Dec­o­ra­tor tack­les open spa­ces

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If you watch those de­sign shows on TV, you’ll hear peo­ple talk­ing a lot about “wish lists” for a new home. More of­ten than not, one of the items on the list is an open-con­cept floor plan.

An open-con­cept liv­ing area is, for many, a mod­ern must-have — all the more so if they’re mov­ing into a mod­est ur­ban condo where it’s the only way to cre­ate a feel­ing of spa­cious­ness.

But you’ve got to pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the in­te­rior de­sign of any open-con­cept area. That goes dou­ble if it’s a loft, where the sleep­ing area is part of the mix.

“Open spa­ces have a unique set of de­sign prob­lems,” says Karyn Wat­son of Karyn Wat­son In­te­ri­ors, ex­plain­ing that the big­gest chal­lenge in a large space is defin­ing where the liv­ing, din­ing and other ar­eas will go.

“One big room equals one big look,” says Badr Ge­bara of Ottawa’s BluDot In­te­ri­ors, sum­ming up the ba­sic rule of de­sign for any open con­cept, large or small: con­sis­tency.

So when you’re work­ing with a big open space, you’ll make the most of it if you fol­low cer­tain guide­lines:

Floor­ing — In a big open space, the floor­ing is prob­a­bly the same through­out. The ba­sic rule for defin­ing floor spa­ces in a big open area is to use area rugs.

“Area rugs de­fine a space by hold­ing a group of fur­ni­ture to­gether,” says Wat­son.

But don’t go over­board, Ge­bara cau­tions. “A lot of peo­ple want to put area rugs all over the place,” she says, adding that too many area rugs cre­ates a busy look.

She says less in more: Limit your­self to one area rug, she says, and get a good one.

Colour — Ju­di­cious use of colour will help de­fine ar­eas and cre­ate moods. Con­sis­tency plus ac­cents is the ba­sic rule for colour in large open ar­eas. Choose a re­ally great neu­tral, says Ge­bara, and use it for most walls.

Re­mem­ber, she adds, that walls in open spa­ces can ex­tend a long way into other parts of the house. So be­fore paint­ing, fol­low the flow of all the walls and see where there are cor­ners or nat­u­ral breaks.

If you live in a vertical space, for ex­am­ple, you may find one wall that ex­tends up a floor or two and dic­tates colour choices in other ar­eas of the house.

Punch things up — and help de­fine ar­eas — by adding ac­cent walls in a dif­fer­ent colour. Says Wat­son: “Us­ing a block of ac­cent colour be­hind a fo­cal point — for ex­am­ple, mir­ror or paint­ing — cre­ates a fo­cus which helps to de­fine a space and break up long wall ar­eas.”

When you’re think­ing colour, don’t just think of the walls. Re­mem­ber area rugs, art­work and ac­ces­sories.

Ge­bara says hang­ing art­work in group­ings is an­other way to de­fine ar­eas and take ad­van­tage of the colour in the art.

Win­dows — The con­sis­tency rule also ap­plies to win­dow treat­ments, says Ge­bara. What­ever you use, use it all over.

Ceil­ings — You weren’t think­ing about the ceil­ing, were you? Yet in a big open space, the ceil­ing can be just an im­por­tant as any­thing else in help­ing cre­ate or de­fine ar­eas.

“Ceil­ing de­tails such as cof­fered ceil­ings and bulk­heads add el­e­ments that can be re­flected be­low without di­vid­ing the space,” says Wat­son.

Ge­bara will some­times punch up bulk­heads with an ac­cent colour if that’s use­ful in defin­ing a space.

Lighting — “Lighting is al­ways huge,” says Ge­bara. She sug­gests putting a chan­de­lier above the din­ing room ta­ble to de­fine the din­ing area. (Don’t for­get to in­stall a dim­mer switch) and us­ing lamps and pot lights to de­fine other ar­eas.

Wat­son also rec­om­mends those free­stand­ing flex­i­ble-arm lamps to help cre­ate zones.

Fur­ni­ture — Fur­ni­ture group­ings are key to defin­ing ar­eas in open spa­ces. Benches, desks or even screens can cre­ate tran­si­tion ar­eas, says Wat­son.

But open spa­ces, by def­i­ni­tion, won’t have as many walls as smaller rooms so you have to find fur­ni­ture that looks as good from the back as it does from the front, and that can be used to sep­a­rate liv­ing ar­eas.

Ge­bara likes sec­tional so­fas, which she says look great when they stick out into a room. If you don’t want a sec­tional, cre­ate group­ings where peo­ple can chat eas­ily.

Re­mem­ber to keep your style con­sis­tent: Mix­ing mod­ern liv­ing room fur­ni­ture and a Vic­to­rian din­ing room suite in one room will be jar­ring.

And if your space is small, con­sider multi-pur­pose fur­ni­ture. One ex­am­ple is a cof­fee ta­ble that can be cranked up to din­ing level when needed.

Clut­ter — One fi­nal thing to re­mem­ber in an open-con­cept space, adds Ge­bara, is to keep clut­ter in check. Af­ter all, when ev­ery­thing is out in the open, you just can’t close the door on your messy room.

Get fur­ni­ture that dou­bles as stor­age: a cof­fee ta­ble with a drawer where you can hide the re­mote when com­pany comes, or shelv­ing units with space for all your stuff. “You’ve got to keep things organized,” she says. “That’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

De­signer Badr Ge­bara says us­ing large area rugs, like those at Ottawa’s L’il Stool House, helps de­fine open spa­ces.

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