A sectional sofa can be the perfect gathering spot for family and friends. The right arrangement in a living room creates an atmosphere for relaxing, reading, watching TV and enjoying other’s company.

“As they are such large pieces of furniture, careful planning and measuring is necessary to maximize functionality and appeal,” says Ginny Underwood, a professional organizer and owner of Virginia’s Easy Living Solutions.

Follow these guidelines to make an inviting, welcoming space with a sectional sofa.

1. Know Your Focal Point.

When you stand in the living room, notice where your eyes are drawn. They might head to the TV, a fireplace or outdoor view.

In addition to these natural focal points, think about your goals for the room. If you plan to watch movies as a family on the weekends, the entertainment center might be a good hub. If you want to keep a TV out of the room, you might opt for a large window or fireplace as a focal point so guests can enjoy the scenery.

2. Measure the Room.

Before bringing in a sectional, think of the room size. “Buy a sectional that fits your space,” says David Schneider, principal and lead designer of PURE Home Design.

If you have a small space, be careful that the seating area doesn’t overwhelm the room. For large, open floor plans, a sectional could be used to partition off a living room area. A professional can help you map out spaces and select sizes that fit the room. If you opt for a DIY design, lay down newspaper or craft paper in the spot where you want the sectional. Then grab a tape measure to study the proportions. “As a rule, you need a minimum of 36 inches around the pieces to move around,” Schneider says. If possible, aim for even more than that, such as 42 inches or 48 inches of space around the sectional.

Keep 18 to 24 inches of space between the front of each seat and an ottoman or coffee table. If possible, leave room on each side of the sectional for a small end table.

3. Think About Material.

If you have young children or pets, steer away from white or other light colors that will show stains and fur. Look for an upholstery that can be easily wiped to clean up spills. \

If your room has a relaxed theme, look for deep seated sectionals with a chaise lounge. A leather sectional can add a polished look to a family room. For a modern living room, select crisp lines and cool or sleek tones.

Also consider the room’s other features. If you want to showcase a bookshelf, family portrait or antique vases, look for a sectional that fits the feel of the room.

“In a smaller space, stay away from overstuffed, bulky pieces in dark colors or bold patterns,” Underwood says.

Go instead with neutral tones. If you want to liven up the decor, add accent pieces like throw pillows and rugs in bold colors or patterns. .

4. Study the Flow.

“Consider the appearance of the room from the entry point,” Underwood says. If you arrange the seating area so the open side of the couch faces the entrance to the room, the look will be welcoming to people coming into the area. For living spaces where the back of the couch faces the entrance, try putting a narrow table along the sectional’s back. Place a small lamp, books or decorative pieces on the table to make the view more appealing.

If the sectional has a recliner, make sure there is still room to move around the furniture when it is in use.

5. Avoid the Walls.

If possible, don’t push furniture up against a wall. “Ideally the couch should be placed in the middle of the room or area, creating a cozy gathering spot,” Underwood says.

Rather than touching the walls, try using them to align the furniture pieces. You might position a U-shaped sectional to match three walls of a large living area. An L-shaped piece of furniture could work well near a corner of a small family room.

6. Add Appropriate Furnishings.

“How you arrange the sectional with other furniture depends on the shape of the sectional,” says Shannon Connor, designer and founder of Shannon Connor Interiors. For U-shaped sectionals, try a square or round coffee table in front of the main couch. Add two chairs facing the sectional, or a loveseat if the room is large.

If the sectional has a chaise, you might add a rectangular coffee table in front of the main section of the couch. Then put a chair opposite the chaise.

If you need a place to keep extra blankets or games, use an ottoman with a storage compartment inside. The ottoman can be used for additional seating if you have a large group in the room. It also can work as a spot where several people sitting on the sectional can put their feet up. If you want a place for refreshments, place a large, steady tray that can hold drinks and snacks on top of the ottoman.

7. Pay Attention to Finishing Touches.

In addition to having a seating arrangement for a crowd, check that everyone will have a place for their beverages or small plates.

“Side tables are always good to have,” Connor says. “Lamps on the tables can anchor the space.”

Some sectionals can be easily taken apart and rearranged. When holding a large gathering, consider moving the pieces to create two areas where people can gather. This will give guests a chance to converse in small groups.

To add warmth, drape soft throws over the end of the couch, or roll and stack them in a nearby basket. Place pictures of family members or pets on end tables, and a vase of fresh flowers on the coffee table. Lay down an area rug and arrange the sectional to cover part of it. Keep the space organized and clutter free to maintain an open, welcoming feel.

Rachel Hartman