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How to Decorate

6 Big Style Mistakes in Open Plan Living & Dining Rooms

freedom leather sofa in open plan living and dining room

Most of us have an open plan living and dining room. They’re par for the course in modern homes, right? But all too often I see a number of mistakes being made in getting them to look right. Not only look right, but function properly too.

So today I thought I’d put my professor glasses on, move them down toward the tip of my nose, and impart some of my decorator pearls of wisdom with you. Today’s lecture: the mistakes you’re making in your open plan living and dining room.

I promise it won’t be as boring as a real lecture. And I promise I won’t give you a pop quiz at the end. But do prepare to curb some of your wicked ways, because I reckon the following mistakes are ones so many of you have made over the years!

Open Plan Living and Dining Room: Major Mistakes

ikea living room with gret slip cover sofa and wingback armchair

Image via IKEA

1. All the furniture is pushed against the wall

So many of the open plan living and dining rooms I go into feel like kids at a school disco. You know, all the boys on one side and all the girls on the other with a great whopping gap in the middle?

All too often people feel compelled to push sofas right up against the wall when they don’t need to. Give them a little breathing room, especially if the space in question is large. Pulling them off the wall 10 to 20cm gives a sense of more room and airiness, which can make the zone feel more welcoming.

Dining tables also tend to be moved toward the wall a lot, as though they’re apologising for being in the room. Sometimes this happens because the dining table is too big. If that’s the case, I say it’s better to admit your mistake and buy a smaller one. Let it claim its rightful place in the dining room, with walking room around it and space to pull out chairs.

For tips on placing rugs under your dining table, check this post out.

Also don’t feel like a sofa can’t come off the wall and completely turn its back to a room. Often the open plan living room you’re in wants the sofa to face inward with its back to the door, but you’re possibly too scared to do it; worried it will cut the room off.

Don’t get bogged down by fear – try it! In many cases having a sofa cut across the zone can be the thing that defines the spaces as different rooms. Which brings me onto my next point…

coastal dining room with coastal pendants over dining table

Image via Freedom

2. The areas aren’t zoned or defined by anything

A lot of open plan living and dining rooms feel like one giant hall. Nothing apart from the sofa and table says that one zone is for lounging in, and one is for dining in. This is because the two zones haven’t been grounded by anything. Nothing says “this is one room, and over there is another”.

That’s not to say you want to make the rooms separate (the whole point of an open plan space is that you can seamlessly go from one to the other). But you do want to give them their own anchor.

A rug is the easiest way to do this in the living room. It’ll place an obvious border around part of the room to define it as its own zone. Depending on the size of your open plan living and dining room, you might want to put a rug under your dining table too. But just be careful if they’re right beside one another. Often it’s wise to choose just one of the zones to anchor with a rug.

Other ways to anchor a room include moving the sofa across the room to split it in half, which I’ve already mentioned above. But also try pendant lights over your dining table. This not only defines this zone and gives it purpose, but it also injects personality and gives the zone a focal point.

open plan living and dining room mood board

3. The multiple zones don’t speak to one another

Open plan living and dining rooms that sit side by side are like brother and sister. If there’s a kitchen thrown in too, then it’s like three kids from the same family. They look a little similar, but they’re not twins, right?

That’s how you should approach the furniture and decor in your open plan zones. You need elements in each room to speak to one another, but not feel too forced.

Above I’ve included a mood board I recently completed for a client of mine for her open plan living and dining room. Notice how some elements are similar, but it doesn’t seem obvious?

For example, I’ve got tan leather dining chairs which connect to the cushions I’ve specified for the sofa. Then, I’ve ensured the black pendant lights above the dining table speak to the colour of the legs in the coffee table, which will sit across the room from one another.

Of course, the TV unit and dining table top are of a similar material and colour. And then the blue tones in the dining room art that speak to the tones in the navy cushions that I’ve got for the sofa.

It might seem like an accident, but every single element has been selected quite intentionally so that when you’re in the open plan living and dining room, it feels resolved and harmonious.

If you need my help making your home amazing, click here for details.

dining room with green feature wall and blond timber furniture

Image via Freedom

4. You’ve gone too matchy-matchy with decor

Now, of course, things can go the other way quite easily, so you have to be careful.

The last thing you want to do in an open plan space is buy an entire set of furniture from the one store that all matches perfectly. This makes the room feel a little charmless, and it can often leave the room lacking soul and story.

The above snap from Freedom is a nice illustration. The blonde timber tones here are at maximum capacity for my likings. If the living room had a coffee or side table in the same material, it’d feel way too much. But good Lord is that sideboard amazing!

The other thing that this mistake does is make the room feel forced, and all of the same materials can overwhelm the room. Have you ever been into a room and thought, good Lord is there a lot of dark timber in here? I have. And it’s not a good vibe.

Instead, select pieces with variance in colour and material, but make sure they speak to another elements across the room. Remember, the pieces are like brothers and sisters, but not identical twins.

masculine open plan living room with leather armchair

Image via Sheridan

5. It feels a bit empty and incomplete

The minimalists will hate me for this, but I’ve already declared myself a hater of all things minimalism, so I’m sure they’re not reading.

One of the common mistakes I see made in open plan living and dining rooms is that they’re simply not full enough. Not enough furniture, not enough decor, not enough art. Simply not enough layers to create a sense of warmth. Every room should abide by my three-layer rule, remember?

People get so scared of committing to purchases (it’s called SSTD disorder) that their open plan zones end up feeling really incomplete. You can almost hear an echo when you walk into the space.

It’s not just a fear of purchasing, but it goes back to what I was saying earlier about everything being pushed against a wall. When you do that, there are great chunks of open space that you don’t use for anything. Unless you dance in this zone, which I fully approve of, fill it with something.

sheridan grey sofa in living room with white brick wall

Image via Sheridan

6. Furniture is too high for the space

The last thing I want to point out, because it’s a common problem, is purchasing furniture for an open plan living and dining room that’s too high. The main culprit here is a sofa with a high back. If you’re into a headrest on your chair, for example, chances are it’s not going to work cutting across a room.

In a zone like this, you can have a low-back sofa cutting across a room, but not a high one. A low sofa cutting across defines the zone and gives you a mapped out walkway around things. But your eye still glides over the sofa when you’re standing up. It doesn’t dominate.

But if you’re shopping for a sofa and want a high back on it, you can’t have it cut across a room. It’ll be too dominant and cut off the space too much. So do keep that in mind when shopping 😉

kmart grey upholstered chair in reading nook with timber shelf

Image via Kmart

What Issues Have you Faced?

I’d love you to share some of the issues you’ve faced in your open plan living and dining room. What trouble did you get into, and how did you overcome it? Share away in the comments below so other readers can soak up your pearls of wisdom.

Oh, and if you have any style questions regarding your own open plan living and dining room, drop me a comment below.

Chris Sig

open plan living and dining room layout ideas from freedom dark green feature wall

Thanks to the following brands for the images in this post: Freedom, Kmart, IKEA and Sheridan

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  • Reply
    Fiona - Perth
    5 July, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    I have just done today exactly what you advise in no.1! My beautiful dining table from my previous home was just too big for our open plan formal lounge/dining – it was always squashed to one side, too far away from kitchen and we never used it! I have finally packed it away (for our future next home!) and bought a smaller table – took nearly 3 years to be brave enough to get rid of the old table 🙂 Better late than never.

    • Reply
      Chris Carroll
      6 July, 2018 at 8:19 am

      Woohoo Fiona. I bet it’s a relief to pack the old one away and get something new that suits the space. And I bet you use the new one a lot more. Glad you finally did it 🙂

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