Building & Renovating

5 Ways to Work With Open Layouts

Create functional nooks within a small space

Photography: Miguel Nacianceno (Main Photos)

Whether you live in a compact condo unit or a sprawling multi-storey home, having an open layout is one of the best options if you want to create an airy and spacious feel. Open-plan areas seem to let air flow freely and natural light to stream into the space with ease.

Aside from these wonderful advantages, open layouts also allow you to enjoy a multipurpose area that maximizes space—you can have a living area that flows directly into the dining nook or a living area that shares space with the bedroom. But while open plans seem to keep the home from looking too cramped, you still need to define the areas with minimal updates. Here are five ideas to help you get started:

1. Plan the layout of your furniture.

Interior designer Kimi Manuel shares that you need to identify the layout of your pieces in relation to the other areas of the home. "Place your dining/worktable near a convenient outlet, locate a bookshelf or a console close to the dining table where you can easily reach your materials during working hours," she says.

2. Use built-ins and area rugs to separate the different areas.

Many condo units highlight a kitchen with counter that also serves as a dining nook. This counter also helps separate the cooking area from the rest of the space. Aside from these built-in partitions, you can also count on area rugs to help define areas—for example, you can anchor the living area with a printed rug to separate it from the rest of the unit. If your dining and living areas are next to each other—you can separate them visually with the use of a buffet table or a low open shelf cabinet.

3. Maximize storage pieces.

Multiple items and everyday essentials can add to the clutter and disarray in an open layout. Prevent clutter takeover and keep your space spic-and-span by having enough storage pieces like shelves and cabinets. You may want to take your cue from the built-in niche and cabinet seen in the photo above. These don't take up space and can function as a pantry/bookshelf/closet in one.

4. Play with your walls.

Work around small, open spaces by experimenting with paint, colors, and wall finishes. In this 29sqm unit, the stylist defined the different areas by having a striped wall in the living and dining areas; and a solid aqua wall in the sleeping space. As an alternative, you can also mix-and-match paint and wallpaper to decorate your home.

READ: Expert Advice: 4 Ways to Work with Paint and Wallpaper

5. Make subtle partitions.

Perhaps one of the most important considerations we need to think about when working with open layouts is privacy. To achieve this while keeping the open plan, you can work with DIY dividers that make use of sheer white curtains, bookshelves, and even sliding doors. You have the option to work with a glass sliding door or a wooden one—just remember to keep it open when not in use to maintain the airy and spacious feel.

RL Tip: Aside from doors and curtains, you can also define the areas at home using lighting fixtures! Have a mix of fancy chandeliers, a set of droplights, and even cove lighting to separate one area from another.

READ: 4 DIY Room Dividers

Inspired by a snippet that originally appeared on the March 2016 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your  digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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