Personal Territory and Furniture Placement

Every culture has its unique characteristics. One of the most interesting is people’s personal territory. This is how close to ourselves we are comfortable allowing strangers.

In the United States, our personal territory extends about 18 inches beyond our bodies. This is why our preferred method of greeting is the handshake – it allows for eighteen inches of distance. In Japan, for example, where the personal territory is three feet, the preferred greeting method is a bow – giving both people the room they need to be comfortable.

Understanding personal territory is very important when you plan seating in your home for a party. Even if your sofa would hold three comfortably, you may find that generally only two sit there. Love seats will generally only hold one. The exception is close family members who often don’t have personal territory among each other.

Notice the seating choices of the four people in this photo. Although there is extra space on the sofa, two of the people have chosen to sit on the floor to keep those 18 inches of personal space safe.

When you plan seating in your home, keep that 18 inch distance in mind. Placing furniture closer may lead to some empty chairs. Farther away and you will see that people will lean in to hold conversations. One good way to keep that distance set is by using an area rug. The right-size rug can define the distance between chairs and sofas, allowing you to set everything in that natural 18-inch comfort zone.

If you anticipate a multi-cultural crowd, it pays to be more flexible in your seating plan. For example, unlike the Japanese, the personal territory in South American cultures is 6-7 inches. There, a kiss on one or both cheeks is a common greeting. Add some floor cushions or movable chairs to allow people to set their own boundaries – letting everyone find their own comfort zone – and your party will be a success!