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How to design for open spaces in your house

July 13, 2009

Jan Springer, Director
Heritage School of Interior Design,
Beaverton, Oregon

When I was growing up back in the 50’s and 60’s houses were a series of rooms with hallways in between.  I describe it as “Boxes Inside A Box” .  Thankfully… todays floor plans are “Interactive” .  No longer is Mom stuck in the kitchen at the back of the house while guests are entertained in the living room.  Todays homes are open and spacious and integrate working spaces with social spaces.  While this makes for great entertaining…it creates challenges with interior design.  For instance where do I start and stop wall color and how do I define one space from another or how do I arrange furniture.

When I am working with clients with open spaces we take our cues from natural architectural “break points”.  By that I mean, when painting walls a natural break point would be a corner.  Another break point could be defined by the ceiling or by flooring or carpeting.   If these do not present the obvious then you can create definition of space with furniture arrangement as well as the use of screens.  Large plants can create division of space.  Another trick to separate space is with the use of open book cases.

When working with large open spaces keep carpet, tile or hardwoods in the same tone to expand space… or change colors if you want to define a separate space.  The best way to unite furnishings is with color.  Choose 3 colors and use tints and shades of those colors and combine with a neutral.

When entering the space if you see all the windows then be sure to unite the space with the same fabric for window treatments. For example, if you see the living room, dining room and kitchen in one glance then co-ordinate the windows. ( living room & dining room will share the same style and kitchen window could change style but not fabric.  If the fabric is a print, one color could be pulled from the fabric to use as a valance at the kitchen window or eating area.

With open spaces the challenge is always to de-clutter which can be accomplished with good editing.  We love our “things” but we don’t need to have them all out at the same time.  Put some away and pull them out as the season changes for a fresh look.

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Discuss this article

Kay July 13, 2009

Your article came at just the right time. We’re considering building our retirement home and want to make it a smaller, yet more open space environment. Thanks for the great tips!

June July 13, 2009

Jan, lots of us baby boomers out there ready to retire. Any chance you could do an article on home re-design tips for retirees. What should be our focus.

Amy July 13, 2009

I helped an elderly gal a few years back and our first move was to clear out all her upper cabinets. No more climbing on chairs to reach anything!

Dona July 13, 2009

I always enjoy your design advice.

Jan Springer July 30, 2009

Thanks for the input, I especially liked the concept of emptying out the upper cupboards for ease of retrieval. Of course, that step has to be preceeded by some careful editing and decluttering.

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