The penchant for open-concept layouts extends far beyond necessity. It’s not that all people need a kitchen that opens onto their living or dining area but they do want it. And it’s not hard to imagine why. Open floor plans increase spaciousness — or the feeling of it — and tend to support a better flow of light, air, and conversation. This openness is usually not applied with reckless abandon, though; in fact, in most cases, the layout will be “zoned” with different areas taking on different primary functions. Furniture, as these designs illustrate, is an easy but effective tool for zoning a room.
Part Bookshelf, Part Wall
Bookshelves are a popular choice for zoning a room because they are the optimal wall impersonator. They are tall, sometimes even reaching floor-to-ceiling, and they mark a clear divide. Yet, they are not walls and, whether fixed or moveable, they offer some perks a wall does not. Take the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in this Krakow apartment designed by Karolina Chodur and Malwina Borowiec of pigalopus. The customised IKEA unit creates a more private sleeping area off of the living room while keeping a sense of lightness and openness to the design. A ceiling-mounted projector screen is aligned with the top of the shelf and can be pulled down for movie nights.
Our goal was to make the living room area as spacious as possible. Then, it was important to divide it into some smaller and comfortable zones without adding any new walls. We didn’t change the floorplan, instead we chose to use furniture to divide the space.”– Karolina Chodur
Interior designer Kateryna Gonchar did something rather similar in her Berlin apartment as well. Limited from making any structural changes because it was a rental, Gonchar devised a back-to-back IKEA wardrobe and bookcases system in the living–dining–bedroom. The unit allowed Kateryna to create a tranquil, semi-private sleep area that is tucked away from the equally cosy lounging zone. Mirrors were added to the siding of the bookcase and wardrobe to make them look like one unit, expand the feel of the overall space, and reflect natural light throughout.
Those of you who have read our NTS Essential Guide to your Living Room will have learned how bulky furniture such as sofas can act as subtle barriers or dividers for zones. This is a trick architects Ophélie Doria and Edouard Roullé-Mafféïs of Space Factory applied when designing their small family home in Paris. The line between the zones for eating and relaxation is marked by a back-to-back seating arrangement: the sofa faces a coffee table and chairs while, directly behind it, the dining room bench faces the kitchen. The architects ensured both pieces of furniture were the same height and width to make them almost feel like a single unit.
The Lyon home of Maxime Hurdequint and Mary Bravard from MURA Architects is another example of couch-as-zoning. The sofa, which doubles as an extra bed for guests, divides the room in two, allowing it to expand and contract depending on whether people are spread out across both zones or huddled up together in the living room. Hurdequint and Bravard augmented this feeling with their design decisions across the room, using a low-profile, unobtrusive aesthetic in the kitchen to further unite it with the living room.
In an even smaller space, like this colourful Kyiv apartment, a sofa with a lower height was placed against a raised dining bar as it allowed the resident to have distinct seating areas without creating a visual block in the room.
Two Zones, One Aesthetic
Something that is important to bear in mind when zoning a room with furniture is the decor. The cohesiveness of the space as a whole can depend on considerations like the rugs, lighting fixtures, shelving, or overall aesthetic disposition. This Paris apartment is a prime example of that. With a single room serving as the kitchen, dining, and living room, architect Bertille Bordja of ovo/studio knew that after function, a unified aesthetic was a priority. The Toga sofa that partitions the room was used as a touchpoint for the kitchen design, which features subtle nods to the ’70s through its curved edges and richly toned oak cabinets.
Check out Room Dividers in Small Homes for more zoning solutions.