How to Master the Act of Separation in Open-Plan Spaces

The open floor plan – championed by early modernists Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, amongst others – is as relevant today in home design as it was in the early 20th century. But modern life still requires, at varying times, functional, aesthetic, visual and auditory isolation. The following examples explore the intersection of openness and isolation, showing how we can provide separation without losing the openness we crave.
Room within a room
The designer of this loft in Minneapolis skilfully addressed the idea of connected separation. Two freestanding leaf-shaped curved partitions conceal an office space in the larger room. The workspace is anchored in the thicker, heavier mass (on the right), while the floating screen wall conceals a collection of books. The freestanding object in space is sculptural and made lighter by the canvas-like floating screen.
The design reinforces the physical separation with different materials used on the inside of the workspace too. Here the warm backdrop of the wood tones picks up on the floor and creates a more intimately scaled space.

The room-within-the-room concept works well when the bounding walls of the space appear to float, as they do here. This allows the larger space a presence on the inside of the smaller space, and a sense of the smaller interior space when viewed from the larger room.

Thick wall
A freestanding partition can act as a container supporting the function of spaces. This integrated, thick wall can both conserve the open-plan layout and provide separation when needed. It works well in this kind of configuration, flanked by pocket doors. While the entire space isn’t open to the adjacent areas, it offers a sense of both openness and enclosure. The pocket doors make this marriage possible by lending the ability to completely close off the bedroom.
This freestanding thick wall element conceals a cooking area on one side and a serving benchtop facing the dining area. It does the heavy lifting here – it’s a visual backdrop, a functional screen for the clutter of the preparation space and a serving benchtop to keep traffic out of the cooking area. Because it floats in the space, it allows the full dimension of the room to be appreciated – open yet functionally separated.

This example offers only visual separation – it can’t be completely closed off – but it serves a public space, so it makes sense.

Small spaces benefit the most from the subdivision of space using the thick wall concept. Rather than making a small space even smaller, the architect here has chosen to use a freestanding cabinetry unit to provide storage, a small concealed changing area and a functional bedhead. By floating the unit and not connecting it to the ceiling, the feeling of openness and light is preserved.
Thin plane
Using thin planes to suggest subdivisions of activity in a larger space works well too. Centering the thin plane in the room allows for circulation at the edges and activity in the middle. Another option for the partition is to position it to one side, which would make the subdivided space feel more room-like.
The planar wall used to separate doesn’t have to be solid. Here a slatted screen bounds the stairs, but one could imagine this screen as a freestanding element in a larger room, positioned to act as a backdrop for various functions. The width of the slats and their spacing could be varied to achieve more or less openness.
Here the thin plane is composed of vertical slats separating the circulation from that of the kitchen. Again, the spacing and depth of the slats can be changed to adjust the degree of separation.
A fixed glass plane defines the circulation zone of this room and doubles as a guardrail for the stair. Glass partitions can be quite expensive, but the trade-off is a clean, modern material that diffuses natural light and helps contain sound. Custom etching the glass partition, as has been done here, can alter the degree to which one feels connected to or separated from the adjacent spaces.
Sliding walls
The flexibility this arrangement offers is really appealing. It allows for the transformation between open and closed when the need arises. This method is possibly the most diverse in terms of the types of problems it can address, including noise, privacy and how large a room feels. It also can change the amount of light a room receives and alter traffic patterns.
Using translucent materials to add privacy, both visual and auditory, while allowing light in is a great solution for interior spaces requiring privacy and daylight.

In this live-work space, the architects have cleverly designed a custom set of sliding doors that can close off their meeting space from the larger room. The striated plastic panels refract and diffuse the light entering the space, offer privacy and natural light, and limit sound transmission. They are a simple solution to competing requirements.

Fabrics
Fabrics and curtains, such as this metal mesh, are a unique alternative to the standard partition wall. They add a softer edge and come in a variety of patterns, transparency levels, materials and colours. This open mesh defines the stair volume, acts as a guardrail and permits light and air to flow freely between the floors. While this example is fixed, mesh can be used as you would regular fabric to divide spaces.
It takes surprisingly little to suggest the boundary of a space.
The visual weight of fabrics allows them to define spaces in much the same way as a wall, but they can be drawn out of the way very simply. They can help diffuse and absorb sound in open spaces too.
Open shelving
Bookshelves make excellent spatial dividers. Their density can be altered based on the number of books stored. If the clutter of the book spine activates your inner obsessive, you can use translucent materials to soften the effect, as shown here.
Shelving and cabinetry units can be used to partition space without the visual heft of a framed wall.
Hybrids
Combining pivoting full-height walls, doors, translucent screens, drapes and freestanding walls, this project has a variety of elements dividing the space while playfully hinting at their connectedness. Some walls are diaphanous, some are completely solid, and others are translucent. Etched glass walls are left bare or covered by layers of cloth or metal fabric, making for a rich sensory experience.
In this space the division is more straightforward. Sliding panels double as room dividers and movable gallery walls. The architect has deferred to the scale of the structure while offering sensible divisions with varying levels of enclosure.

Sit Down: What to Look For When Buying Kitchen Stools

I’m indecisive at the best of times, but choosing something as seemingly simple as a plain old bar stool simply bewilders me. I’ve been looking for stools to sit at my new kitchen bench top for about a year now. After spending every last cent on house construction, I had hoped that some op-shop/eBay/side-of-the-road type opportunities might have miraculously presented themselves. So far this hasn’t happened and my friends are complaining that there’s nowhere to sit while they nurse their wine and I cook dinner.
So I’ve had to weigh up the various options: A pop of colour in the mostly neutral kitchen palette? A natural look of wood and dark leather tops? A classic stool shape or more comfortable seat with a back rest for extended sitting? All one style and colour or a mix of coloured stools? With my concrete floor, I was unsure what would work best without my kitchen looking too much like a cafe or bar. Now that I’ve finally chosen, I’m ready to share my findings:
Cafe colours. These cafe chairs are modern classics and, given that stools can really break the bank, are a less expensive option than many. Choose them in one colour or go for a variety, such as the delicious mix in this modern kitchen, which looks great with the timber floor and stainless steel bench top. Notice how they are a match for the dining room chairs too.

Which kitchen stools would you like to own?

A splash of colour. In an all-white, dark or neutral kitchen, stools offer an opportunity to add a burst of colour. These green ones are perfect against the charcoal and tie in with the other verdant offerings throughout this kitchen.
Black and white. Or go for the very classic look of black and white. The dark kitchen stools here pick up on the black pendant lights in the otherwise white kitchen. Simple and lovely.

Read more: Kitchen Inspiration: 13 Wonderfully White Kitchens

Make it clear. Clear stools can be a great way to add seating while avoiding looking clunky or cluttered – because in some lights you can barely see them. This makes them a good choice if you have limited space.

Read more: Nowhere to Hide: Transparent Seating is a Clear Winner

Mix ‘n’ match. If I had a kitchen bench as long as this, I’d be mixing and matching too. Imagine this many stools all in one style and colour – it would be in danger of looking like an airport terminal cafe. But with all the different colours and styles, these look great. This can also be an economical way to furnish because you can be opportunist and collect what you find, painting the stools any colour you fancy.
Backless. The good thing about backless stools is that they help to create a seamless look and can be tucked neatly away under your bench top – also a better choice if space is an issue. The downside is that, if you’re intending to spend a lot of time on them, they might not be as comfortable as those with some back support.
Shapely. An alternative might be to choose the type of stools that are slightly moulded to your curves.
Another example of the moulded style, but I imagine the comfort level of these would really depend on the size of your, er, curves. My advice would be to spend a bit of time in store sitting on them and getting a feel for whether you would be comfortable lingering on them for a long time over a glass of wine and dinner.
A little support. A compromise is this type of stool which doesn’t have a full back-rest, but just a hint of one which might be enough to support your lower back.

Erik Buch bar stools: Great Dane Furniture
Full support. Or you can go for a nice big back rest that you can lean back into, ideal if you want to sit back and spend hours at your kitchen bench.
For a streamlined look – as well a back support – you can’t go past this beautiful shape.

Cherner stools: FY2K
The block. Another interesting shape and one that can look really good in a modern kitchen. While they look great, think of where you will rest your feet.
Get the height right. In addition to the shape you choose, finding the right height is important too, to maximise comfort. Typically, stools come in two standard measurements – 66cm should fit under a standard 90cm high bench top nicely, giving you plenty of your room for your legs. Another popular size is 75cm, which is better for higher bench tops. You want your knees to fit comfortably under the top – kids can always add a cushion to a lower stool. Before purchasing, measure the distance from under the bench top (the thickness of the bench top matters too) to the floor and ask the shop assistant which height is most suitable for you. The story below is a useful resource for crucial kitchen measurements.

Read more: Key Measurements to Consider When Designing the Perfect Kitchen Island

Configuration matters. Don’t try to put too many stools around your bench top if there is isn’t enough space. It will look too cluttered. Think about how much you will use the stools and what for – if it’s just for the kids to have breakfast or for one person to sit at and sip a glass of wine while the other one cooks, two might be just fine, as you don’t need to all be sitting there at once. You have the dining room table for that.

Sebastian bar stools: IKEA
A perfect pair. Even if you have a small bench top, consider adding a pair of well suited stools, such as the ones in this photograph.
Go solo. And even if you have room for only one stool, it’s well worth it. You can take the weight off your feet, while you sit and chop vegetables or you can bring your laptop and work or read a book while you watch something in the oven or on the stovetop. An added bonus is that it can be a way to bring some colour into a kitchen, like the one pictured here.
Go low. Not strictly speaking kitchen stools, but this is an interesting idea – instead of a high bench top, this one shows it’s possible to bring the bench down to table height and simply add dining room chairs.
What materials? When choosing the materials of your stool, consider functionality as well as looks and comfort – a leather top might be easier to wipe down and longer lasting than fabric if you have small children, for instance.
But also consider what else is in your kitchen. I personally don’t think the stools need to match the dining room table, but consider what material your kitchen is, to complement or create contrast. The timber stools here work with the kitchen, without being the same.
Go wild in the kitchen. In an all-white kitchen, choosing a pattern or unusual material for your kitchen stools is one way to really add a bit of wow factor.

How to Plan a White Kitchen That’s Anything but Boring

An all-white kitchen is a very popular choice amongst homeowners and renovators all around the world. And with very good reason. It’s a timeless, fresh, bright and sophisticated look. White kitchens are also very versatile and look great in any style, from sleek contemporary to traditional country style.
Choose the right shades
If you look closely, there are an endless amount of white shades to choose from, which, more often than not, baffle people from the very start.Shades of white can be separated into two main categories: warm and cool. Many whites have an undertone of yellow or pink, which fall into the warm category; whites with blue undertones are cooler. Keep an eye out for these undertones when choosing white materials for your kitchen, and be careful not to mix shades of white that have different undertones as they will clash.If your kitchen is very dark and feels cold due to the fact that it doesn’t get much natural light, consider a white shade with a subtle warm yellow or pink undertone to make your kitchen feel warmer. An ivory or very mild cream white would work great, too.

Add some warmth
One of the best ways to add some warmth to your all-white kitchen, without adding too much colour, is to add some wood. The look and feel of wood softens the starkness of the white and creates a homely aura. You could use wood features in the form of benchtops, or maybe even some feature cabinet fronts.
Adding accessories in copper colours will also add some warmth to the space and give it a timeless look.
Create the illusion of more space
Using white finishes in your kitchen is a great way to create the illusion of more space. White, and all light colours, appear to recede, whereas dark colours appear to advance into a space.By using white on all of your surfaces, such as doors, benchtops and walls, each surface will appear to blend into the next with no definitive lines.You could also use finishes that have reflective qualities. Shiny finishes will bounce more light around the room and will make the space feel bigger.

Add texture and depth
If you are opting for a completely white kitchen, from cabinets through to benchtops, splashbacks and walls, consider adding some texture to create depth.You could add texture by using tiles that have uneven edges, grout that is a darker colour to your white tiles, or with different finishes, such as mixing matte white cabinets with gloss white benchtops.
Another great way to add texture and depth to your white kitchen is to use doors and panels that have a routed profile as opposed to flat doors. The shadows cast by the routed profiles will add some depth and interest to the space while still maintaining a crisp look.
Add some wow factors
A white kitchen is the perfect blank canvas for any design statements or pops of colour you would like to incorporate into your kitchen design.Add bold flourishes of colour with accessories such as books, flowers or small appliances – all of which can easily be changed. Or, make your pop of colour even grander with a colourful splashback.
If you have some key designer pieces of furniture or cool accessories that you want to show off, displaying them in an all-white kitchen is a great way to allow them to take centre stage. The overall look of your kitchen can be easily updated with the addition of some new bar stools and different style pendant lights.
Create contrast
Add some striking contrast to your kitchen by using dark coloured flooring, furniture, wall paint or tiles.As seen here, a classic black and white colour combination never dates, always looks smart and sophisticated, and even accentuates the white look.
Add some bling
If you love the idea of an all-white kitchen but don’t want to commit to the full shebang, try adding some stainless steel, chrome, aluminium or any silver coloured items that will break the starkness of the white, and create a smart finish.You could add polished chrome handles, a mirror splashback or reflective silver tiles. Any finish that has reflective qualities will reflect the white colour off the cabinets and will make the room feel bright and airy.