The Best Design Tips for Open Floor Plans, According to the Experts

Here's how to make an open-concept floor plan work for you.

Open floor plan kitchen and living room
Photo: Getty Images

Open floor plans are celebrated for helping a family feel connected and flooding a home with natural light, but they're notoriously difficult to decorate. In a big, open space without walls or a door, creating zones for cooking, eating, and watching TV—while still making everything look cohesive—can be a challenge.

Luckily, when creating the open living room and kitchen in the 2021 Real Simple Home, we had the help of two professional designers: Delia Kenza focused on the kitchen and Natalie Papier planned the living room. Here are their top tips for making an open layout floor plan work.

Keep scale in mind.

"If you decide to have an open floor plan, make sure you consider scale," says Kenza. "You don't want the kitchen to overpower the rest of the space. If you design a large kitchen, the area becomes all about cooking, and there is less space for lounging and entertaining, which is what an open concept is all about!" When considering the layout, devote ample room to each goal you've set for the space, whether it's reading, hosting dinner parties, or binge-watching movies.

Similarly, consider scale when selecting furniture, rugs, and other accessories. For example, a tiny sofa or dining table may feel out of place in a spacious open floor plan. Before buying new furniture for the space, outline the dimensions of the piece using painter's tape on floor. Some retailers also have apps with 3D visualization tools that let you virtually "place" the item in your space to make sure it fits.

living room with dark orange ceiling and green sofa
Christopher Testani

Define zones.

"When designing a space that is part of an open floor plan," says Papier, "I recommend using rugs and furniture to define individual areas." A large, comfortable rug creates a cozy landing and a visual divide between an open layout living room and kitchen.

"Paint is also a great way to help you define space in an open layout," she adds. In the Real Simple Home, she painted a vibrant stripe of warm orange paint (Bugle Call by Valpsar) along the living room ceiling. Consider painting a nook or accent wall in a contrasting color to separate a home office area just off the kitchen or to visually distinguish a dining area from the kitchen.

Gold stripe on ceiling in living room
Christopher Testani

Think about flow.

"A common mistake I see is when all the furniture is placed right up against the walls," explains Papier. "You want to avoid having 'dead space' by making different zones to help conversational flow and room functionality." Incorporate a mix of furniture that distinguishes zones—such as a sofa that faces away from the kitchen—and pieces that allow conversation to flow between the various areas.

In the Real Simple Home, Papier put that concept into practice. "Swivel chairs in the space allow you to connect with multiple focal points in the living room, foyer, and dining area!" Once furniture is in place and zones are set up, provide clear pathways and enough room to move through the space without bumping into anything.

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