Defining Spaces

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Rugs, accent walls and sectional sofas give definition to living areas in open floor plans

If you watch those design shows on TV, you'll hear people talking a lot about "wish lists" for a new home. More often than not, one of the items on the list is an open-concept floor plan.

An open-concept living area is for many a modern must-have - all the more so if they're moving into a modest urban condo where it's the only way to create a feeling of spaciousness. But you've got to pay special attention to the interior design of any open-concept area. That goes double if it's a loft, where the sleeping area is part of the mix.

Designer Badr Gebara says using large area rugs helps define open spaces. - Photo by Wayne Cuddington/Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa -

If you watch those design shows on TV, you'll hear people talking a lot about "wish lists" for a new home. More often than not, one of the items on the list is an open-concept floor plan.

An open-concept living area is for many a modern must-have - all the more so if they're moving into a modest urban condo where it's the only way to create a feeling of spaciousness. But you've got to pay special attention to the interior design of any open-concept area. That goes double if it's a loft, where the sleeping area is part of the mix.

"Open spaces have a unique set of design problems," says Karyn Watson of Karyn Watson Interiors, explaining that the biggest challenge in a large space is defining where the living, dining and other areas will go.

"One big room equals one big look," says Badr Gebara of Ottawa's BluDot Interiors, summing up the basic rule of design for any open concept, large or small: consistency.

So when you're working with a big open space, you'll make the most of it if you follow certain guidelines.

Flooring

In a big open space, the flooring is probably the same throughout. The basic rule for defining floor spaces in a big open area is to use area rugs.

"Area rugs define a space by holding a group of furniture together," says Watson.

But don't go overboard, Gebara cautions. "A lot of people want to put area rugs all over the place," she says, adding that too many area rugs creates a busy look.

She says less is more: Limit yourself to one area rug, she says, and get a good one.

Colour

Judicious use of colour will help define areas and create moods. Consistency plus accents is the basic rule for colour in large open areas. Choose a really great neutral, says Gebara, and use it for most walls.

Remember, she adds, that walls in open spaces can extend a long way into other parts of the house. So before painting, follow the flow of all the walls and see where there are corners or natural breaks. If you live in a vertical space, for example, you may find one wall that extends up a floor or two and dictates colour choices in other areas of the house.

Punch things up - and help define areas - by adding accent walls in a different colour.

Says Watson: "Using a block of accent colour behind a focal point - for example, mirror or painting - creates a focus which helps to define a space and break up long wall areas."

When you're thinking colour, don't just think of the walls. Remember area rugs, artwork and accessories.

Gebara says hanging artwork in groupings is another way to define areas and take advantage of the colour in the art.

Windows

The consistency rule also applies to window treatments, says Gebara. Whatever you use, use it all over.

Ceilings

You weren't thinking about the ceiling, were you? Yet in a big open space, the ceiling can be just an important as anything else in helping create or define areas.

"Ceiling details such as coffered ceilings and bulkheads add elements that can be reflected below without dividing the space," says Watson.

Gebara will sometimes punch up bulkheads with an accent colour if that's useful in defining a space.

Lighting

"Lighting is always huge," says Gebara. She suggests putting a chandelier above the dining room table to define the dining area. (Don't forget the dimmer switch) and using lamps and pot lights to define other areas.

Watson also recommends those free-standing flexible-arm lamps to help create zones.

Furniture

Furniture groupings are key to defining areas in open spaces. Benches, desks or even screens can create transition areas, says Watson.

But open spaces, by definition, won't have as many walls as smaller rooms so you have to find furniture that looks as good from the back as it does from the front, and that can be used to separate living areas.

Gebara likes sectional sofas, which she says look great when they stick out into a room. If you don't want a sectional, create groupings where people can chat easily.

Remember to keep your style consistent: Mixing modern living room furniture and a Victorian dining room suite in one room will be jarring.

And if your space is small, consider multi-purpose furniture. One example is a coffee table that can be cranked up to dining level when needed.

Clutter

One final thing to remember in an open-concept space, adds Gebara, is to keep clutter in check. After all, when everything is out in the open, you just can't close the door on your messy room.

Get furniture that doubles as storage: a coffee table with a drawer where you can hide the remote when company comes, or shelving units with space for all your stuff.

"You've got to keep things organized," she says. "That's really important."

Geographic location: Ottawa

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