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Sectional sofas can conquer or create furniture layout problems -- but whether it becomes a room's friend or foe depends on scale and orientation.

"With a sectional, you're maximizing the amount of people you can gather with relatively less amount of furniture," said Jose Gutierrez, a design consultant with BoConcept furniture in Georgetown.

When it comes to style, sectionals are not for everyone.

"Sectionals are most successful in rooms that are conductive to casual, informal events, such as TV- or movie-viewing," said Lori Graham, of Lori Graham Design and LG Place. "They are not as conducive for formal entertaining because typically sectionals are deeper and more difficult to navigate in formal attire."

Gutierrez said people should consider two things before buying a sofa: the overall room dimensions and how the sectional will be used.

"Some customers want to use the sectional as a room divider in a big open plan. They want to create a little definition between the dining room and the living area," Gutierrez said. "Others actually like to integrate both spaces. In that case, you orient the sectional to bring rooms together."

A large U-shaped sectional in the family room, facing an open kitchen, creates one great room. That same sectional, positioned with its back to the kitchen, divides the rooms.

When using a sectional as a divider, Gutierrez discourages placing the furniture at an angle. "To set a sectional at an angle, you really need a lot of space, because otherwise you create negative areas in a room that are not well-utilized."

Instead, he recommends orienting the sectional toward a focal point. This could include breaking up a sectional, if finished on all sides, to include two focal points, such as a fireplace on one wall and a television on another wall.

To pull this off, the sectional must allow for the end-piece to go on either side. "That way you can orient toward the fireplace one day and toward the other way when you gather to watch TV," Gutierrez said.

Most sectionals that include connector hardware on the sides are limited to one configuration. Others, like the Carmo sectional from BoConcept, are modular with pieces finished on all sides. This allows more options for rearranging, including being able to flip a chaise from one side to the other.

When considering a table for the sectional, Gutierrez suggests rounded edges or a round table for a tight space. "Because then you're not contending with a tight corner to make a tight turn if you're getting in or out of your sectionals," he said. Otherwise, "it's a matter of style and functionality."

Sometimes, sectionals simply do not fit. Graham, who lives in Washington, cautions clients to measure each piece of a sectional and confirm it can fit through doorways, stairways and elevators before purchasing.

"D.C.'s rowhouses tend to often have such challenges on most pieces -- but certainly, larger-scale pieces like sectionals," Graham said.