It’s trendy, stylish, appealing... and prominent on must-have and wishlists. Today’s vision of a dream home is one with uncluttered, bright and airy living spaces – free of walls and dividing structures. It’s a very tempting and attractive picture.
Open floor layouts – when carefully planned, designed and executed according to a family’s lifestyle and needs – are truly inviting and something to be desired. However, these wall-less plans can be quite tricky – and present a number of challenges for the homeowners and their family.
Let’s look at what design experts consider the most common pitfalls and mistakes that people make when planning their open concept space, how to avoid them, and how to create striking living areas that function effectively and suit the family.
Mistakes to Avoid
1. Lack of Research and a Well-Thought-Out Design Plan
You need to put in a lot of thought, time and care in planning the design of your open floor plan layout. Visualize your total space and the overall look you want for it. Do some research and ask questions. For example, how should the furniture, fixtures, rugs and other pieces come together? How do you design the space according to your lifestyle? Do you want the living area for the family to relax and lounge around – or, is it primarily an entertaining corner? Read design and architectural magazines, blogs, and other online sources to learn about potential layouts that may work better than what you originally had in mind.
A gorgeous open floor layout like this is at the homeowner’s fingertips with thorough research, careful planning, and a well-thought-out design (photo credit: Sidekix Media on Unsplash).
2. Pushing Furniture Against the Wall
Remember that this is an open floor space, not a small room; so décor and furniture arrangement will be different. In traditional closed-off rooms, sofas are positioned against the wall to maximize floor space. Doing this in an open layout makes it look cold and sparse.
The fix? Move the furniture toward the middle of the room According to the experts, think of having two sofas opposite each other, or pair one sofa with an armchair. This placement will also facilitate free-flowing movement to, from and around the living room area.
A traditional Great Room in a one-story, four-bedroom contemporary Prairie-style home achieves a stunning look with its attractive layout, furniture, and fixtures. The sofa is positioned toward the middle of the room just at the edge of the huge area rug. Two matching chairs are placed close to the floor-to-ceiling windows; the coffee table, another chair, and a small side table sit on the rug. And check out the well-planned spacing that allows smooth flow of traffic between the living room and the dining and kitchen areas (Plan #161-1085).
3. Variety in Flooring
I recall watching an HGTV show where a disgruntled homeowner complained about the three different floorings in their home. Images of the mix of flooring showed a rather unattractive and disconnected space.
The lesson? Stick with one kind of flooring for the open floor layout. If it’s hardwood, choose one shade or type for the entire space. Consistent flooring makes for a cohesive, connected and attractive space. Adding area rugs breaks up the floor space and creates different zones within the open plan design. Use carpets, rugs and mats to decorate the various areas – patterned, colorful rugs for the living room and softer tones for the dining area.
Light hardwood is the choice of flooring for a beautifully built and furnished two-story, 2,300-square-foot Traditional style home. The soft color palette is complemented by the dark brown exposed beams, rolling coffee table, and area rug. For a pop of color, check out the throw pillows on the chairs and sofa and the doors in the light brown wood finish (Plan #204-1018).
4. Lack of Zones to Delineate Functional Areas
It’s an open floor layout, not one large undefined space that looks cluttered. Without walls between living, dining and kitchen areas, homeowners have to be creative in fashioning ways to make these spaces separate but connected.
While area rugs can help establish individual areas of the open floor, there are other ideas offered by designers.
Use a sofa or sectional to divide the space
Tall floor lamps and potted plants can be décor accents
Keep each space decorated for its intended use – trendy coffee table and pops of color in the living/dining area, separate rug and elegant table in the dining area, and casual, comfortable furniture in the breakfast nook.
Top: Clear zones are very cleverly and attractively delineated in this lovely one-story, two bedroom Country style home with 2,611 square feet of living space. A sofa and a lamp on an end table mark the dividing line between the family/living area and the kitchen/dining section. A wall television and built-in shelves filled with curios and knick-knacks visibly define the living room (Plan #161-1072). Bottom: Once again, a sofa pushed to the middle in the vaulted Great Room of a four-bedroom, 2,095-square-foot Transitional Ranch style home is the demarcation line between the living room and the kitchen/dining area. Kitchen lighting is enhanced by three pendant lights and lights under the cabinets. In the living area, there is a lamp on a unique stand (Plan #142-1237).
5. Insufficient Lighting
Who wants a poorly lit room that appears small, confined and dreary? Most of the time, lighting does not get much consideration, when, in fact, it should be in the forefront of the open layout design. Because lighting sets the ambiance of the home, make your plans early in the design process.
Visualize furniture placement and where lighting should be positioned. Carefully plan for the appropriate fixtures, electrical outlets, and connections. Keep in mind that there are fewer walls in open floor plans compared with closed-off individual rooms. So don’t rely on traditional lighting fixtures like wall sconces and overhead lights. Think of hanging pendant lights, floor lamps, table lamps on end tables, and under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen.
As Kelly Rosen Lagrange (Kelly Rosen Design) sums it up: “Lighting is an amazing way to help delineate space within an open plan … it creates a sense of drama and intimacy, even when one space flows directly into the next.”
An interesting variety of lights creates a serene and relaxing atmosphere in the Great Room of a one-story, four-bedroom European style home. A chandelier above the dining table, two pendant lights in the kitchen area, and recessed ceiling lights complete the design (Plan #142-1204).
6. Too-Large Furniture
Don’t choose furniture that’s too big for an open plan layout, or you run the risk of hampering the flow of traffic in the space. If you have a favorite – or something that has sentimental value – again, imagine how it would look in your floor plan. Be certain that you still have enough space to move around once this piece of furniture is in place.
If your open plan space is a bit small and you can't find the appropriate furniture, think of having custom-made pieces fabricated to suit the dimensions of the room.
Top: This well-designed Great Room in a stunning two-story, three-bedroom Craftsman style home features a sizable sofa, two large leather chairs, and a cushioned chair. Designed ideally for the room, the complementary pieces allow good traffic flow in and out of the space. Bottom: Another view of the Great Room shows the furniture placement and the ample space in between the pieces to facilitate movement in and out of the room (Plan #108-1789).
7. Matching or Too-Similar Furniture Pieces
This choice will not give you the balance necessary in an open floor space. Furniture of the same height and style should not dominate the space. The key is to consider a unifying theme or common element across all your furniture pieces.
The space should feel like “it is filled with a collection of objects accumulated over one's lifetime thus far, and not just a bunch of rectangular shapes upholstered in the same fabric,” according to Julia Leigh Sergeon of The Camp Interior Design.
You can use contrasting furniture and features in the living, dining, and kitchen areas with each section having its own unique style. While fixtures and accessories can vary in color and material, designers recommend using different shades of the same color.
The centerpiece of this Great Room in a fabulous one-story, four-bedroom Country style home is the spectacular brick fireplace. All the furniture and accessories have been selected and designed to complement the fireplace and create a cohesive and connected space. Let’s start with the exposed wood beams that frame the fireplace. Then, there is the statement floor lamp, one off-white sofa to match the area rugs, and another sofa in a shade of burnt orange for a splash of color in the room. The matching dark gray (almost black) chairs come with cushions in a black-white pattern. The throw pillows on the sofas are of colorful patterns of blue and orange to add some pop to the furniture (Plan #142-1169).
8. No Place to "Get Away"
Don't forget to include intimate and smaller seating areas and rooms. Sometimes people get overly excited about the open floor plan that they neglect to consider the occasions when they need to get away from all the activities – like a "zen den" – for their alone time.
Before you start tearing all the walls down, think of dedicating an area as a study/reading nook, a sleeping corner, or a small workspace. If you have the space, have the Great Room open for entertaining and large events. Then plan on a Hearth Room or a sitting room where you can escape for a few minutes – or even an hour or two.
Right off the front door – in the foyer (at right in photo)– of a sprawling two-story, three-bedroom Craftsman style home is a small room created as a workspace. The little area has a pocket door that can remain open – or closed off – when circumstances call for some quiet time (Plan #108-1789).
9. Inadequate Storage
Don’t overlook the importance of storage as you design your home. Consider your needs – and ways to accommodate them – so that everything is comfortably and conveniently accessible.
It’s common knowledge that homeowners always think of storage in the kitchen. They plan for plenty of drawers, cabinets, and built-in shelves to store utensils, cookbooks, and other items that are needed every day. Coat closets are a must-have – whether located near the front door or the back door – to store jackets, hats, umbrellas, boots, and other gear.
But other areas and accessories that can be used for storing toys, books, ornaments, and “stuff” are often forgotten. Think beyond the obvious closets and drawers. An ottoman with a lid can function both as a seat and a storage bin, for example, and a kitchen island can be customized to include additional storage.
Top: Open the front door of this two-story, four-bedroom Country home, and you’ll find a coat closet conveniently located near the entryway. Walk past the stairs, and find a set of drawers and another closet for storage purposes (Plan #120-2176). Bottom:Here’s thinking out of the box when it comes to designing storage space. The amazing Great Room in a one-story, four-bedroom contemporary Prairie-style home features open shelves and cabinets under the lowest shelf for storage. Look closely at the two ottomans across from the table. Lift their lids and voila! More storage (Plan #161-1085).
While an open floor concept can be a little tricky, you can navigate its challenges by conducting extensive research, working with architects and design professionals, and executing a well-thought-out plan. So get ready for the ride!