We signed off for the weekend, escaped to the mountains to go skiing, and took Saturday & Sunday off to rest. It feels like 2021 has been really busy so far, which has been awesome for work and the shop, but it was wonderful to slow down and take some time to recharge and rest! After sharing my 2021 trends post a couple weeks ago, a TON of messages rolled in regarding open concept spaces. I knew that was going to be a hot topic, as open concept floor plans are very prevalent. If you live in a home with an open concept floor plan, I wanted to share some styling tips (many of you requested this post). I’m sorry if my trend post caused you worry, stress, or any negative emotions toward your space… I’m all for living in a home YOU love (regardless of trends). Unless you’re really not feeling your open concept home, hold off on building those walls. I’m going to share some designer tricks for making open and airy houses feel more inviting, cozy, and intentional with well-defined spaces. There are always exceptions to trends, so consider this another reminder to do what feels best for your home, family, and preferred aesthetic. Take trends with a grain of salt. Open floor plans are the perfect example. While they’re not my personal preference, I’ve seen lots of them done very well- it’s all about context and good design. Click through for five tips on styling open concept spaces, if you’re interested…
I’ll admit, I haven’t lived in an open concept home… therefore, I’m sharing awesome examples from talented designers (sources are all linked, if you’d like to explore their portfolios) throughout this blog post!
1. Clearly Define Each Area
My biggest trick for creating designated areas within an open concept space is area rugs. They act as a physical and aesthetic border to contain furniture and clearly define “rooms” within the larger great room. While each vignette within the open floor plan probably has a specific function (seating / living space, dining area, etc), make sure the furniture feels unique, yet cohesive. The goal is to create clearly defined areas, that feel like they’re all apart of the same family. I’m not a fan of matching furniture, but you do want to make sure the scale is consistent. You can also use larger pieces of furniture to help define specific areas and act as physical barriers. For example- a sectional, sofa, or extra long dining table creates vertical separation within the room, while area rugs provide horizontal boundaries.
2. Create an Intentional Floor Plan
Negative space is often the culprit in making open concept spaces feel cold, unbalanced, and not as cozy. Without walls to help define smaller spaces, it’s important to think of your open floor plan in zones- determining how each zone will be used. Making the room feel intentional and functional will help you fill negative space and create an inviting room intended for many uses (lounging, dining, etc). Ask yourself how you want to use each space and move your furniture accordingly. Step back and take notice of negative space… how could you fill those awkward gaps? Perhaps a console, etagere, curio cabinet, or demilune table? Maybe a corner near a window lends itself nicely to a large, interesting tree? Extra large “great rooms” are often difficult to style or fill because of the square footage. Pulling your main furniture away from the walls (floating within the space) will also help make the room feel more inviting. The bottom line? Sketch out a smart floor plan that is functional and try to fill negative space.
For more on floor planning, check out this video tutorial that shares how I floor plan and what software I use. There are also a lot of great floor planning examples in this post.
3. Make Up for Lack of Wall Space
I’m an art lover and that is often what I really miss in open concept floor plans- personality. The lack of wall space means less room for architectural interest (like built-ins or shelving), oversized artwork, or gallery walls. Adding interest and personality to open concept spaces is always a good idea! Have you ever considered filling negative space with a pedestal? Perhaps you buy a sculptural piece of art instead of a painting or a print. You know I’m partial to busts, but you could easily style an urn, a vase, a branch, plants, or something sculptural on a side table or pedestal. All of these will add some nice height to the space. Find ways to add interest and inject your personality into the room.
4. Embrace Textiles
We’ve already talked about area rugs, but window treatments, upholstered furniture, pillows, and throws can really make a space feel cozy. Don’t underestimate the importance of incorporating textiles into a large, open concept room. I enjoy seeing dramatic drapery panels that soften a space. Textiles also help the acoustics in large rooms making them feel cozy, inviting, and sound much better.
5. Incorporate Lighting Into Each Vignette
Many open concept spaces or great rooms (especially with vaulted ceilings) lack an opportunity to install overhead light fixtures. Lighting is a huge part in making a room or vignette feel cozy, inviting, and functional… be sure to consider lighting for each vignette or designated space within the larger room. Conversation areas could benefit from floor or table lamps, since wall space is difficult to come by (meaning no sconces), if you do hang art on an available wall- emphasize it with a gallery light. If your ceiling allows, drop a pendant or chandelier over a seating area or dining space for a more dramatic effect. Always add more lighting than you think is necessary- especially in really large, open concept rooms. It’s good to have options and fill negative space!
Let me know if you have questions or want to brainstorm additional ideas for open concept rooms! I’ve seen them done really well. Is there a designer you love who is amazing at open floor plans? It might be helpful to tag them in the comment section below, so we can all get inspiration! I do think floor planning open concept rooms can be more challenging, but once you figure out what works for your family and home, it’s smooth sailing. There are also plenty of benefits to open concept spaces, so please don’t let my trend post scare you away. Again- it all boils down to personal preference! Our differences and design aesthetics are what keeps things interesting.
PS. I’m still catching up on blog comments from last week because there were many more than usual- but I’m working my way through them. I just wanted to let you know if you have yet to hear from me, that’s why! I’m hoping to wrap them up today and tomorrow. I truly appreciate each one and I love chatting with everyone. I’m always happy to talk design and answer questions. It has just been a bit more busy than normal. As always, thanks for your patience while I take the time to respond. Here’s to a great week ahead! I’m looking forward to it.
PeggiJanuary 18, 2021 at 4:21 am
All great tips! We certainly don’t have an open concept home, but rugs, lighting and furniture placement helped define zones in our very long living room. In addition to the difficulty with lighting and art placement, my color-loving self would struggle with painting walls in an open concept space. Honestly though, some of the problem I have with these spaces is that they are just so vast. I think I prefer homes of a smaller scale…although I’d love a slightly bigger kitchen. (And taller ceilings maybe.🤣)
How nice that you took some time to relax and recreate! Refueling is important. Cheers to a fine week!💜
SarahJanuary 18, 2021 at 2:11 pm
I’m all about the zones! I do love having wall space- to paint, to hang art, to install beautiful window treatments, etc. My personal preference is a smaller room, but hopefully this will be helpful for those with “great rooms” are giant spaces to fill. It can be a real design challenge! Write me down for team tall ceilings and cozy rooms :) It was a wonderful weekend spent unplugged. I hope you had a good one, too! I’m off to the fabric store. Happy Monday, Peggi! xo
Amy PeaseJanuary 18, 2021 at 8:21 am
My issue is that our open concept space is NOT huge like all the photos I’ve seen. Kitchen, dining, living all in one. The only heads scratcher for me is the living room area. I don’t love the look of a couch up against a wall, but it’s either that or narrow the walking “path” through the space. I’d love to see a post on accent walls – Dos and Don’ts.
Thanks for another great post!
SarahJanuary 18, 2021 at 2:16 pm
It totally depends on the space, Amy! For traffic paths… I go anywhere from 22″ (minor traffic paths) to 36″ major walkways. Sometimes it just takes moving furniture around and experimenting with difference floor plans before you find the one that works best for your home. As for accent walls, I’m actually not a fan of the accent wall. My preference is keeping all of my walls in a room the same color. I do love contrast trim, interesting wall treatments (like grasscloth), and adding interest in other ways though. I’m not sure if that’s helpful, but this might be another “do what you love!” situation. Haha :) xo
LaurenJanuary 18, 2021 at 8:52 am
These tips are all very helpful! I’ve been deep diving into Pinterest for inspiration for our house, but one area of our home just throws me off. While we don’t have an open concept per se, we do have a great room-with enormous cathedral ceilings. I’ve struggled with furniture placement in this room mainly because of one very odd corner that is at an angle, the large windows and odd blank wall areas. I’ve spoken about this room before and discussed with you the possibility of switching up it’s function. I can’t stand seeing a dining table when I walk in the front door. I’d love to move our sectional into this room, and find or build a lovely media storage space, and have built ins on one of the walls with a conversation area (four chairs and a round coffee table) for more seating. The problem is there’s little to no wall space for artwork (how do I inject visual interest?) because of all the windows (two of which make absolutely no sense), and our patio entry wall, which is a sliding door with massive windows above. It’s such a difficult space for me. And Jeff’s massive safe doesn’t help. He had it placed right in the middle of the main blank wall “separating” the two rooms, which ended up not being functional at all. I’ve wondered about moving it, and putting built ins around it (would that be weird?) and possibly hiding it behind a cabinet door. This room gets me all over the place. To boot, there’s a massive lack of electrical outlets in the entirety of the space. There’s only four, and three of them are all on the same wall. 😖😖 When I do find a solution for this space, it will definitely be puck lighting for the win! Lol. Annnnd…let’s talk about bullnose corners! Must have been a man that dreamed up that royal P.I.T.A.! 🤣😂 No woman would have masterminded such hell. Lol. However, I did find out that what I ended up doing to separate one wall from the other with contrasting paint colors was actually right 💪🏼…I still don’t know how or why I came up with it, but I was diving into all things millwork this weekend and discovered a bunch of tips for this. That’s the other struggle I have. If I had my way I’d rip out all the bullnose and do proper corners, but it would be all wrong for my house. The bullnose does soften up what would be very hard angles and a ton of them, and in California, that’s an upgraded feature for new home builds. So from a resale perspective it would probably be dumb on my part to change it. I have all the confusion and all the questions today Sarah! I wish I could just hire you to come make this space the vision I see in my head. Lol. It’s a lovely morning for design conversation! I hope your week is off to a lovely start. I’m enjoying no school today (wahoooooo).
SarahJanuary 18, 2021 at 2:28 pm
I feel like I need photos! :) I love your idea of built-ins to add visual interested and disguise the safe. I think that would be awesome. Maybe it’s behind closed cabinet doors or you can find a way to hide it. Those things are SO heavy to move. We have one in our garage that will have to be sold with the home someday! Lol. We have bullnose corners all over the place here, too. The struggle is real. Turning those into hard 90 degree edges really is a pain and big expense. Based on your house, it might be smart to leave them. They’re totally out of place in my house, but I feel like they could work with yours. I’m always amazed how helpful paint can be in situations like that. It sounds like you’re one step closer to figuring it out- way to go, Lauren! Creating the home we envision is kind of like one big puzzle, isn’t it? I think that’s part of the fun! Hey, I could use a trip to CA… I miss traveling. Ha! Hope your week is going well so far! It has been busy over here and I’m about to run to the fabric store. I’m planning more pillows for the shop with my grandma :) xox
JoJoJanuary 18, 2021 at 11:10 am
I could’ve used this a couple years ago! After some trial and error I finally feel confident I’ve nailed the layout of our awkwardly shaped open living area, but I am still working on styling. It’s taking a long time to collect things that I love and work together in the space!
My #1 challenge at the moment is rugs. I impulsively jumped on a vintage runner a couple years ago and have had SO much trouble finding two large area rugs to compliment but not match or compete. Both Studio McGee and Amber Interiors pull this look off seamlessly and I find a lot of inspiration from them. My problem is I don’t have their budget – and finding vintage rugs in the right size and color palette that don’t cost as much as my car can be a very time consuming feat. I’ve considered going more neutral but feel like these specific spaces need character and contrast.
Any tips?? I’d love to send a photo and have you solve it for me!!
SarahJanuary 18, 2021 at 2:32 pm
I love hearing that! It sounds like you’re in an awesome place. It really does take a long time to collect things that work well together in a space and bring you joy. Creating a beautiful room or home just takes time! Rugs are tough. Vintage rugs are mostly odd sizes and extra large area rugs are expensive. I hate to say patience again, but the right one will eventually appear :) When mixing rugs, I like to make sure there is plenty of contrast (color, pattern, texture, etc). If they’re too similar, it doesn’t work well. I love your idea of inserting color or rugs with more personality! xo
BrittanyJanuary 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm
These are good ideas to keep in mind. I don’t exactly have open concept spaces, except that my great room has vaulted ceilings that open to the upstairs and what we call the kids’ loft. So it’s not open-concept per se but just kind of feels like it. It’s been interesting thinking about painting such an open area, but living here has made me change my mind on hardwood floors on the second floor. We definitely need to keep carpet to help absorb sound! Boys are loud! Anyhow, when you mentioned pedestals it made me think of William McClure’s home/barn space. I’m not sure exactly what all he’s got going on, but his Instagram page is fun to watch. It’s a mix of interiors and farm animals. Very quirky and funny in that way!
SarahJanuary 18, 2021 at 2:34 pm
Your bring up such a good topic in open concept spaces- PAINT! That is super tricky because the entire vaulted room has to be painted the same, so it influences your main level and upper level. That’s always a tough decision. I think that’s why we see so many light and bright open concept “great rooms”. I love William McClure! His commission stories were cracking me up last week, and the fact that he PAINTED HIS SOFA?! Hahaha!! He’s definitely a favorite.
FrannieJanuary 19, 2021 at 8:36 am
Sarah, thank you for this post! My problem is our little 70s ranch that is pretty open, is also pretty small and cozy.
After renovating our kitchen, we are completely re imagining our living room, which is separated from our kitchen by a wide opening we made bookcases out of. It’s kind of like the Amber interiors living room, but smaller, and instead of the lovely windows on the side, it’s a brick fireplace (painted white) and two smaller windows. It makes it really hard to figure furniture placement when a room is smaller and is also a walk through to the garage/laundry and hallway to the other. I’d love to see a post on small spaces/living rooms. Our whole house is only 1100 square feet. Most of the time I love it, but it is hard to work with sometimes.
CynthiaJanuary 25, 2021 at 6:39 am
Hi, I am currently have a home built with an open concept. Right now I am struggling to determine where electrical outlets should go since I will need some placed on the floor! How does someone do that successfully without knowing what furniture they will have yet?!?! That is my biggest struggle with an open concept plan… it’s like I need to be 10 steps ahead and almost wish I hired a designer to help me in this process!
SarahJanuary 25, 2021 at 8:54 am
Electrical outlets are tricky! I usually floor plan the general layout of the room and include those during the construction phase. For example- I know where the general seating area is, what size rug will work best, and plan the outlets according to that grid. Going by the rug size that fits is usually helpful for that! You definitely have to plan ahead for open concept spaces- it can be tricky. Hope that is helpful, Cynthia! xo
AmyJanuary 26, 2021 at 5:19 pm
I have an open concept home. When you walk through the front door, you see the entry way to your left and a “dining room” to the right. If you look ahead it’s the living room and to the right of that is the kitchen (past the dining room). I am planning on making the dining room, a play room and wanting to paint it a different color (moody playroom). Is there a rule of thumb or things to avoid when painting a room in an open floor plan?
SarahJanuary 26, 2021 at 5:49 pm
Hi Amy! There really aren’t any rules in regards to painting open concept spaces. It can be difficult to determine where the paint should begin and stop since there are fewer walls, but other than that- it’s really just personal preference :)
Cici HausFebruary 12, 2021 at 8:57 am
Our main living space is L-shaped with the kitchen on one end, the (huge) sunroom on the other and the (small) living room in between. My biggest issues were that there was so much wasted space between the living room and the sunroom, where we have single-cabinet built-ins on either side, and the sunroom was way too big to be just our dining room, but if you start to add furniture it got too bulky.
We just recently decided to move our dining table into the “walkway” between the built-ins and made the sunroom into a game room/second living room. It it so much better! There’s still 30″ walking space on either end of the table, and it filled that negative space.
SarahFebruary 15, 2021 at 9:30 am
Filling the negative space and finding the best traffic path for the flow of the room is so important, and makes a big difference. It sounds like you figured it out, Cici :)
Afton JacksonApril 9, 2021 at 12:47 am
Your tips about how to properly create a floor plan when designing an open-concept house were definitely helpful to read about. The idea of having a house that’s free to move around in is quite exciting, but I can see how this can be confusing if you don’t plan ahead. I’ll discuss this plan with my wife before we decide to hire a handyman to help us renovate our house to follow this concept.
SarahApril 9, 2021 at 9:11 am
I love hearing that, Afton! So glad it was helpful.