Our very large living room has a cathedral-style ceiling. When we're not hosting a party, the living room can look like a hotel lobby full of furniture, including a baby grand piano, but without guests. Please suggest how we can make the room feel more intimate for quiet use by our family without compromising the ability to hold parties in the same space.
Your first step should be to consult all your family members to see how they would like the room to look and to function. You'll then be better able to plan a successful design.
Comfortable seating is essential for both types of activities you envision. Lounge chairs would be appropriate for watching television and hanging out on a daily basis. For parties, you should add some seating pieces appropriate for perching. I use that term because guests at a party seldom sit back and relax.
Once you've made some initial decisions, you may want to consult with a professional designer who can help with more complex issues. For example, the furniture should be laid out in accordance with how different sections of the room are to be used. Suitable arrangements will take into account sight lines as well as circulation between the functional areas, which may also involve placement of visual and physical barriers.
Bookcases, screens, cabinets and actual partitions can all be used as barriers. It's also possible to establish more subtle divisions by manipulating the lighting in different parts of the room and by varying floor coverings and ceiling heights.
The accompanying photo suggests some ways of achieving the sort of outcome you want. It shows the living room of the Cheney House, a Frank Lloyd Wright design in Oak Park, Ill. Home by Design by Sarah Susanka presents this setting as an example of how to give an interior a feeling of "shelter."
Floor coverings, lighting and bookcases are all used here to produce visual separations within a single room. The cabinetry and floating wooden beams on the ceiling also help demarcate alcoves for conversation. And please note that this effect was achieved without lowering the ceiling's height or building walls.
The space can be seen as a prototypical "great room" - not only because it's large but because of its multifunctional possibilities.
Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior design questions can e-mail her at the above address.