The open floor plan’s popularity runs back to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early twentieth-century designs. This unobstructed style can invite in natural light, maximize square footage, make a household cohere. But one of the most established and coveted layouts in American architecture is also one of its most misunderstood. Here two designers help you keep the open floor plan from becoming just a messy, amorphous space.

The Experts: Sara Emhoff, Board and Vellum; Shirin Sarikhani, Seattle Staged to Sell and Design

In the Zones

Emhoff and Sarikhani agree that having room-like sections in the larger area is vital. These zones—kitchen, dining, and living areas, for instance—can be defined by existing beams, corner areas, changes in flooring (wood to tile, rugs), groups of furniture, even a change in elevation. “It allows you to just not feel like you’re in some kind of open cavern,” Emhoff says.

Furnishing Space

Accepting that furniture is free to “float” without a wall behind it is the biggest hurdle for many people, Sarikhani says. Use rugs to anchor different zones, so it doesn’t feel like couches are strewn throughout the room. If you want to make zones a little less defined, though, ottomans can add more seating, but still allow sight-lines to remain free and flexible.

Corner the Mess

Most open floor plans incorporate the kitchen—“probably the messiest area of the house,” Emhoff says. Instead of placing the sink front and center, try to corral the mess in a corner. Placing the stovetop on display in an island is the best solution, Sarikhani says: “I’m cooking, I can still watch TV, I can see everybody sitting on the couch and talking.”

Opened and Closed

Openness needn’t be an absolute. While a wide-open space might be amenable to entertaining or familial togetherness, Emhoff recommends adding movable walls or folding doors for areas that might need to be stowed away, like offices and playrooms. “Those things can easily open if we want, and then they’re quick to hide for more privacy.”

What's in Store

While knocking out dividing walls might also knock out some closet and storage space, you can use this as an opportunity to get creative. Sarikhani recommends tucking blankets into an ottoman or coffee table. If you’re remodeling, says Emhoff, consider keeping a portion of a wall and creating a storage nook: “We always recommend going with a built-in solution.”

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