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Open plan living

by Sinead Kelly

Open plan living is at its peak in today's architectural world. Everyone building a new home is seeking large, open plan living areas. Most of today's new builds are laid out so that the family room, kitchen, dining room and living room are open to each other for family interaction.

Open plan living

"Using two shades from the same colour family is the ideal way to create a sense of continuity in open plan living areas."

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Here lies the problem for many - how do you decorate these rooms that flow from one to the other without making your large areas all seem the same. Each area should have its own identity and character. By having the same flooring and wall treatment throughout, you do run the risk of blandness.

Firstly, choose your furnishings well. For each area of your open plan space, designate its function. For example, the family room's functions are usually watching TV, kids playing the Playstation, parents reading papers, dogs lying by the fire, drinking and snacking, napping and light entertaining. Make a list of all activities carried out in the area in question and the furniture you need for this space will become obvious. Do this for all of your areas within the open plan space.

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Quite ironically, the enemy of successful open plan living lies not within the decorating challenge but in the filling of the space. If a room is too large, furniture will seem lost, the space unfilled will create a lonely void and people will not enjoy being in the space. If you are still at the planning stage of your new build, cast an expert eye over the dimensions and reasssess the vastness of the area if in fact the largest of sofas disappear within the floor space. You may laugh and say there's no such thing as a room that's too big but if you cannot create a comfortable living space it's guaranteed you will shun the large, empty, lifeless room for the warm cosy den.

Once decorating, be clear about your preferred style. Don't have an ultra modern, sleek, stainless steel kitchen sitting beside a country style pine dining table. The open plan layout will not work unless the style flows. Walls will be running into each other so I recommend running with the same colour but define each area with different accent colours. The window treatments, fabrics and furniture do not need to be the same throughout but they should be co-ordinated accents and similar styles of each other. For example, the kitchen window may have a biscuit colour, linen, roller blind with a leather pulley. The dining area beside the kitchen can look stunning with leather chairs to match the pulley and the window/doors dressed with biscuit and stone linen curtains. Just because one window has a blind does not mean all others have to have blinds.

Link each area with artwork. If black and white photography with big white mounting and frames is your choice of art, carry it throughout the open plan area. Don't be afraid to use strong colours in the large areas. It will have the effect of bringing the walls closer together. If the rooms are very large, source large scale furniture. Avoid high street upholstery shops. Most of the sofas and chairs on offer are for small apartments.

Be sound conscious. Large areas create large noise and without enough soft furnishings to absorb the noise, the family area once coveted on the plans will turn into your worst headache. Avoid floated wooden floors that act as drums when three kids and the dog chase each other around the room. Interline the curtains for that extra softness. Place rugs under tables and pump up the sofa with loads of squishy cushions and wool throws.

Above all, think through and plan each area before starting. It will save you lots of time and headaches in the long run and your property will be a better place to live in.