Tips and Tricks for Open Floor Plans

Mentor Kati Curtis, Principal of Nirmada, spills pro tips and tricks for open floor plans.>>

In the 1960’s and 70’s artists began converting lofts in New York’s SoHo warehouse district into live/work spaces. Over the past 30 years, cities around the the world have seen the practicality of the concept and have adopted it as their own. Here in Manhattan, where space is a premium and high style is a must, we’re often faced with the challenge of designing open planned spaces such as lofts. Whether it’s a loft in SoHo, or a Tribeca floor-through apartment it’s common for us to come up against a large space that must serve multiple functions. Commonly, these spaces weren’t originally designed as living spaces at all. We’ve developed some tricks of the trade to share with you on how to deal with the challenge of living large in open spaces.

1.    Address acoustics: Often times open plan spaces have high ceilings and hard surface finishes like concrete, wood floors, and plaster walls. The easiest way to address this is with the right window treatments and floor coverings. Softer materials can absorb sound, yet not detract from the open, airy, feel of the space. Carpets and draperies can add warmth and color to an open space and if done correctly, can emphasize the high ceilings and raw details. We prefer motorized drapery systems for large windows from Silent Gliss, and Mechoshade. This loft Master Bedroom also includes an acoustical headboard and Rya Rug from Doris Leslie Blau.

2.    Use light fixtures to delineate space: High ceilings and an open plan can make it difficult to create intimate spaces. Dropping light fixtures over certain areas – for instance over a dining table, can help add mood and intimacy to the space. Sometimes when warehouse spaces are broken up into rooms the scale is thrown off as the ceiling height can be higher than the room’s width, giving a disproportionate feel in the room. A statement light fixture from Flos dropped over this Living Area helps the room appear correctly proportioned.

3.    Storage can help define spaces: Our clients with lofts or open plan spaces are often concerned they won’t have enough storage in their space. We suggest customizing storage to help delineate spaces and accommodate storage needs seamlessly. If professionally designed, storage can be integrated into the architecture itself, so it’s not the focus of the room, but an added interior element. Especially if your open space doubles as your home office or play room, be sure to plan lots of storage to tuck things away when entertaining guests. In this Tribeca loft we designed, custom high gloss doors disguise storage beautifully and add reflection and dimension to the room.

4.    Open plan doesn’t necessarily mean “modern”: People tend to think that an open plan lends itself only to modern interior design. Lately here in NYC we’re seeing kind of a “loft backlash”, where new apartments are being constructed with “classic six” layouts and a more traditional style. We believe that open plan living responds to a more modern lifestyle, but can also have a more traditional look and feel. Traditional details like crown molding and raised panel doors can enhance the formal feel, but support modern, informal living. This open plan apartment overlooking Central Park includes traditional details like crown molding, mixing with modern furniture from Knoll and lighting from Foscarini.

5.    Open space as a metaphor: Home is where we should feel safe and comfortable. Opening its interior is a great metaphor for how we can approach the rest of our lives.  Do we want to be hermits and hide in our caves, or open ourselves and our hearts up to others and the possibilities awaiting us. Especially in the current economy, the open plan encourages us to invite friends and families into our home and spend more time focusing on what’s truly important in our lives!

An open plan can present design challenges that professional designers are adept at tackling. Consult a professional interior designer early in the process of designing your loft or open space to ensure proper layout, acoustics, and any structural changes you might need to consider.

Nirmada, author of this feature, is a Interior Design firm in New York City. Kati would love to talk to you about designing a space expressly for you.

You can also find a full list of all our global mentors [ who are top professional interior designers ] on our Mentors Page.

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