Whether it’s an open concept floor plan, a multipurpose space, or something in between, combination spaces pose a unique design challenge for most. After all, how do you delineate space, if at all, and manage factors such as sound, seating, color scheme, and design aesthetic between the two?
To answer the (many) questions that arise when it comes to this topic, we consulted interior designers from around the globe for tips on styling, what your design priorities should be, and 10 looks to take inspiration from.
1. Furniture as a divider
In the above open concept floor plan, Heather Mastrangeli’s team positioned the sectional in a way that “helps to divert traffic to create a cozy modern living room while allowing for intimate dining in a grand space.” By using furniture as a divider, the benefits of open plan living, such as community and flexibility, are taken advantage of without the space feeling like it lacks purpose.
2. Coastal casual
In the above waterfront condo intended to serve as a family retreat, Tracee Murphy and team “created an open concept floor plan and incorporated a large dining area adjacent to the living area” to take advantage of the space’s 360-degree views. As you can see in the photo above, an area rug underneath the seating arrangement denotes separation of the living space from the dining space.
3. Combination in small spaces
Whether you’re living in a big city apartment or your first studio, most of us are familiar with the necessity of creating multipurpose spaces in the home. For those working with dining room/living room combos in small spaces, Kristina Phillips advises “keeping a congruence in style.” In the above split-level home, Phillips created a custom banquette in the corner of the family room, with the adjacent family room’s built-ins doubling as a sideboard.
4. Uniform design
In the above open concept space, Nikki Klugh created a uniform space for a pair of scientists by utilizing mid-century modern design. “We used various materials, and incorporated shapes reminiscent of scientific elements, such as the chandeliers in the dining room that resemble atoms,” Klugh says.
5. Flexible transitions
According to the experts, multipurpose spaces aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, spaces that are able to easily transition from one purpose to the next (often referred to as combination living) are in this year, and can be spotted in the form of unique storage spaces, do-it-all furniture pieces, and more.
In the above space, Elizabeth Ryan and her team takes advantage of the open concept floor plan by factoring in the potential need for flexible transitions. “The casual layout of the furniture in the lounge side of the room makes for flexible transitions when the table needs to expand for larger parties,” says Ryan.
6. Similar colors and patterns
When Heather Mastrangeli was designing the above open concept space, it was important to her that the spaces flow, yet still have a clear distinction between them. “I designed a wainscotting detailing in the dining area to bring a higher level of formality to the space. In order to bridge the living room and dining room together, I used similar colors and wood tones in both spaces,” says Mastrangeli.
Additionally, Mastrangeli added upholstered dining chairs to create a sense of softness throughout the space, as well as long layered curtains and blue accents that repeat in both spaces to “provide uniformity without being too repetitive or matchy,” she said.
7. Add accents
In the room above, Elizabeth Ryan “features cheerful orange chairs that are the perfect spot for finishing a puzzle while watching a movie with the family.” For those looking to create continuity in an open space, repeated accent colors help to tie a space together. Accent colors can be added through pieces of furniture, bright paint colors, or small elements of home decor like pillows or curtains.
8. Continuity of materials and finishes
In the above Pacific Northwest open concept home, Rachel Waldron and her team maximized the home’s stunning views of the ocean by taking advantage of the its vast windows. As the client was looking for a summer and weekend home that could accommodate friends and family, Waldron’s team decided to accentuate the home’s open spaces to allow for gathering, using continuous materials, paints, and finishes, to aid in this effort.
The team used natural materials, a light color palette, and wooden shelving to make the home a light and airy space to gather.
9. Multipurpose furniture
In the above open floor plan, Robin DeCapua places a large wooden dining table in between the living room and kitchen that serves as a gathering place for both spaces. By strategically placing multipurpose furniture in between two distinct areas, the piece can serve both spaces.
Additionally, the continuous color scheme in the home’s white living room and dining room paired with the natural dark wood of the table emphasize the open concept floor plan while making the space appear light and airy.
10. Continuous flooring and wall colors
In the above living/dining room combo, Pamela O’Brien uses continuous floor, minimalist wall colors, and an overriding Mid-Century Modern style to help blur the lines from the kitchen to the dining room– and even back to the living area. While many use interior design tricks such as using furniture or carpeting as a divider between two spaces, some may want to accentuate the feeling of a purposeful open floor plan by using continuous room design techniques.
What should you consider when designing a living/dining space?
When designing a combination or open concept space, experts advise keeping comfortable seating, flexibility, and space separation in mind.
Elizabeth Ryan suggests “really investing in comfortable seating” in living/dining room combinations, as “by combining two strong gathering spaces, you are inviting family and guests to linger.” Ryan advises purchasing dining chairs that are upholstered and have backs, for maximum usage.
Additionally, Ryan suggests thinking about how you can keep your living space flexible for alternative layouts, in case your dining space occasionally needs to expand.
Heather Mastrangeli agrees, stating that “from a functional point of view, it’s important to remember that these operate as very different spaces… however, you can make them work with each other through clever designing with the finishes chosen. You should consider whether you would prefer the spaces to work seamlessly together, or be more clearly defined as separate areas.”
It’s important to remember that these operate as very different spaces… however, you can make them work with each other through clever designing with the finishes chosen.
Do you have to match styles between living room and dining room?
When it comes to matching styles between the living room and dining room, opinions vary. Some, like Elizabeth Ryan, say that “successful combination spaces will read as one cohesive space as opposed to different rooms thrown together,” as “no matter what the design style, you really can’t shift in the middle of a room and keep a comprehensive look.”
Others, such as Nikki Klugh, say that “you can change up the design style of the furniture and wall decor in connected spaces if you use similar colors. The shades don't have to be exact, but they should be in the same family.”
Kristina Phillips falls somewhere in the middle, saying that “in order to keep the two areas from looking mismatched, I would recommend keeping the areas similar in style, or complimentary.” For example, Phillips says that pairing a mid-century modern dining table with an ornate and dark Victorian bookshelf in the living area will look a bit awkward, but pairing that same dining room table with a Gustavian or Regency style bookshelf would “add depth and interest, yet still feel harmonious to the adjoining space.”
At the end of the day, however, whether or not you want to (or how much you want to) match styles in an open concept space depends on how much you want to delineate each space for separate use. Continuity between styles, or the lack thereof, can help indicate that the space is one great room, or two separate rooms that should be treated as such.
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