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There's power in flexibility

Is open concept over or does it just need to become more flexible?

Continuous wood floor and ceiling finishes in an open-concept home
This space by Amber Lewis is a perfect example of maintaining an open feel while also providing a sense of separation between spaces. The shared flooring and ceiling finishes let the eye travel between the living and dining areas seamlessly, while the partial walls provide space for storage (either built-in or freestanding furniture). Via @amberinteriors on Instagram

If we didn’t know it before the pandemic, we certainly know now that we all need home environments that provide a healthy balance between connecting with others and quiet solitude. Working and schooling our children at home full time have caused us to experience our previously beloved open floor plan spaces in a whole new way. With all the added noise, bodies, and multi-tasking, what was once ‘light, bright, and airy’ has started to feel more loud, crowded, and distracting!

Without boundaries to give us privacy and focus when we need it, our open concept homes just don’t meet some of our most basic needs. In light of that, many of us are questioning whether we should give up on open floor plan layouts altogether. At the same time, we’re not sold on a closed-in, chopped-up feel of homes with walled-off living, cooking, and dining spaces. But I actually don’t think we have to make this an either/or choice.

As someone who loves to find innovative design solutions for my clients, I’m excited to embrace options that provide both the privacy we crave and the light, airy, open feel we’ve come to love in our homes. These solutions create boundaries in our homes uniquely - redefining our spaces to better serve us today in supportive and flexible ways. The results are semi-open layouts that give our otherwise open-concept homes either permanent private spaces or the ability to create privacy as needed.

Screens and movable walls

By employing flexible boundaries in the form of foldable screens and other movable partitions, we can create the perception of privacy, even if not entirely blocking out the sights and sounds of adjacent spaces. While it isn’t a new concept, I am seeing new iterations available in the marketplace, including screens covered in luxe fabrics and featuring gorgeous details like nail head trim and other high end hardware. What a great opportunity to layer even more beautiful style into your space while creating a secluded space for focused work or even an impromptu reading nook.

When it comes to movable or retractable walls, manual options pivot on hinges or slide on tracks while motorized options glide open and closed at the touch of a button. With luxury materials and custom finishes, these solutions can be designed to integrate perfectly into a beautiful space.

Artfully configured panels as a room partition for an open-concept floor plan
As much a graceful architectural detail as a functional room partition, these richly finished panels make a gorgeous statement in this modern open concept home. Via

Sliding or folding interior doors

Like movable walls, sliding or folding interior doors can be opened or closed to divide your spaces at will. Options include pocket doors, bifold doors, Japanese shoji doors, and barn doors, which were made popular by the farmhouse design style trend. Pocket doors are great in areas where there isn’t room for a standard door to swing open but they do require sufficient wall space to retract into. Bifold doors, on the other hand, can be a great solution, even in compact areas.

Traditional shoji doors are made of a semi-opaque paper. This thin material is great in that is allows light to pass through even when closed, but they don’t provide much in the way of a sound barrier.

Options made with clear or frosted glass also allow light through but are better in at muffling sound. Despite their name, barn doors don’t have to bear a rustic style. In fact, they don’t even have to be wood. The barn door moniker refers to the mechanism - a track attached to the wall and rollers or another sliding piece on the door. I’ve seen this hardware used to beautiful effect with door panels made from frosted glass, art glass, and even metal.

Partial walls and room dividers

An arched pocket door divides two spaces in an otherwise open concept home
Like everything by Sutro Architects, this generously sized arched pocket door is a gorgeous feature and an ideal solution for this open concept home. Via @sutroarchitects on Instagram

Sometimes even just the suggestion of a boundary is enough to give your open concept home distinction between spaces. Pass-through windows are openings cut into permanent walls. You often see these used between a kitchen and a dining or living room, allowing for open sight lines and conversation while cooking. Sometimes they also have an option to be closed up with shutters or doors, making them even more flexible and functional.

Half walls and knee walls - though they don’t provide any privacy - can be great for defining two spaces, such as an entry from an adjacent living space. Whether built in or freestanding, open shelving units and trellis-like panels can separate spaces while providing decorative appeal and letting light and sound pass through - even if they run from floor to ceiling.

Hidden storage solutions

If you’re going to divide your open floor plan home into other designated spaces like an office or schooling area, you also need to add hidden storage solutions to accommodate all the items that go along with those functionalities. We’re intrigued and inspired lately by our clients’ requests for hidden storage and are always creating highly customized solutions for the work around in their homes. Everything from lidded storage baskets on wheels to custom built-in cabinetry, and even “Murphy-style” desks that fold up into the wall can give you access to the items you need without disrupting your work flow. Then when your work is done or when you’re ready to entertain, you’re able to tuck everything away and close it up out of sight.

Hide-away desk space in a multi-purpose living space by NB Design Group
This hidden desk area solves the problem of keeping work time and personal time separate at home. Via @nbdesigngroup on Instagram

Whatever solutions you choose, avoid the allure of open shelving and glass-front cabinets, as these only look good when displaying matching or carefully curated collections of items. Closed storage is what you want when it comes to functional items that are less than display-worthy!

It comes down to a semi-open concept

Whether working with an existing open concept home or designing a new home, we’re finding the key to helping our clients balance connection and solitude in their living spaces is to give them flexible, innovative, highly customizable spaces. By providing a sense of boundaries for when privacy and focus are needed and keeping openness that allows for connection and interaction between spaces, they get a innovative, semi-open concept homes that work ideally for how they live today.

If you live in Marin County, CA or anywhere in and around the San Francisco Bay area and want to know more about how we can design custom spaces for how you live, reach out to us here.


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