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Zoned Living

Wednesday, 30th June 2010

Open-plan living has its advantages - an easy flow of activity and a relaxed, social vibe. But it's not without its drawbacks, crucially a lack of privacy and amplified sound. When we put extra demands on that space by expecting it to perform a range of different functions such as kitchen, living room, home office and even playroom, the distinctions can become blurred. Bring order to a busy, open-plan space by creating separate activity zones, installing super-smart storage, and choosing light- and space-enhancing finishes.

Careful Planning
Open-plan rooms are hugely popular in apartments and townhouses because they make great use of space, create a natural sense of flow, and maximise the daylight. But we tend to place a lot of demands on that space, expecting it to multi-function as everything from living room and kitchen to even an extra sleeping space. Before we know it, the space becomes chaotic and cluttered, and the lines between the different activities blur. So what's the solution?

Perhaps more than anywhere else, the open-plan room requires scrupulous planning. First, decide exactly what activities it needs to be used for, and map out the areas to scale on a floor plan. Measure out the furniture to be included and add it to your floor plan. Ask yourself - is it the right size for the room? Can I still walk around comfortably? Is it too fussy for a small space? Remember that having a limited amount of furniture around will enhance the sense of airiness in a space-starved space. Be ruthless- anything that doesn't tick all the right boxes should be re-housed or sold.

Look at exactly what you need to store - books, an entertainment centre or wine, for example - and make sure it fits your existing storage. If it doesn't, consider having built-ins made by a carpenter: they're made to measure, and will make the best use of the available space.

If you have the room, consider turning over a whole wall to built-in storage. You can have the doors painted to match the other walls in the room so that they blend into the background. Are there any recesses, alcoves or unused corners in the room? These make great built-in storage opportunities.  

Conceal the functional parts of space as much as you can. For example, choose computer desks that fold away, kitchen cabinets with sliding doors that conceal appliances, and entertainment units inside built-in cupboards. And don't overlook the little details, such as keeping wires tidy or opting for wireless.

Creating different zones within an open-plan space requires a delicate hand. You want to create a sense of unity within what is essentially a single room and at the same time set aside different zones for various activities. It's important not to block off the light or make the area feel smaller than it is by carving it up unnecessarily.
Furniture placement can go a long way towards creating the different zones you want. Create social groupings of sofas, chairs and tables, and lay rugs made from textures that differ from the main flooring.

For further division, position a half- or three quarter-height bookshelf between two distinct areas, or install semi-transparent gliding panels that can divide up a room in an instant.

Create Focal Points
Clever focal points will draw attention where you want it, and help make it clear what an area is to be used for - think an interesting, papered wall in an entertainment area, an eyecatching group of ceramics at the centre of the dining table, or a series of inviting, patterned cushions on a sofa.

Pattern is something that should be treated with care in a small space. Used in abundance, very vivid patterns or brights can overpower a small area. Instead, stick to interesting textural contrasts that complement your walls and floor, with the occasional burst of colour or pattern.

Well-planned directional lighting that highlights, say, a sociable kitchen island unit, a dining table or a cosy seating nook will all help make it clear what an area is to be used for. Add accent lighting to highlight interesting displays or architectural features. 

Make the most of natural daylight: think about what activity will benefit the most from the greatest source of natural daylight in the area and position your desk or social living corner in its glow.

The Right Finish
Buying quality finishes is more affordable in small doses. A small, open-plan area is a great opportunity to splash out on that beautiful worksurface, flooring or piece of furniture. Reflective, transparent or glossy finishes all maximise light and visually enlarge a space - think a clear glass coffee table that lets the light through, a mirrored cabinet or glossy kitchen cabinets.

Room for more? 
If ceiling height allows, consider adding a mezzanine floor. This half-floor is the perfect spot for that home office, extra bedroom or chill-out zone, all of which will free up space downstairs.


Georgia Madden

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