler, a sharp #2 pencil, and graph paper.

1.  Figure the scale size (in graph squares) of each piece of furniture.
 Use the measurements from the last step and your scale.  You should end up with figures that look something like this:

Sofa = 15 1/2 squares x 6 squares

2.  Draw your furniture
on a clean sheet of graph paper, according to the scale size you just came up with in (1).  Use the #2 pencil and the ruler (used only as a straight-edge here).

3.  Add labels to each piece
as you draw it with the #2 pencil so you will know what piece of furniture it represents later.  Simple labels like "Sofa," "chair," and "ottoman" work well - unless you've got more than one of an item.  In that case, you'll have to be more specific - as in "Big Coffee Table" and "Small Coffee Table" (see illustration).

4.  Add embellishments
 with the #2 pencil and the ruler to indicate direction furniture should face.  You can add lines to indicate sofa cushions, chair arms, or legs that extend out beyond the body of a rocking chair.  This does not have to be pretty - it only has to make sense to you.  For example, look at the rocking chair in the illustration below.  I PROMISE you my rocking chair does not look like that from above.  However, I know what all those crazy lines mean.  It makes sense to me.  (And I have never claimed to be a good artist.)


When you're satisfied with the look of your scale paper furniture (or at least will be able to tell what piece of furniture each piece represents), we can move on to freeing the sketched furniture from the bars of its graph paper prison in Step 9 - Cut Out Furniture.

Step 9: Cut Out Furniture

In this step, you will cut out the scale drawings of furniture you drew in the last step.

 For this step, you will need scissors.

1.  Cut out the furniture.  
Using the scissors, cut just along the outside of the lines of each of your furniture drawings from the last step.  Cut carefully!  :-)


Once you're done, you should have a pile of furniture-shaped pieces of graph paper.  Got it?  Okay.  Let's move on to the FUN part.  Finally!  Next is the step I've been waiting for, where we get to move the pieces of "furniture" around the "room"!  Next is Step 10 - Arrange Your "Furniture".

Step 10: Arrange Your "Furniture." (Play With Your New Toys!)

In this step, you will use the scale cutouts of furniture and the scale drawing of your room to experiment with different furniture arrangements.

 For this step, you will need your imagination, the final scale drawing of your room and the scale cutouts of your furniture.

1.  Put the pieces on the board.
  Using your imagination, place the scale cutouts of your furniture (right-side up, so you can see the labels and embellishments you drew in step 8) on the scale drawing of your room.  

2.  Move the furniture around
at will, play, have fun - try crazy combinations.  Use your imagination.  After all, you don't have to move anything heavy anymore - at least until you find an arrangement you like!  :-)


They tell me that all good things have to end.  I don't believe them, but if you do, and you're finished playing, dreaming, imagining, and arranging, it is time to put up your new toys.  To do this, let's move on to Step 9 - Storage.

Step 11: Storage. (Save Your Creations - They May Be Useful Later!)

In this step, you will store your scale cutouts and your scale drawing together in a safe place so you can use them if you ever decide to rearrange again.

 For this step, you will need an envelope and a file folder or manila envelope.

1.  Gather your finished product.
 You will want all your scale furniture cutouts and the scale drawing of your room.

2.  Place the scale furniture cutouts
into the labeled envelope to keep them all together.

3.  Put it all away in one place.  
Place the labeled envelope and the scale drawing of your room into a labeled file folder or manila envelope.


Voila!  You are done.  You now have an accurate scale drawing of a room, accurate scale cutouts of the furniture in that room, and can retrieve these materials any time you'd like if you ever want to rearrange again.  Put the manila envelope somewhere safe!  (And have fun moving that sofa!)  :-)

This Instructable was a lot of fun to create.  I have used this technique before, but never had to think it through so thoroughly!  Thank you,!  I am grateful for the opportunity to share with the community!


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14 Discussions


3 years ago

Thanks for sharing the idea! I'll use it soon for my living room furniture.


4 years ago on Introduction

I love the idea of using to scale drawings on graph paper! But I'll end up playing with all of the possibilities so much, I might never settle on a design haha! Anyway, I've also realised that sometimes you really need to see things in person when the removalists move the furniture into the actual room before deciding on whether a piece of furniture really goes where you would like it to go!

This is how I arranged my whole apartment including the small stuff like the toaster.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who does this. Now I feel a little more sane. LOL!


9 years ago on Introduction

 I used to do models like this. I still have paper layouts that I did 15 years ago. It's definitely helpful, but if you have access to a computer, you really ought to try Google Sketchup. It allows you to do the same thing, but in more detail and in 3D. Good luck finding the perfect design!

1 reply

Great to see others do the same thing i"ve been doing years ago. I measured the top view of all my furniture and made blocks of it in AutoCAD. Of course i also measured the house up front and drafted that and then printed it all in scale. The nicest part of moving is handing the wife the drawings and telling her to knock herself out :-)


9 years ago on Introduction

Sorry, but I just remembered an important detail: when doing the map of the room, don't forget to include, in addition to the openings, all electrical outlets, air conditioning equipment, fixed stoves, ceiling fans and anything else that might affect someone close to it or even the transit.


9 years ago on Introduction

I have applied this method 37años ago, and I saw that on paper the distances are apparently smaller than in reality. In other words, something that seems impractical in the plane, in reality it is perfectly possible

Good instructable!

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

 Thank you!  It was definitely a blast to make, and it's always been beneficial to me to use these.  Hope it is helpful to someone!

I think I will add language to this effect in Step 10, because you are right - it took me some getting used to the way the spacing appears on the page and the way it actually turns out in the room!  Thanks for the tip and reminder.


9 years ago on Introduction

Don't forget to make a cutout of your, well, size and use it to check for spacing.  'Walk' your shape threw and see where problems might be-like the corner of a chair that you might keep hitting on the way in or out...

3 replies

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

 Hmmm... since it's a bird's eye view, where should one measure one's own circumference?  I'm guessing hips, but I don't have anything in my living room much taller than that.  What do you think?  I haven't thought this through yet...


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Hips.  Where your feet go, your legs go and your hips follow.  Best would be an oval with your hips as the minor axis and your step length (or about half your height) as the major axis.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

 Ooh!  I like that idea!  I had never thought of that.  I will add that to step 9!  Thanks!  :-)