x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Divide, conquer and make open-plan living easy

Open-plan living has become popular in recent years, but with no walls to guide you, decorating large rooms can be daunting.

Furniture can be used to create pseudo walls. A long sofa placed across an open space will help create a cut-off point and visually divide a room. Courtesy Nerida Howard
Furniture can be used to create pseudo walls. A long sofa placed across an open space will help create a cut-off point and visually divide a room. Courtesy Nerida Howard

Open-plan living has become increasingly popular in the past decade and is now a standard feature of most homes in the UAE. Kitchens have merged with dining rooms, bedrooms with studies and sometimes whole floors have been amalgamated into one communal space.

The problem is, we're used to walls. We use them as a place to hang paintings. We stand furniture against them. They close us in and help us feel cosy, safe and warm. With no walls to define a space, it's easy to feel a little lost, with nothing to guide you on how to decorate.

Luckily, there are a few tricks that designers use to "zone" open plan spaces, and help you function more comfortably within them. Have a look at these top tips and see which ones you could use in your home.


Use the walls you do have to break up a large room into segments. Try painting one half in one colour and the other in another shade - contrasting for a bold look or complementary for something more subtle - or using wallpaper in one section and leaving another plain. For example, you might split a large upstairs room into a sleeping area painted in a calming neutral shade, and a study section papered with a more interesting pattern. Your eye will believe that there is more than one functional area, even if there is no dividing wall.

Foot fall

Flooring can have a similar effect. Choosing carpet for one half of a room and tiles for another will create two separate zones. Alternately, if you don't want such a permanent solution, you can use rugs to achieve the same effect. A large rug surrounded by sofas, for example, instantly creates a living space even if it's part of a larger whole.

Fake it

Use furniture to create pseudo walls. If you're trying to separate a long room into a lounge and a dining area, for example, placing a long sofa across the middle of the space, facing into the living section, will help create a cut-off point, which visually divides the room into different functional areas. An open shelving unit is another great piece of "wall-like" furniture that breaks up a room while allowing a sight line through the space. In a kitchen, the same effect can be created with a breakfast bar or an island to divide the kitchen units from the dining area.

Split the difference

If you're in a position to do major work, think about implementing a split-level system. Just a couple of steps, up or down, from one side of a room to another can create very distinct zones. You can do the same with ceiling height, varying it to have a lower section in a room where you want a more intimate feel and where people will spend more of their time sitting down, such as a TV room.


Statement lighting such as a large pendant light or chandelier will help define a space by drawing the eye to the central point. For a large room, a row of three pendants will stop the light fitting from being swallowed up by the space. This works particularly well over a dining room table, where you need a greater pool of illumination. Then, implement mood lighting throughout the rest of the space. For example, use a floor lamp to highlight a reading corner, or spots to keep workspaces well lit.

Sleep easy

Artwork, like lighting, is a focal point that draws the eye, creating a distinct zone. If your bedroom is part of an open-plan space that includes, for example, a bathroom and a study area, you can highlight the sleeping section by hanging striking pictures above the bed, or using wallpaper to create a feature wall.

Clear the clutter

Storage is important if you want to keep clutter at bay. Fewer walls mean you can see more of your home in one go, so it's important to keep things tidy. Because you'll have less in the way of wall mounted storage like shelving, you'll need to think about clever options like coffee tables with built-in drawers or ottomans that can be filled with blankets and linen.

Screen time

Movable screens can be used to keep clutter out of sight, or to portion off a section of your open plan room. This is particularly effective in a bedroom area, for example, to create a snug dressing space or to portion off a small study area from a living space, particularly if you don't want your desk and paperwork intruding on relaxation time. In a bathroom, a frosted screen or partial wall constructed from opaque glass bricks can give an element of privacy to a toilet unit or separate off a shower or wet room area from the rest of the room, while allowing the space to remain open-plan overall.

Keep the flow

Although creating distinct areas is important, you also want to make sure that you retain a sense of unity. Do this by building links between the different zones - a common colour palette or a motif in one area that you can reference in another. For example, if you're using oak flooring in a dining space and carpet in the adjoining living room, oak furniture in the latter will create an element of follow through. Similarly, floral wallpaper in one area might be picked up in a similar print on cushions in a different area.