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Magical walls

A reader from Lacombe, Alberta wrote to me with a common problem that few people have managed to master.

“We built this home several years ago, and still struggle today with the living room furniture layout”.

“The corner fireplace is the first challenge and in the opposite corner, I have a corner cabinet”.

“This ‘Great Room’ should be large enough for furniture, but because it is the main route from front entrance to the kitchen and/or dining room, I need to keep the furniture far enough away from this high traffic area”.

“Our latest challenge involves where to place the furniture after a new, larger television is installed between these two corner features”. “I believe I have too much furniture”.

“With the children grown and gone, my husband and I use this space exclusively, to relax or to watch TV, so we don't require a lot of seating area.”

Open floor plans have become the norm in almost every newbuild. Although there is a slow-moving trend returning to clearly defined spaces, each with its exclusive function, most homes built today feature “rooms” that seamlessly flow from one to the next.

There will always be a desire to delineate spaces within the greater space, and happily there are several simple ways to do just that.

Some of these methods will literally separate spaces, while others will hint about each space’s uniqueness.

1. Just the facts, Ma’am. All interior design projects begin by analysing the space in question and determining how much area is required for each function. Although this living room measures close to 4.5 metres by 5.2 metres (15-feet by 17-feet), the reader correctly identified traffic flow as an important consideration. A major path, like that separating the kitchen and family room, should maintain a minimum of one metre (three feet) wide.

Once each “room’s” functions is sorted out (in this case, watching television) and the space each function will require is determined (for example, the distance required from the sofa to the TV screen, usually manufacturer-suggested), the traffic paths will emerge naturally.

These “corridors” are the simplest way to organize an open floor plan.

2. Separate, but equal. Occasionally, literally building a full or half-wall is the most effective way to delineate space. A good example of this would be a wall with an opening between the kitchen and dining room. Although not necessary, a wall like that gives the domestic chef a degree of control within their space while maintaining direct contact with guests.

In a modern home, transparent partitions will both define a space and give it a strong visual contrast. It’s a great way to divide a space without compromising the airy feeling of an open plan.

3. Space Rugs. No, they’re not made from extra-terrestrial material, they are merely one of the simplest ways to organize and define space. One or more area rugs within any function will demarcate each space.

Depending on the style of the room, an area rug, or series of rugs, could be any design, if each is appropriately sized for the area. In the example shown, a large Persian Bakhtiari combines a bit of sophistication with a more casual overall feeling.

A space’s colour scheme can easily be changed each season simply by replacing one style of rug with another.

4. A well-raised floor. To clearly define a large, individual space within an even larger common space, a strong visual barrier may be needed. By raising the floor in one area, the distinction becomes immediately evident.

This type of barrier is most often successful when it is appropriate for one area to overlook another. For example, a kitchen overlooking the seating area gives the host a bird’s-eye view of the guests. A slightly heightened dining area in a high-rise may be a good opportunity to capitalize on a magnificent vista.

5. Look up; Way up. Hands down, the most under-considered part of any decorating scheme is usually the lowly ceiling. Despite being the second largest single expanse of area in any space, after the floor, a finished ceiling is often declared once a coat of white paint is applied. Yet many opportunities exist to use the ceiling as a method of defining space. A ceiling design, such as a coffered or cove ceiling, featured over a seating or dining area will create a focal feature as well as strongly defining a space.

6. The right light on site. Regardless of the amount of work and planning put into a project, the area’s lighting can often make or break a design. Properly illuminated, even small, closed-in spaces can be made to look airier and more open.

Different types of lighting fixtures can help define specific areas. A dramatic chandelier over a table, a grouping of attractive pendant lights over an island or entertainment centre, or lines of track lighting, will each define specific functions in a room.

In general, recessed lights installed evenly in the room will provide the ambient light or general illumination, a second layer of task light will illuminate specific functions like reading and sewing, and accent lighting will draw attention to the room’s best features.

7. Room dividers. A corridor is, by definition, a passageway that connects two or more parts of a building. Its width should be determined by how often it is used, like a space that connects two busy areas; who is using the space, whether by an able-bodied or wheelchair-bound individual; or how the area is used, like that precarious area between an oven and a counter top. With that said, a corridor is most effective when passage is not impeded by any obstruction.

Creating “islands” within a space will define its function. A seating island is created by the simple arrangement of furniture – in this case, a sofa and two chairs facing the television and adjacent to the fireplace. A sofa table gives added interest to the back of the seating piece and adds to its strong placement.

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