Can our apartment be functional and still look nice?
February 12, 2006 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Is there any aesthetically pleasing way to arrange two computers (and desks, office chairs), a TV (and table), and a big comfy couch in a single room. I'm always embarrassed at the ugliness of my functional apartment when people come over.

My boyfriend and I are media nerds. We live together in a smallish apartment, with one central living/gathering space. It's just about the first thing you see when you walk in the front door.

The room has two long walls, one short wall, and opens to the kitchen where the other short wall would be. Right now, we have a computer & desk on the short wall. A second computer/desk is next to the TV & TV table on one long wall. The large red couch couch is against the other long wall, facing the TV.

The room meets our lifestyle needs -- we can both surf the web at the same time, and still watch TV. Or one/both of us can sit on the couch and read, watch TV, nap, play with the cats, etc. But it's sooooo ugly, even with the pretty red curtains and art on the walls.

Most of the time I don't think about it. But I cringe every time someone comes over.

Is there any way to have so many screens in one place, and arrange it all a little better?

We love our couch, but might be willing to invest in new TV/computer furniture, if it would help things.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If money is not the issue, I'd suggest a single laptop and a small LCD TV. Minimize and cut down on the "me" things in favor of "us" things - I know the one thing I regret from my last relationship is spending time on the computer when I could have been spending time on the then-SO (so to speak). That's getting off on a personal tangent, I know, but it still hurts a lot.

Not to be a holier-than-thou lo fi hipster type, but turn it all off at home. :)
posted by kcm at 10:52 PM on February 12, 2006

Diagrams would help :)

Beyond that, you'd probably want to look at Ikea, if you have one near you (if not, you can order through the website). They have several lines of furniture that are very modular; bookcases and desks, for example, that work together. Even if it's not from the same line, a lot of their items will work very nicely with each other. (like, say, Lack shelving and Mikael desks, in black).

They have one unit, in the Billy line I think, that is basically a bookcase-type thing. The bottom half is deeper, and has an angled piece that folds up to look pretty, but then folds down into a desk space. If you have LCD monitors, they should fit in quite nicely with room for the tower below. Presto, when not in use you just fold up the shelf, and it looks like an old-fashioned desk.

I have to go to bed, but I'll grab you links tomorrow.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:01 PM on February 12, 2006

There are many of those computer armoire units that close up entirely when not in use. Not sure that makes the room more attractive, though.

The only other thing that comes to mind is reducing the size and amount of equipment that you must accomodate. Could you replace giant, awkward CRTs with LCD monitors? Maybe that would allow a face-to-face arrangement at one desk, rather than requiring two.

Could you stash a PC, modem, router, printer, etc. on shelving in a closet -- and get a couple of cheap laptops to use wirelessly, wherever you happen to sit? I found a good deal on a used Dell laptop that allowed my girlfriend to make her "office" on the porch, at the dining table, sofa, in bed, wherever.
posted by Tubes at 11:04 PM on February 12, 2006

Can you pinpoint exactly what is ugly about it? I mean, there's nothing fundamentally ugly about a piece of furniture with stuff on it. Is it that you see a lot of wires around and under the computer desks? Is it the mere fact that you see a computer when you walk in the door? Or is it more about the overall layout?

There exists furniture that looks like an ordinary cupboard-type thing, but opens to reveal a computer. Maybe you could combine that with some chairs that can double as normal sitting-around-the-living-room chairs. Then at least you've got a way of shutting away the computery aspects of the space.

Oh, and, kcm: why is sharing a technological activity any less 'us' than sharing a non-technological activity? Just being in the same room, getting on with your own stuff, and chatting and riffing off what you're doing can be a very good bonding activity, whatever it is you're doing. You sound like you spent a lot of time doing computery stuff on your own that your partner wasn't interested in -- with croutonsupafreak it sounds like they're both interested in that stuff.
posted by chrismear at 11:04 PM on February 12, 2006

I personally think it is all about the armoires. You can cover up all that technology with some nicely closed armoires. Without them, a room often looks like it's all about the TV/computers. With them, it looks like a place where people live.

A sample computer armoire.

A sample TV armoire.

Of course you could also get the ever cool flat TV that becomes a mirror when it's not on, and hang it on the wall. And Macs look nice often, even out.
posted by visual mechanic at 11:05 PM on February 12, 2006

Laptops solved the problem for us. We crash on the couch side-by-side with our computers all the time, but the only screen in our living room is the TV. It looks so much more grown-up it's amazing.
posted by cali at 11:08 PM on February 12, 2006

PS. Control the wires.
posted by visual mechanic at 11:09 PM on February 12, 2006

Second the laptops. But if you still feel that you need deskage, a partners' desk might be an improvement over two separate desks.
posted by bac at 11:17 PM on February 12, 2006

My Sister and her husband solved the desk clutter, multiple computer problem by building themselves a custom table. Didn't require too much work, and turned out very well. However, they don't have cable, or even a TV anywhere in their house. Might want to put pencil to paper and see if you can come up with a design that works.

Since Computers don't belong in the living room, or pretty much any highly social room, you are pretty much out of luck. The best you can do is put up screens that would seperate the two rooms, or use those Armoire things. However, this defeats the purpose, as it'll block the TV viewing from computer, and the sense of 'closeness' you two feel about the current situation.

Why not try making the room more modern? Second switching to LCD TVs (not as expensive as you'd think for a 27" or so) and LCD Monitors. Second managing the cables. You may try for the metal and glass computer desks to make things seem more open.

Instead of being embarrased when you have company, why not ask? 'Hey, what do you think of the room? I've tried to make it functional while still pleasing, but I can't figure it out.' Your friends will probably give you better tips then us for arrangement, as we can't see the space.
posted by Phynix at 1:34 AM on February 13, 2006

If I understood it correctly, your room looks something like this:
 ____________|D    CCCCC  ||Do           -Kitchen|D   o       ||____DD_TV___ -entrance?
The desk next to the TV dominates the whole room and is not aesthetically pleasing. You'll want to separate the computing and living sections a little bit. I propose something like this:
 ____________| o   CCCCC  ||DDE    ¤     -Kitchen|DDE         ||o_____TV____ -entrance?
E is meant to denote a bookend to the desk, eg. a low (glass) bar cabinet and ¤ is a coffee table of some sort.

This is just a suggestion, obviously, but it does move the second computer away from it's central dominating position next to the TV, somewhat separates the workspace and the living space but still maintains a layout that should work for you. A TV stand on wheels would allow both computer users to watch TV simultaneously.Please delete my previous efforts.
posted by insomnus at 3:49 AM on February 13, 2006

My suggestion is if you have office-style chairs, replace them with something that looks nice. It will make a huge impact when it comes to the overall look of the room. Also if you get nicer chairs instead of desk chairs, when you have people over you can turn them to face the room and have extra seating for company.

Also, if you're like my fiance and I, and your desks are covered with random computer related crap and papers, find a nice looking storage solution for it. Try not to have clutter out in the open so that it looks even more like a home office in your living room. Try to emphasize decoration more - get some live plants, nice artwork, interesting accessories, etc.
posted by tastybrains at 4:29 AM on February 13, 2006

Put the ugly stuff at the closed short end of the room and put up curtains or nice plain (or hand-decorated) screens you could pull across or roll down to obscure the entire closed end of the room. If there's a window there, make it an opaque screen and leave ventilation room at the top and bottom. If you're tricky, you might be able to arrange a two- or three-part screen system that hides all or part of the technological ugliness as needed. Maybe you could have someone build nice wooden frames that you could fill with different sheets of fabric or paper depending on current or future decoration needs and budgets. Done poorly, screens could look like office cubicles, but done nicely they could look more like good Japanese byobu. If you aren't particularly industrious or handy, you could buy a screen system; google for "Chinese folding screens" and "Japanese folding screens" and the like.

Also consider lightweight rolling computer and TV furniture with minimum footprints to allow you to roll things out of the way. (Instead of living with clutter, get small tabletops and learn to keep the clutter out of the way.) If you're networking wirelessly and everything else is on one small table, you just need to arrange for maybe a power cable (and modem cable?) bundle coming from a wall or ceiling fixture. This would allow you to rearrange the entire room on a whim with very little effort -- no unplugging, just push the table to the place where you are comfortable that day, that hour, that minute. Get a small rollaway bookcase or two that could be used in tandem with the computer tables or kept separately. Evens plants and stuff can be on rollers. Coast through life.
posted by pracowity at 6:32 AM on February 13, 2006

I like insomnus' idea and I'd like to play with it a bit. The key is too seperate the couch and the TV from the computer desks. Make two seperate spaces. Also don't be afraid to put the couch in the middle of the room as a divider if it fits. Or anything else for that matter, everything doesn't have to be against the wall. Depending on the proportions I might try something like this, where the small t's are a console table behind the couch and the x's are the tv table.
 __________________| |    C      o|x   C t   DDDD|x   C t            -Kitchen|x   C t   DDDD |    C      o|  |__________________ -entrance?
The advantages of insomnus' design is that the desks aren't the first thing you see when you come into the room. The advantage to mine is that you both should be able to see the TV easily and no one has to walk between the TV and the couch to get to the desks. Which one works for you will depend a lot on the proportions of the room and the furniture. Make sure you leave yourself enough space to get around.

A great book, that really changed the way I thought about space is Use What You Have Decorating.
posted by DarthDuckie at 6:39 AM on February 13, 2006

I too must suggest getting rid of the computers. Put the desks in another room, any other room. The clutter that naturally comes with desks and the rat's nest of cables that naturally comes with computers will inevitably destroy whatever aesthetics the room might otherwise possess. There's are reasons people use separate rooms for their home offices, and that's a close second behind the tax deduction. If you can't put them in another room, move to a bigger place. Failing that, I like the screen idea to hide them.
posted by kindall at 8:15 AM on February 13, 2006

I have yet to see any home space containing computers that were actively being used for serious work that wasn't a complete mess. It just seems inevitable in a home environment, no matter how much you spend at Ikea. Unless you can pare things down to a single server sitting in a corner somewhere and a pair of wifi-enabled laptops, your nerdiness will ultimately defeat your desire for order.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:25 AM on February 13, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, lots of great ideas here.

kindall & others -- getting rid of computers is not an option. We tried having the computers in another room, and it was bad for our lifestyles.

We're not going to switch to laptops anytime soon, either. My significant other values his high-speed processor and high-end graphics cards. Constantly upgrading is easy with a build-your-own computer. Not so with a laptop.

Some of those Ikea desks are awesome. And I had some kind of crazy idea that Ikea was expensive, which has been debunked here today.

Here's a functional issues: sometimes we both want to be on our computers at the same time and we want to be able to see the TV. With some new desks and a bit of rejiggering, I guess we could do this:
 _____________|             ||             -Kitchen|D  CCCCC  D  ||Do       oD  ||D__ TV____D_ -entrance
I also really like the idea of using Darth Duckie's idea of putting the couch facing the TV, and having two shared computer tesks back-to-back behind the TV. Only maybe we'd reverse the direction of everything :
 _____________|             ||o      C      -Kitchen|DDDD  tC   T ||DDDD  tC   V ||o______C_____ -entrance
With this configuration, we could use pracowity's idea, if needed -- pulling out a screen or curtain to hide the computers if we want.

We could get a new thin paneled TV, and put it high up on some kind of organizer that can be seen from behind the couch. A new TV might be above my desired budget, but what the hell.

And if we used tastybrains' idea -- getting nice looking computer chairs -- then we could wheel them around to the other side of the couch when we have guests. (I like the Ikea Skruvsta, though I don't know how comfortable they would be for prolonged computer use.)

Thanks, all! I'd love comments on the stuff I've put here, as well as more ideas. This is really helping.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:44 AM on February 13, 2006

I have to say, I really like your second layout, using the sofa as a divider is a good idea. Although I personally would have a table in front of the sofa rather than behind, but this might lead to the computer desks having a towering appearance as they would be closer to the sofa. Use the whole width of the short wall for the computer workspace so you'll need to use less of the length of the room and still have space to work on. I would use a desk configuration where the monitor stands are slightly lower than the rest of the desk, the ergonomics would be right and there wouldn't be such a high presence looming behind the couch. Of course if your sofa is higher, this is less of a problem.
posted by insomnus at 9:42 AM on February 13, 2006

You might want to check out a room planner, like the one that can be found on the Nebraska Furniture Mart website.

You can specify the room dimensions, then add the furniture pieces as needed. I've played around with this before, using it to map out the layout of the room, and it really helped get a perspective of where to put things.
posted by Jim T at 1:17 PM on February 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

In a long room, I love the use of a sofa as a dividing unit. Any time you can pull a sofa away from the wall, you have decreased the dormy-ness of a room by a factor of at least 10. You can then put a sofa table (for utility) or a screen (for camoflage) behind it. I also love the idea of face-to-face computing (aw, Valentiney!). I also think it is a big plus if the TV is not immediately visible upon entering a room (either by positioning or by putting it in something.

Finally, it tends to waste a lot of space, but for a really classy, dramatic looking room, put at least one large piece of furniture on a diagonal.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:43 PM on February 13, 2006

I'll second the idea for a console table with lamp(s) behind the sofa, maybe make it a rule that it's the one surface that must remain clutter free.

One of the best things I ever bought (for $20 on Ebay!) was a lightweight fabric screen that I can put in front of the messy desk area the minute the doorbell rings or I want to stop and take a break. Mine is something like this but you can get far more modern looking ones, with and without wheels. Do go for something lightweight so that it's quick and easy to put into place and not a chore (like the first one I bought, now relegated to a bedroom because it almost takes two peole to lift and is so heavy and cumbersome that I daren't leave it freestanding in case it falls and kills someone).
posted by ceri richard at 3:47 PM on February 13, 2006

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