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Modern Open Floor Plan Defined Plus Tips From Experts

Open concept view from living room
@nei.cruz / Twenty20

Turn on any home-design TV show and you’ll repeatedly hear the words “open concept.” Tearing down walls to create open floor plans for the living, dining, and kitchen area is what open-concept design is all about.

For some, separate rooms still hold their charm. But many homeowners today are taking a sledgehammer to their traditional floor plans so they can enjoy cooking, eating, and movie watching all in one space

What Started This Trend

Decades ago, homes were built with the notion that every room has a distinct function. You cook in a kitchen, so it was a separate room — often with a door. The dining rooms were formal. Living rooms were for entertaining or relaxing and were set apart from the kitchen.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, homebuilders saw the open living plan as a way to efficiently design a home using less square footage. Ranch and split-level homes became very popular.

Today, architecture and interior design still take their cues from economic considerations, but they also are influenced by cultural norms and a desire for convenience (multitasking, anyone?). We have blurred gender roles; both parents simultaneously share cooking and child-care responsibilities. And we live in tech- and the media-driven world in which catching up on the day’s news during dinner is not only acceptable but expected.

Benefits of Open Floor Plans

Open-concept living is a favorite for many reasons. First, it can make even the smallest space feel bigger and brighter. A small apartment with a tiny, windowless kitchen off the living room can be transformed into a light-filled space by replacing the wall with an island or table.

Entertaining is a breeze with an open-flow kitchen and living area. You can chat with your guests while you cook. Kitchen islands or tables that are typically used as room demarcations become a focal point for food and drinks.

A large “great room” is great for keeping an eye on your little ones, too. You can efficiently cook dinner or accomplish other household tasks while interacting with your kids. Placing a desk and computer against a wall or the back of the sofa makes the room even more multifunctional.

Challenges of Open Floor Plans

As much as we rave about the space, light and flow that a large, open room gives us, there are certainly some challenges. Obviously, some privacy is lost when you tear down walls and join everything together. Talking on the phone in the kitchen while your kids are watching TV could be difficult.

Losing wall space for your photos and artwork is another good reason to keep a wall intact. Fewer walls also means fewer electrical outlets; concealing wires in a large, open space can be tricky.

Finally, if you hate seeing a mess, open-concept living might not be for you, unless you live alone or have roommates who are also neat freaks. Toy chaos or messy kitchens are easily seen in open floor plans. Staying tidy, or at least having proper storage, is key for open-concept living.

Tips for designing an open floor plan

Use Furnishings and Lighting to Define Areas

Open concept dining room and living room
@opkirilka / Twenty20

Carve out separate functional spaces using furniture. For example, place a sofa backed with a console table outside the kitchen to delineate the start of the living room. Further define the living room by placing a rug in the center of that space.

Lighting also helps to define different parts of a room. Anchor a dining table with a chandelier, or place a large ceiling fan in the center of the living space.

Maintain Design Continuity

Open concept, luxury modern home
@ImageSupply / Twenty20

It may sound obvious, but maintaining an aesthetic flow throughout an open-concept living space is paramount. Fundamental design features such as flooring and recessed lighting should be consistent. Color palettes in different spaces should complement one another. Add layers of texture and different hues for highlights and accents.

Open plan living area with hardwood floor. Luxy Images / Getty Images

Create a Feature in Each Area

Open concept view from kitchen
@fallonwes/ Twenty20

Creating a standout design feature in each area will not only help to define each space but also make your room shine. You’ll need to decide on a focal point for the room, but here’s the catch: These spaces need more than one. Each of the separated groupings needs its own focal point to help draw the eye.For example, you might try a gallery wall in the dining room.

Lighting is a great choice for this. Hang an oversized chandelier in the living area, think about using eye-catching fixtures as a way to anchor each of your usage areas. Alternative options could include statement pieces of furniture, fireplaces or architectural elements like built-in shelving.

Have fun and give each functional space a complementary personality.

Keep the Space Open 

Kitchen with light blue tile backsplash
Breadmaker / Shutterstock

One of interior design’s best-kept secrets is that negative space — or the empty area around each element — is a crucial component of all successful layouts. This is especially true in open concept areas.

Be stylish but strategic with placement; don’t clutter the sightlines with tall bookcases or inappropriately large furniture or accessories. For example, an arch lamp over the sofa that blocks the view of the kitchen wouldn’t allow for a free flow of conversation. Also, be sure to keep windows and natural light unobstructed.

For this reason, most open-concept spaces err on the side of minimalism. You’ll want to stay away from allowing too much clutter in the room since that can overwhelm the eye and blur the boundaries of your groupings. Instead, try to build your design around pieces that pull double-duty by providing both functional and aesthetic value.

It’s also used for creating pathways around the room. When planning out your space, allow enough empty space for people to easily move between each area. Not only will this make the room significantly more usable, but it will give the eye a chance to rest and refocus between each grouping.

Use color to coordinate everything

Open concept apartment with view from living room, blue accents
@egrigorovich / Twenty20

Though we’ve spent a lot of the article talking about how to effectively separate out each segment of an open concept space, it’s also important to remember the big picture. More often than not, these areas will be considered as one whole, so it’s critical to make sure all your design elements work well together.

Keeping a consistent color scheme throughout is the easiest way to do this. Since you’ll likely be covering a lot of square footage, we suggest sticking to shades that are easy on the eyes. Choose a neutral to be your dominant color and then one or two bolder hues to add pops of visual interest.

In addition to color, repeating similar prints, patterns and textures in your accessories is a great way to pull everything together. Though the items you coordinate may vary — and they could be anything from wall art to textiles or pieces of statement furniture — you’ll want to make sure that each grouping features at least one tie-in element.

The bottom line

Open concept spaces are great in theory. After all, they give you the freedom to tailor your design to fit your individual needs. That said, knowing how to bring your ideal design to life can present a bit of a challenge. That is why we’ve compiled a list of our best ideas on how to effectively design an open concept space. If you’re looking for more inspiration check out these stylish open floor ideas.

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