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Defining space in an open plan layout
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Defining space in an open plan layout

On paper, an open-plan living space is a fantastic idea. Spacious, light filled, and family friendly. No awkward dining room that you probably only use once or twice a year for entertaining. However, you might find that once you’ve got this fantastic space, you’re suddenly wondering exactly how to use it, and instead of looking lovely and spacious, it’s taken on the cold appearance of a warehouse, with no defined areas for eating, working or relaxing.

So whether you’ve just moved to a new house, or have completed an extension, you’ll need to think carefully about how you use the space and almost ironically, how you break it up in to smaller ‘zones’. A good first step is to draw up a plan of the space. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, ‘to scale’ floorplan, but measuring your dimensions reasonably accurately will give you a better result. There are free space planners online if you feel don’t feel comfortable drawing a layout yourself.

Once you’ve drawn it, measure your furniture and furnishings and have a little play about with the space to see how much space you’ve got. You might discover that if you buy that sofa you spotted, you won’t be able fit in your dining table. Costly mistakes can be avoided this way!

So now you’re happy with how the space is going to work for you. The next step you might want to consider is ‘zoning’ it decoratively, perhaps a feature wallpaper or different colour paint to mark out the seating area. Different floor treatments also work well. If your budget stretches to it you could use carpet, tiles or wooden floor to mark out the different parts of the room. However, a more cost-effective and versatile option is to use the same flooring throughout and use rugs to break up the space. You could also use photographs and pictures to delineate the space, perhaps having a wall of pictures or large mirror in the dining area, or shelving for books and DVDs in the seating area.

Once you have sorted out the décor, you can move on the furniture. People like the light, flowing feel of open plan living, and while you want to define the areas, unless your space is really big, you won’t want to bring in too much furniture. Glass furniture has really come in to its own as open-plan living has increased in popularity because it allows light to pass through, complementing the flow of light and space that people aspire to, while remaining firmly functional.

Corner sofas are also popular because their shape is a great way to define your seating area, creating the cosier feel that you want in a ‘sitting room’. Perhaps you’ve got an open fire in this part of the room, or you might choose to install a wood burner. A texture rug and ambient lighting will also enable you to create a different atmosphere within your space.

Of course you don’t have to buy a new corner sofa: use two sofas or chairs in an ‘L’ shape and put in a coffee table or nest of glass tables discreetly between the two ends; a great solution if you don’t want a coffee table in the middle of the room. You will definitely want somewhere to put drinks while you’re relaxing, or entertaining guests, or watching a film with the kids. If you have children or pets, or you’re having a party, leaving drinks on the floor is rarely a good idea!

And finally, don’t forget storage, otherwise you’ll end up cluttering up that lovely space. Carefully chosen sideboards, console tables and shelving units can look stylish as well as providing storage space and additional surfaces without taking up too much room. And we all need somewhere to put our coffee, or a vase, or the car keys, or the dog’s lead . . .

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