Big families: what about furniture?

I got an email recently from a mom with a question:

I would love to know what you do about furniture. We are currently looking at getting a new couch for our family of 7 and are considering a sectional. I’m wondering what you’ve found to work best in your family (how to arrange all that seating so we can all watch movies together?)  It would also be cool to hear how you arrange the kids’ bed room furniture (bunk beds for all, no doubt!)

Living room furniture can be a real challenge, especially if your living room is not huge.  We are fortunate to have an open floor plan that allows me to rearrange a bit depending on what’s going on in the room.  The part of the room officially designated as the living room is about 16×18, just barely big enough for 2 couches, a love seat, a recliner and a little round 2-seater chair.  Here’s a picture of the space.  On the right side of the picture is a bay window, into which we fit the third couch.  

Our living room Below is a picture of the TV end of the room, including the little round couch/chair.  On movie night we drag that chair more into the center of the room and turn it to face the TV.  It is just big enough to seat two people.

For even more seating, I bought 4 beach chairs to provide a front row of seating for some of the kids.  Since the chairs are so low, people on the couches can easily see over kids’ heads.  And when the chairs are not being used, they fold up and fit into the coat closet.  With everything arranged just right, we can fit 14 people for movie night. I’m not sure what we’ll do when our family grows more, but it’s working for now!

As far as sectionals, we’ve never owned one.  But we have rented vacation houses in the past which gave us a chance to try them out and form an opinion.  It seems that the person who ends up sitting in the ‘corner’ of the couch ends up with very little leg room, so instead of fitting 6 adults comfortably like 2 full couches would do, you only end up with seating for 5.  Also a section severely limits your furniture arranging options, a big issue with me.  (I love to rearrange!)  But if you have a room that will easily fit a sectional, and your family is a little smaller than ours, it might be a good solution for you.

As far as bedrooms, with two of our girls grown and out of the house, we actually only have two people per room right now, plus an empty bedroom that we’re not quite sure what to do with.  We have bunk beds set up in two rooms.  Our littlest girls have a bunk that is a single on top and double on the bottom.  Our teenage daughters have a high L-shaped loft bed that my husband made so that there would be space for dressers below.

Our big boys have the smallest room in the house, but they have captain-style beds.  Each bed has a 6-drawer dresser underneath it, which makes for more floor space in the room.  And our 13 year old sons just recently inherited a huge room from our just-married-and-moved-out daughter.  It is 10×23– so no need for space-saving measures there.  Over the years we’ve had lots of different configurations of kids and furniture, but with a little creativity we’ve always found a way to make things work!


  1. My question is about the dining room. Where to get a big enough table and chairs? It is really expensive to buy them new. And creative ideas about that. We are a family of eight. My table right now is too small but I have a bigger table in the garage that is going to come in the house this summer. I am trying to figure out what to do about chairs. I thought about having someone make benches.

    • Mary, We paid bookoo bucks for a 9-ft table with 8 chairs. My husband built 2 short benches for the two ends of the table that just barely fit 3 people when we have company. (He makes them custom if anyone’s interested, by the way! They’re gorgeous!)

      The table spans the dining area almost from end to end. We put a bench (with skinny kids on it!) right against one wall, and the edge of the table is literally a foot from the wall. Here’s a pix:

      With a bench on the other end as well, we can get around the table to enter the kitchen or go outside– it wouldn’t work well with large full sized chairs. But it is quite, quite full.

      If I had it to do again, I’d probably request two custom benches for the long sides of the table, and make sure that any additional chairs were narrow and not as high-backed as the ones we bought. It would be much easier to get around the table if the chairs were not so huge. I’d also hunt for a narrower table, possibly….

    • We found a huge table (seats 12 with the leaves) in the back room of our local furniture store for $200! It was over $1000 new. The top had a crack running from one edge in about 3 inches. My dh injected wood glue into the crack and it has never split further.

      He built benches for all sides of it with storage shelves inside and the kids keep all their homeschool books/supplies inside. Each child has a bench.

      When company comes, we throw random extra chairs around the table and squeeze a skinny kid between two adults on the long benches.

      We are only seating 7 on a daily basis, BTW.


  2. We have four kids from 12 to 2 years in age. We completely refigured our home to fit child #4! In the process we moved our large sectional to our “formal” living room which then became our family room. It holds all of us well, but it absolutely cannot be repositioned. I’d love to move it about every now and then but it just can’t be accomplished but to me it’s worth it for all of the seating (it includes a chaise on one in and two easy chairs that recline on the other.) The real problem I have with my sectional is that the two-year-old likes to run on it as if it were her own personal race track–but we’re workin’ on that!!

  3. If you have someone or are someone who is handy then check out Anna White’s blog formerly Knock Off Wood. She creates plans FOR FREE of high end furniture. her blog has saved us a fortune.
    There is a beautiful farmhouse table and even chairs on there to build.

    Hope this helps 🙂

  4. “I’m not sure what we’ll do when our family grows more”?
    I get all excited! Do you mean more kids coming or just planning for grand kids?
    Feel free not to answer…that sentence just got me excited for you.

    • Hi Sophie!
      We are pretty sure we’ll leave the family expansion to the kids from now on. Since 2009 we’ve already added two new sons via marriage, and it seems likely there will be more additions later!

  5. Something I read on another blog was a mom of 7 for dining/kitchen table was to buy another 6 person table and chairs and add it to their first. It was the cheapest option and like the 2 seperate couches easier to configure to different rooms since they are military and move frequently.

  6. I love the beach chair idea. We can all squeeze in to watch a movie, but several children have to sit on the floor to do so. The beach chairs would give the floor a little more cachet… and comfort. I think I’ll have to move them out of the garage and into the house. (Chairs, that is, not children.)

  7. We have a sectional and it fits loads of us (we have six kids). BUT, I greatly regret that I cannot rearrange the furniture!!

    Also: LEATHER is AWESOME for families with kids!! It is so washable and we have only had one 1/2 inch cut in 12 years. It is not expensive to have things repaired either.

  8. we also paid bookoo bucks for the long 9′ table! 🙁 and then I met this gal, who I think is the smartest!! she bought two fo Ikea’s longest tables they have…and put them together, longways…it almost forms a perfect square table & fits A LOT of people around it, and it was about half the cost of my table..maybe even more… I do that totally if I could do it over!

    • Chris, I have a friend who did that with outdoor furniture. She found a nice metal mesh table and 4 chairs for a reasonable price at Costco and bought FOUR of them. Instant table for 16 (or 4 small tables set apart if she desires) and I think she spent something like $500 for all.

  9. Katherine says:

    I love the way you designed your dining and living areas. Our family and friends tease my husband and I for how much rearranging we have done over the years but as we have added kids we needed to keep changing things and I am sure we still will need to as they keep growing and needing more leg room. Right now we do have a sectional, our living room is quite small, we have 6 children and it works great for all of us to be able to watch a movie together. I agree 2 couches would be way more comfy but we just do not have the room with the piano in there. As for the kitchen seating my husband is a restaurant manager so we are considering replacing our huge kitchen table with either a round table with 8 chairs ordered through the restaurant or some type of booth seating to take up less space. People always ask me how we manage all those people in our size house and I think it is to have very little clutter, no knick knacks, and it works out fine. Less dusting that way too! I got alot of good tips for my home from your book, it really helped with the bedrooms, clothes, toys, etc…

  10. We bought 2 tables from Furniture Row and placed them end to end with one leaf in the middle.We easily fit 12 around it. The baby is still in a booster high chair to my side. When everyone is home, we just squish 3 in where we usually have 2. That only happens a few times a week because at least one of the big kids is at a sporting or school event. Oh, and our dining room is the formal living room, long and skinny, just right.

  11. laura h. says:

    I had a local carpenter build me an 11×3 foot table with matching side benches and benches for the ends with backs and a shelf running across the whole underside for storage of tablecloths, placemats, etc. This table (which could seat 22 very nicely)sat in our dining room for many years until a few months ago when I gave it to a young growing family. And even with grandkids, there are too few days when all the kids are ever together that we were enjoying this beautiful table. I love the newfound space in my dining room with my little table (seats eight). When I know I will need more seating, bring out the card table and maybe tv trays (with edging so grandkids food doesn’t slide off).
    But I grew up with two picnic tables put together the long way in our dining room with padded dining room chairs on the ends for older guests who wanted back support. My mom said the cheapest seating she could find! And you know given the price of picnic tables, if a person has the room, probably still is.
    I never liked the garage sale look of our living room when the kids were younger. Outside of sectionals hardly any furniture made that will function for a large family that looks nice. This last year I purchased a beautiful matching extra large couch and extra large loveseat and put padding on radiators so now the living room can seat lots of people (when I need it to) or is perfect for a few and wonders of wonders–it looks great.

  12. Laura, I’d love to see your living room setup. We’ve got a window seat that would fit a built-in bench and I’ve wondered if that might be a more space-efficient way to get some extra seating in the living room.

    • I will see if the next time my son is over if he will take a picture of the living room for me and get it to you. Forgot to mention that the pad I have for ontop of the radiator comes off so that in the winter we don’t have to use it unless needed and the rest of the time there is an open-slated wood ‘foundation’ that sits ontop of them.
      My camera broke and still need to download one very special picture to hang in daughters'(18 and 12 years old)room. They were able to have picture taken with Mary Wilson of the Supremes and talk with her, the highlight of the visit for them both and want to have one of those pictures hung in bedroom.

  13. Mary, thank you so much for the info on your furniture strategies! The beach chair idea is great! I never even considered using temporary seating when we’re all together. Also the window seat mention has given me an idea- we have shelves on either side of our fire place, which my husband dislikes. He could build window seats there instead (with shelves underneath so I don’t lose all the shelving- as homeschoolers, we are book-heavy in this house). That would give us at least four more seats!

    BTW, I wonder if you have ever seen Suzanne Suzanka’s book “The Not So Big House”? It has good ideas for maximizing space when building from scratch. We have to work with what we’ve got, though, so I really appreciate your help!