How to zone open plan spaces

Enjoy the benefits of a open plan living and discover how to create defined areas for different uses with this advice from Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead

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Moments glazed porcelain wall and floor tiles, £15.02 per m², Tile Mountain

There’s no denying that there’s been a huge shift towards open plan living in the last few years. As homeowners, we are now surrounded by the idea of how open plan can work in many homes, including classic terraced, semi- and detached properties, by recreating the spacious feel of large barn conversions, with tall ceilings and expanses of glazing, and loft apartments.

The allure of this style of living is strong, but it does come with certain drawbacks, including cooking smells drifting into a living area, noises being heard throughout the space and a lack of privacy if you decide to knock through to open up the entire downstairs. As interior designers, we are often asked about the pros and cons of open plan versus a standard, divided floorplan, and the answer is always the same: there are pros and cons for both.

Creating zones for cooking, eating, entertaining and relaxing is often the best way to make the most of the space and get the balance of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ plan just right.


Be clever with storage

Often overlooked, but best thought about when putting together initial plans for an open plan scheme, storage is a key element in the success of open-plan living. Remember, there’s nowhere to hide in an open space, so whether you have kids’ toys lying around, work files or countertop gadgets, they’ll all be on show unless you create areas to keep them hidden away when not in use.

Built-in storage, recesses built into a wall or curtained-off areas are a great idea, while a playroom or utility room if space permits, will provide plenty of space for kitchen items, as well as a place to house larger, noisy appliances, such as the washing machine or tumble dryer.

Make the most of alcoves and bench seating, too. Consider building in a dining area with benches, so that you can store goods in the seats – great for tablecloths, placemats and throws, as well as spare crockery.


Light your open plan space carefully

Lighting can have a transformative effect on a space and can be particularly useful in an open plan kitchen-diner-living room. Go beyond simply using spotlights across the expanse of ceiling, which can result in an unflattering downlight, and a few strategically placed table lamps, and think about a mix of lighting instead.

Choose a mix of low-level, wall-mounted backlights in units and to highlight features and ceiling pendants. Hidden LED lighting is a great, versatile addition to any living space: the newest designs are enabled with are a spectrum of colours, so you can be creative with it to match your scheme and distinguish between the ‘feel’ of different zones. If in doubt, always use a dimmer switch, particularly in dining areas where you may want to change the mood.


Mini button light by Pierro Lissoni, from £88 for Dia14cm, Flos

Soft flooring is the best for open plan spaces

Open-plan living rooms are generally large and carry noises and echoes easily, which must be a key consideration when choosing the type of floorcovering. Hardwoods, laminates and tiles will carry noise across the room, so carpet and rugs are a good solution.

A great way to zone a space, a large rug to fill most of the floor area will look great and help to reduce noise if you do choose a harder floorcovering beneath it. We tend to have large rugs made to measure, which can be less expensive than you may think, or try a high-street carpet store and have a large piece of carpet whipped or edged. If your designated living space is 3m², a rug should be around 2.8m² then get the rug made 2.8m square and place all of your furniture upon it.


Dragon Skin hand-knotted wool and bamboo silk rug in Buff, W180xL240cm,

Don’t be afraid to separate

Screens, freestanding shelving units and low-level partitions are all ways you can divide an open-plan living space, but still retain the feeling of a spacious and cohesive design. The great thing about open shelving is that it will give you the feeling of privacy but still allow for the feeling of light and enable you to still see into other areas of the space, plus is a great way of displaying decorative items to add personality and colourful accents that you’ll be able to see from all angles.


Pink Studio mix and match high-gloss enamel shelving unit, H85xW75xD20cm,

Keep your open plan look simple

Colour is the easiest way to link zones and also create a definite distinction between areas, and paint is often the cheapest way to achieve a new look and experiment with different shades. Always keep a colour scheme as simple as possible with a maximum of two or three shades.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be bold with your choices: pick tones of the same colour with the boldest shade becoming an accent. For example, if you like blue, pick your favourite shade and then look at the darker and lighter versions. The mid-tone will usually work best as the main backdrop, while you can highlight areas with the paler and focus areas with the darker hue.

We often paint a dark colour behind a TV as this helps them dissolve into the background and not become the focus of a room.


Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead are an interior design duo with big aspirations to change the face of interiors and push the boundaries of how we live in our homes. Design columnists and regular contributors to national press their aim is to ‘make living lovely’ by helping homeowners add unique style to their living spaces.

With a shared love of design, the duo set up interior design company 2 Lovely Gays, inspired by part of the postcode of their first home bought together in London, 2LG.