Designing for an Open-Floor Plan

Walls are vanishing from newer homes and the open-plan layouts are showing off multi-purpose areas, such as kitchens and dining rooms and living rooms that seamlessly flow into one another.

But how do you decorate one large space – to make it comfortable and beautiful for eating, entertaining, relaxing and more?

“The key is continuity,” says Kim Kiner, Vice President of Textile & Material Design and The Alustra® Collection for Hunter Douglas.

Here are some ways:


open_colorTo keep an open-plan interior open, the No. 1 element for achieving continuity is wall color, says New York designer Glenn Lawson says.

Whether “warm” or “cool,” you can use the same one throughout or paint such architectural elements as pilasters, soffits and chair rails variations of the main color, from light to dark, Lawson says.

Large furnishings such as sofas and area rugs are most successful when they are, color-wise, “cousins” of the walls, three shades of blue, for example, Lawson adds. “This way the eye keeps travelling throughout the space and is not interrupted by large disparate areas,” Lawson says.

Also, consider using pops of the same color, such as a grey sofa in the living room and then a grey chair-seat fabric at the dining table and a grey lamp shade in the library, suggests Shea Soucie of Soucie Horner in Chicago.

“Thread a single color – or varying shades of a color – throughout an open space, and you’ll have a comforting sense of continuity as you move from one end of your home to the other,” she says.



“When you have an open-concept living space, it’s important to keep the flooring material consistent so you don’t chop up the flow of the space,” Soucie says. “You can make it interesting by laying wood planks on the diagonal, for instance, or by setting reclaimed European tiles in a herringbone pattern. Whatever you choose, make it the same throughout the space.”

Rugs can then be layered on top to soften the look and add warmth. It can also help in identifying the rooms within too.

“Rugs are amazingly versatile,” Soucie says. “No matter what kind you choose, they add personality, color, texture and style. And you don’t have to restrict them to your floor by the way – you can hang a beautiful rug on the wall just like you would a piece of art!”


Art and accessories

Use art or pillows to enhance the space, such as by repeating or contrasting with an existing color in the room. Add texture with the frame.

Don’t just hang the artwork to the wall, though, says Karin Edwards of Karin H. Edwards in Des Moines. “Bring it into a space, resting it on ledges, tabletops, even the floor,” she says.

Lawson also likes to use glass, Lucite, polycarbonate and acrylic accessories.

“They can provide sculptural interest without blocking anything, which keeps the interior open,” Lawson says. “Think glass coffee tables and ghost chairs. Their presence is beautiful yet implied, adding form in subtle fashion.”


open_furnitureFurniture arrangement

“How you position the furniture is crucial when developing beautiful, open-plan interiors,” says Whitney Stewart of Whitney Stewart Interior Design in Washington, D.C. “Separate, but equally useful and good-looking ‘zones’ can be as simple as an entry table with a paneled screen behind it or as complex as an entire kitchen.”

Bring furniture “off the walls,” even in small spaces, and arrange it for a specific purpose, such as conversation, reading, or dining. She leaves an allée on the periphery to act as a frame, which “produces a feeling of lightness and airiness,” she notes. “It also makes it possible to put pieces on an angle, often more interesting, and provides lots of wall space for artwork.”

“Open plans need unity,” Edward adds “Don’t chop them up with too much color or too many materials; you want to see clearly from horizon to horizon. At the same time, comfort demands smaller zones for nesting. I like to look for bridges between one zone and the next. The usual console behind a sofa for instance can double as a second island or homework station for the kitchen with the simple addition of a stool tucked in below.”

Also, a large, rectangular table – like with stacks of books and a lamp — can be one of the easiest ways to separate two distinct rooms, she adds.


open_nonwallsWindow treatments

“Whatever window treatment you choose, shades, blinds, draperies, shutters or any combination thereof, arrange them with an eye toward the long view, that is the entire interior not solely one particular zone, to further unify the space,” Kiner notes.

Stewart often hangs draperies directly from the ceiling for an enclosed bedroom. When something more structured is required, a free-standing wall does the trick and retains the open look and feel. Not only useful if constructed with shelving, they can add greatly to the décor when painted one of the interior’s accent colors.

Soucie uses a slew of systems to add excitement as well as usefulness to her projects. “We’ve had great visual success hanging draperies from rods inside rooms, not just at windows,” Soucie says. “For example, we once puddled gorgeous silk fabric in an entry hall between the front door and the staircase. It was a dramatic entrance and produced the  idea of luxury and sophistication from the moment you crossed the threshold.”

The same can be done between a living room and dining room or int eh doorway to a hall leading to the bedrooms, Soucie adds. “No one expects to see draperies anywhere but in front of a window, so it’s a pretty and fun way to add some unexpected charm,” Soucie notes. “And it’s also a great way to soften a larger space and make it feel more intimate.”


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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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