share post

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

by | Jan 13, 2010 | Decorating Inspiration, Details

This Post May Contain Affiliate Links. Please Read Our Disclosure Policy here

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Do you ever feel confused about why your room is just not working?

Do you have trouble knowing where to start with a room makeover?

After THIS POST I decided I better answer the reader question, “What EXACTLY do you do first in a room, after you do a double take and say “MEH.” {lol} Honestly, every room might have its own unique problems and solutions, but let’s make sure we at least cover the basics. It always is a good idea to start at the beginning rather than jump in the middle.

We are going to use my living room as an example today, but the principles are a good jump off point for any room.

Let’s try breaking the process down by baby steps: start by defining your room’s purpose and focal point.


A “living room” is not specific enough. Don’t just label the room. Think about how you want to USE the room and what would draw you in. What is is used for? If you are working on your bedroom, don’t just say it is a place for sleeping. Think about it as a retreat at the end of the day, an escape from the pressures of life, or a place for quiet study and reflection — whatever suits your needs. Once you define the room and all you need it to be, you can start to visualize what you want to see in the room.

My own living room was under used. We moved in and just sort of put things around the room at random and that was the end of the story. I moved on to other things. We didn’t need a room to live in. We live in our family room. No one ever went to sit in the living room. Not because it was too formal, as if often the case, but because it had no real purpose.

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Where did I start?

I knew this room needed some help, but instead of fretting about the accessories or getting out my paint cans just yet, I decided to start by redefining the room’s purpose. What I really wanted for this space was a quiet corner to read. My family room is SO LOUD most of the time and I like to have a place to escape.

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Once I decided what the purpose of the room should be and how I wanted to use the space, I was able to remedy the lack of purpose fairly simply by bringing in a bookcase from the entry (who reads in an entry way? yeah, no one).

Of course, I HAD to move the bookcase the minute I was inspired.

I’m impulsive like that.

NOTE: Do you have these little moving thingies (above)? They have plastic on one side and a spongey pad thing on the other side. Actually, I think these are upside down, I must have taken the photo before I remembered how to do it. The smooth plastic goes on the bottom and it just glides along the floor with ease.

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Here is the little reading area I created with my bookcase. NOW it is a room with a purpose!

I would love to have a wall of built-ins, that is my dream, but this is a great start.

Don’t let the IDEAL stop you from moving ahead right now with what you have!

Now this is a room with comfortable chairs and my books. I will actually want to spend time there now!

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room


A focal point could be a fireplace, but it can also be a taller piece of furniture, a beautiful bed, or maybe a large striking painting. The “living room” in my house really didn’t have a great focal point. There was no fireplace or WOW piece that drew you in.

The addition of the antique bookcase not only gave this room a purpose, but it gave it a focal point that makes you want to settle down with a good book and spend an afternoon. That ONE piece of furniture solved both the issue of the purpose, and the focal point. I’m not always that clever.

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Is it a perfectly decorated room now?

No. It won’t be DONE for a long time (like, maybe never)! I can see lots of things that need improving. But that is not the point. It looks better, in great part because now the room has a clear purpose and a focal point. From here, accessories can be added, paint can change, and things can be rearranged as needed. Rome wasn’t built in a day, non?

I might still walk by and do a double take but the next time I can improve the room in some other way!

Baby steps.

This process is about bringing a house to life, about making it a comfortable and attractive place for your family and that can happen little by little using what you have and adding affordable things over time.

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

I’ll share a funny story about that bookcase…

Do you notice a missing drawer in the cabinet? This is a beautiful piece of furniture that belonged to my grandmother. Definitely not the kind of piece you do a makeover on, it has gorgeous details that deserve preserving.

It traveled the world, coming all the way from Thailand to the United States in one piece. It moved from house to house across the country with my grandparents. Children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have played with it.

But somewhere along the way in our possession from Oregon to Washington, its right drawer went missing. Hate us, leave it to me to unintentionally destroy a family heirloom. But, I am pretty sure it is in our black hole garage in a box somewhere. If not, I’ll have a new one made. {shakes head at self}

Establishing a Purpose & Focal Point for Your Room

Update: I found a solution for the missing drawer, AND, this same cabinet became a focal point back on the wall it started on! Funny how things evolve, huh?

Does your room have a clear purpose and a focal point?

If not, what are you waiting for?!
Reclaim your space and make it a room you’ll LOVE.



  1. Adrienne

    Great help! Do you think a room can have two focal points? Our living room – we have no family room – has a gorgeous fireplace on one end, which you see the minute you walk into the room and an entertainment center on the other end. All seating has been arranged, hopefully, to accommodate both.

    Love what you’ve done with you living room.
    .-= Adrienne´s last blog ..Quiet Strength =-.

    • gina

      It’s just my opinion , but I would say yes. One you can see when you walk by/into the room, but having one you need/use on the other probably helps balance the space once you are IN it.
      .-= gina´s last blog ..Not My Daughter =-.

    • Melissa

      This is a common issue in a room with a fireplace and an entertainment center. All rooms might have different possibilities of how to deal with it. If it is a large room, it makes things easier.

      But in a nutshell, I say yes you can have two focal points, but one should take precedence. I don’t really like a TV to be a focal point as a visual statement so I would chose the fireplace whenever possible (even if for practicality sake you have furniture turned toward the TV).

      Decide which is going to be your primary focal point and play that one up, so essentially you will still only have ONE focal point and down play the other one.

      Guess I should make this another post :-)

      Thanks for the question!

  2. Michelle

    great post! inspiring! hope that you find your drawer soon! Lord we ask for all things hidden to be revealed, thank you!


  3. Lesley

    I love this post. It already has me looking around my rooms trying to make sure there’s a purpose for each. I think I’m not doing bad so far. Still, I need to do some thinking! Thanks.
    .-= Lesley @ TheDesignFile´s last blog ..Tip: Warmer, darker colors create intimacy =-.

  4. gina

    Great tips! I often don’t know where to start in a room. Now, it’s my goal to redefine and add a focal point to my mud/laundry-soon to be/craft/wrap room! And get it done withing the next few months!! Thanks so much. :)
    .-= gina´s last blog ..Not My Daughter =-.

  5. Rhonda

    Great post! Love the idea of defining an area, beyond what we know it is (i.e. living room), to what we NEED it to be (a beautiful, cozy quiet reading retreat.) Your bookcase is beautiful! Best of luck finding the missing drawer! ~Rhonda :)

  6. Tammy

    We have a “living room” that we just don’t use….now I just need to think of a purpose for it. Thanks for the tips, I love reading your blog even though I don’t leave a comment as often as I should.

  7. Gena

    Hi Melisaa -such a great post – you are right- if a room lacks prupose no matter what you do it’ll never be effectively used!!! and agree that making a home a home is an ongoing process over months and years … it’s better tha way anyway, as we grow and change along the way too!
    Vintage Rose Studio
    .-= Gena @ Vintage Rose Studio´s last blog ..Garden Accessories from Cox & Cox =-.

  8. Karen H

    Bravo. Great nuts and bolts info and so well written. Mind if I share this in a link on my blog?

  9. Denise

    As always, great tips…this will help as I continue to work on our master bedroom and living room.

  10. Thirkellgirl

    Very timely post. :) We have a long narrow family/dining room where we *really watch tv. We also have a tiny “living room” which has three doorways, pass-through window to the kitchen, and a huge window. I am constantly trying to figure out what the focal point should be. The window seems like it, but a wall ought to be it, maybe. I hate almost all of the furniture in it. I might take another crack at it. What I *want is an upstairs office/writing room, but it seems like a weird place for it, right inside the front door which dumps you right in the middle of the room.

  11. The Working Home Keeper

    Thank you for the encouragement to go forward even when we don’t have all the “ideal” pieces. That’s my biggest challenge when it comes to decorating/homecaring. Baby steps!
    .-= The Working Home Keeper´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday – January 11th =-.

  12. Kim

    That is a beautiful bookcase (the best pieces hold treasured memories), and the vignette is just as lovely.

    It’s always a pleasure stopping by here!
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..City Scenes =-.

  13. Janice

    Adding the bookcase really make a great difference. Thanks for sharing this… and your suggestion to take baby steps to bring our plans to fruition.

  14. Vee

    Great tips! No, I had not noticed the missing drawer and I’m so glad that you’re not going to paint this piece white. Phew!

    So, my “living room” space is a gathering place…lots of seating, reading place, movie watching space, and a visiting space…lots of seating again. Hmmm, I’m not sure about focal points…is it possible to have more than one?

  15. Janell Beals

    Oh, wonderful post…but what I’m fixated on is that bookcase! It is gorgeous…Janell

  16. Gilda

    I’m new here and find this blog the answer to my search for practical, instructional and tasteful decorating writing…Now I have to go read all of the old posts….a pleasure!

  17. teresa

    Fabulous post…full of wonderful ideas- I needed this today.
    Have a wonderful day
    .-= teresa´s last blog ..Small & Simple Things =-.

  18. Kathy  :)

    Wonderful post…..

    I just love your focal point….I hope you find that missing drawer…

    I have one for you….how about a room that you just scratch your head over because you just can’t get it right….well that’s our office….my focal point is a beautiful roll top desk from the 1920’s that we had redone….but for the life of me I can’t get this one right……usually I get an idea and bang things just come together…slowly at times but none the less it happens….not in this room…

    Scratching again…:(

    All the best,
    Kathy :)

  19. kathysue

    Hi Melissa, what a great teaching post. You did a beautiful job on your living room . I always enjoy your post ,they are a daily favorite of mine. I just did a post that has a test in it that I think you and maybe some of your readers might enjoy. Kathysue at [email protected]

  20. Heathahlee

    Right now the purpose of our living room/den is not to have anything that might get destroyed when we play on the Wii! :D
    .-= Heathahlee´s last blog ..Breakfast in Bed =-.

  21. kathysue

    Sorry Melissa my blog address is at
    I am new at all of this, eventually I hope to get the computer end of things down pat but for now I am muddling through. Kathysue

  22. Linda

    I noticed when I redid my living room that the new arrangement is better for conversation. When we focus on a tv or fireplace sometimes we sacrifice conversation. I still decorate my fireplace to be the focal point, but my furniture is not focused on it because I’m not using it now. I can still see the tv, but not from every seat unless I move them. The new arrangement is arranged more around the big window. It’s kind of different, but it works and I like to do things that are different. I use my living room all the time because I don’t have a family room. I remember reading once that you should use your whole house and if you aren’t using a room you probably need to define it’s purpose, that gave me the inspiration to look at every space and determine how I was going to use it. I recently changed all my extra rooms upstair because even though they had defined purposes they weren’t working for various reasons. The new repurposed rooms are great, much better. Thinking out of the box helps. I remember making my living room my dining room once and vice versa. It gave me a rather grand dining room and a very cozy living room. I enjoyed it for a while and then put it back. lol. I’m enjoying your tips, love your living room and esp. your bookcase.
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Sewing and Quilting =-.

    • Melissa

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, I agree. Have a focal point in a room doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be arranged around that item. For instance, some of your furniture might be around the TV because that is how the room functions best, but to make a TV a focal point would be, well, just sad. :-) Now, if you have a beautiful armoire or built ins and your TV is in it, well then it can be a focal point.

      In my family room I like to think of my fireplace as the focal point, even though my furniture is more oriented around conversation and the TV. I think of a focal point is the wow factor in the room and a conversation area as something more practical and useful.

      Thanks again for your comment Linda!

  23. melissa stover

    i love this post! i do the same thing. if i have a sudden inspiration i move it right away and see if i like it (really need those movy things). i’m a big believe in doing it whether it’s perfect or not. i need a bigger house, but i just keep moving things around, readjusting and making better use of what space we have in the mean time.
    .-= melissa stover´s last blog ..A school day in 2010 =-.

  24. Michelle, Home Staging Pro

    A room must have a clearly defined purpose and a focal point – this is a drum interior designers and professional home stagers beat over and over again. It truly is important, otherwise the room is underused and often becomes a dumping ground for other things that don’t know where they belong.

    I find your design process and the way you write about it truly interesting and enlightening. Thank you!
    .-= Michelle, Home Staging Pro´s last blog ..Los Angeles Home Stager A Finalist For Professional Stager of the Year =-.

  25. bj

    I was thrilled that you stopped by tonight..hope you come by often.
    I love your “new” reading room…and the bookcase if awesome. Good good luck in finding the drawer..but, if not, go have one made just like the others and no one will ever know!! :O)
    hugs, bj

  26. Neutral Dwelling

    I’m right there with you on being impulsive when an idea strikes! I had to smile when I read that!

  27. Linderhof

    I agree — if a room doesn’t have a purpose it doesn’t have a soul — when I visit friends there are the “perfect” but never used rooms — they lack warmth and personality. You need to decide what you want the room to do and that will give it’s soul! I LOVE that bookcase — I COVET that bookcase — it is one pretty piece and I’m sure looks much better in your living room than in a front hall!

  28. Tiffany Stuart

    Beautiful website.
    .-= Tiffany Stuart´s last blog ..Hinds Feet for High Places =-.

  29. Marilyn Holeman

    Hi Melissa, I love your blog. What my eye often goes to are people’s books, and I was so glad that you showed some of yours. I headed over to my library site to order some of the books on your shelf! (I really like Alexandra Stoddard’s books, and hadn’t seen that one in the stack.) Thanks for sharing. (And no, I didn’t notice the drawer, but I hope you find it soon.) Blessings, Marilyn

  30. Regina Williams

    Does the TV count as a focal point? I have many books but they seem to clutter more than help anything. We do have a few things on the wall but they seem to get lost in the room because it is a little dark. I like your ideas though.

    I just need to start over.

  31. Danielle

    I love the story about that bookcase and in my opinion the missing drawer only adds to the character of it. I say leave it as is and maybe put a book or two in there!!

    • Melissa

      Actually that is what I ended up doing! You can see that cabinet in recent posts in my entry and it indeed now has books! I love it that way!

  32. Darrien Hansen

    Thanks for mentioning how adding a focal point to a room can help give the entire room a purpose. My living room appears to be uninviting since there is a lack of furniture in it, and I would like to buy a table before I host a house party. Maybe using a wooden table as a focal point will help me add a purpose to the room.



  1. Winter Home Tip: Create Mini-Destinations in your Home - [...] the post on establishing a purpose for your [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

browse categories:

browse archives:

let’s stay connected!

Follow for daily
Home Inspiration:

get my free decorating guide

home decor inspiration, free downloads,
and more, straight to your inbox