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June 01, 2013

Wide open spaces

Tips for decorating open concept spaces

Jessica Patterson

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The popularity of the open concept in both new home and condo design has done away with the partitions in the main floor of the home. In one way, it is a liberating concept that makes the home more suitable for entertaining large groups of people, but it does present a few designing challenges.

With the living room flowing right to the dining area and the kitchen, there are no clear demarcation lines that will guide owners in finding just the right positioning for their furniture. Designing and decorating the home can be downright intimidating for some, so here are a few tips on how to properly utilize your open concept home.

The most important thing, if you have to tackle open concept space yourself, is to think of it as a puzzle, says Susan Kennedy, of Kennedy Interior Design Inc. Kennedy, who has been designing home interiors in Calgary for over 20 years, says homeowners need to look at their options and how pieces are going to fit together.

“The nice thing about open concept is that it gives you a lot of flexibility,” she says. “What I like about open concept is that you can change your furniture layout easily.”

For example, living areas with a fireplace can easily change their look by making the fireplace the focal point in the winter, and then rearrange them in the summer to centre around the outside window, she says.

If you don’t have a fireplace, any statement piece of furniture can take its place in an open concept area, which can influence the layout of the room. Room size, shape, and level of formality will also help determine placement of furniture.

Living rooms, great rooms, dining areas and kitchens are all places people gather for entertainment, and they’re most often visually open or separated with a half wall. The first step to designing and decorating such a space involve a thorough review of the homeowner’s needs and spatial requirements.

Seating for six requires a little less planning than seating for 15 in conversation. Another option is to allow space for pulling up chairs or reserving area for standing room.

“Also when you have open concept, colour flow is very important because all three areas need to be related,” Kennedy says. “Colour is the easiest way to achieve flow between spaces.”

From dark, and neutral, the trend for 2013 is colour. Adding bright splashes of colour.

“We’re moving away from the neutral, no-personality look,” Kennedy says. “I find clients are looking for a lot more colour. Whether it’s something temporary like painting an accent wall, I always advise to be bold on a carpet, pillows or throw cushions, artwork, things that can be moved around and aren’t lifetime commitments.”

Interior designer Natalie Fuglestveit designs spaces and environments to meet her clients’ needs. “Environments appeal to people differently,” she says.

Storage in open concept spaces must be taken into consideration, when designing and decorating, Fuglestveit says. “Everything should have a multi-functional purpose,” she says. “Make sure the pieces you choose are multi-functional and inter-changeable.”

After determining your needs and uses of the space, plan lighting to support those needs. Perhaps the far corner of your open space is a living area and will be the future home of great, intellectual conversation, and thus need ambient lighting and perhaps a couple of smaller reading lamps or recessed lights.

Like everything else in your open concept space, layer lighting. Sconces work well in pairs to create balanced ambient lighting. Rooms with higher ceilings would do well to have pendant fixtures, perimeter lighting or tall lamps. Top your dining table with a chandelier to bring the space together.

Keep your centre lines and sight lines in focus. If you’re planning a casual living area in an open concept space, your sofa should be centred with your television.

Sofas, chaises and sectionals are great ways to segregate spaces, Fuglestveit says. “Anything that has a visual corner.”

Doors and passageways influence the flow of traffic through the space and are important to keep clear. They will also influence placement of furniture, though in an open concept area, there are fewer of them, which has a significant impact upon the use of the space.

Larger and oversized furniture have become increasingly popular in recent years,.

“You could take an oversized piece, like an ottoman, and have smaller pieces that work around it,” Kennedy says. “You can certainly have bold statement pieces, it’s just how it balances with the other elements in the space. It could make the difference between a space that is pulled-together, or a space that looks awkward.”

The most common mistake homeowners make is not having a professional help with the layout. Having a couple of hours with a designer is helpful because they can suggest scale of furniture for the room. “Too often people don’t have a concept of how much space they have,” Kennedy says. “They end up buying pieces that are too big or too small for the room.”

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