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How to Style & Layout an Open Plan Living Dining Room: 10 Tips to Get it Right

Eager to know how to style and layout a living dining room so it flows and functions beautifully? I have all the tips you need to furnish your open plan space at home just right. 

Most of us have an open plan living and dining room these days. They’re par for the course in modern homes. But all too often I see a number of mistakes being made, with so many of my design clients not knowing how to correct them.

Often these mistakes are visual, style mistakes (like the wrong colours or patterns or furniture shapes). But then there’s also a number of open plan functional issues at play that make your living and dining room harder to use day-to-day.

If you’re nodding along to a lot of what I’m saying, this post is going to sort you out. Below I’m sharing all of my open plan living and dining room design tips, furniture advice and layout hacks to make this zone of your home a stunner.  

living room with white sofa and pink and maroon cushions from metricon display home
via metricon

1. Don’t Wedge Furniture Against Walls

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.

This is particularly important when it comes to sofas and windows. If your space is big enough, leave a good 60cm gap behind your sofa, between it and a window. People often worry about furniture cutting across a window. But if you give it a larger gap, it feels more intentional and refined.

moody abstract art in dining room with glass top dining table and grey chairs

2. Create Walkable Paths Around the Space

I see dining tables wedged against the wall a lot, because people feel they need a massive walkway on one side of it to get to another area of the home. This is an open plan layout rookier error if I ever saw one.

Ideally, in any room, you want to create pathways. You place furniture in the middle of the space to essential direct traffic. It tells you (and others in the home) how to move in and around the space. With this in mind, it’s perfectly acceptable (and the best layout option, actually) to have the dining table in the middle of the room with a walkway around it.

You want to be able to fully move around your table on all sides. If this is impossible, it’s usually because the table is too big for the room. If that’s the case, I say it’s better to admit your mistake and buy a smaller table. Let it claim its rightful place in the dining room, with space to pull out chairs.

If your dining room is tight on space, check out this post on how to style a smaller dining room.

modern provincial living room design with cream sectional sofa and grey rug
via metricon

3. Keep the Sofa Open to the Other Rooms

We’re talking ideal scenarios here when it comes to the best layout for open plan living dining rooms. Each of us has our own unique space to furnish with its own challenges. But if you can apply this rule, it’s a good one to follow.

The dream is that you can sit on your sofa and talk to someone sitting at the dining table (or in the kitchen). You want to orient the sofa in such a way that it doesn’t completely cut across the room, so people in the kitchen and dining are looking at your back. 

You’re better off having a sectional sofa with its back running across two walls, and then having an armchair across from it, with its back to the dining and kitchen. This also keeps the path into the living room open, rather than having a long run of sofa preventing you from entering the space.

modern country interior design country style living and dining room with clay bead pendant light
via metricon

4. Low-Back Furniture is an Open Plan Saviour

I know it’s not always possible to follow rule three above, with the sofa back sitting against a wall in an open plan room, looking across to a dining room and kitchen. If you’re in this situation, there are some workarounds. 

If you need to position the sofa with its back to the other rooms (essentially cutting off the room, so to speak) it’s crucial the sofa back is low. This will keep the space feeling as airy and open and it possibly can.

This means high-back recliner chairs are a no-no, unless you can find another wall to put them against in the room. Large puffy sectional sofas are also off the cards. I promise you both styles of furniture and their high backs will make your room feel a thousand times smaller, so avoid if you can.

While we’re on the subject, good-looking recliners with modern profiles do exist in this post if you’re on the hunt.

modern provincial interior design open plan living dining kitchen white and grey
via metricon

5. Define One of the Zones with a Rug

A lot of open plan living and dining rooms feel like one giant hall. Nothing apart from the sofa and dining 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. After all, 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.

Just be careful in a small space where your living room rug would be a metre or so from your dining table. In a scenario like this, just rug the living room and leave the dining room along.

Here’s all my advice on choosing the right rug for your space.

modern dining room design with glass rectangle dining table grey upholstered chairs and mid century glass pendant light
A zoned dining room with pathway is what you want.

6. Pendant Lights Also Help with Zoning

In small homes, you might not have the space to lay out large area rugs to zone your open plan living and dining rooms. Or, as a reader has stated in the comments below, mobility issues may mean rugs become trip hazards. If you can I always say a rug in a living room is crucial. But pendant lights work too.

Pulling your dining table off the wall and installing a pendant light above it does wonders for a few reasons. Firstly, it gives you the necessary path around the table, but it also stops it from being apologetic. The pendant light above the table marks it as a true design destination. It claims its rightful place!

I’d not ever suggest a pendant above a dining table and in the living room unless the open plan space is particularly large. In most cases, rug the living room, pendant light the dining room, and both spaces will feel adequately zones and grounded.

Here’s my top ideas for pendant lights above dining tables.

space exploration neutral luxe living room with marble dining table and round coffee table

7. Ensure the Zones ‘Speak’ to Each Other

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.

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.

For example, your leather dining chairs might speak to the leather cushions you have on your sofa. You might have an armchair in your living room in a colour that is reflected in your dining room artwork. Or maybe it’s a pendant light over your dining table, with some brass moments that are picked up in the legs of your coffee tables in the living room nearby.

I’m sure you get the idea here. You want small elements in the two zones to be the same colour or material, so the open plan living and dining room feels cohesive and connected.

the block 2020 daniel and jade living and dining room with curved beige wall

8. That Said, Avoid Going too Matchy-Matchy

Of course, things can go the other way quite easily with dire results. And by that I mean, furniture can match too much. You have to be careful here with colours and materials.

The last thing you want to do in an open plan living dining room have an entire set of furniture from the one store that all matches perfectly. The days of package deals are over: you heard it here first.

If you have a dining table, dining chairs, coffee table, side tables, sideboard and an entertainment unit all in the same material, it’s creates a huge amount of visual overwhelm. You need more variety in your colours and materials. The rooms should make sense side by side but by no means should furniture all come from the same range.

Instead, think of an overall interior design style you want to the rooms, and select furniture from different stores.

classic hamptons interior design scheme hamptons white square coffee table in light blue living room
square coffee table, round dining table

9. Ensure Furniture Shapes are Varied Too

We know we want a variety of colour and materials in furniture for an open plan living and dining room. But the shapes of furniture are important too.

Every hear someone refer to a room with a lot of ‘clean lines’? What they mean is, the space has a lot of furniture that’s square or rectangle in profile, as opposed to fluid lines or shapes, like ovals or circles. In your open plan room, you need a combination of both clean lines and fluid shapes.

This is really important in a smaller space, where the dining and living run alongside one another and the furniture is quite close. In this scenario, you want a rectangle dining table and round coffee table. Or, an oval dining table and a square coffee table. 

You can get away with a square coffee table and a rectangle dining table in a larger open plan living dining room. Some images in this post will show you how it’s done. But in smaller spaces I definitely recommended a combination of shapes.

masculine open plan living room with leather armchair
via Sheridan

10. Embrace Some Negative Space

We’ve moved toward open plan living and dining rooms in modern homes because of of the airy, open feel they create. We’ve moved away from multiple rooms being closed off from one another. We’ve removed a lot of the walls to let light into our spaces. So you need to ensure you embrace some of that space, particularly negative space.

By that I mean, know when you’re cramming too much furniture into the room. Not every wall needs furniture on it. Sometimes the room isn’t large enough to take it. Sometimes you’re better off having a wall with a large mirror on it, or piece of statement art that gives the space a focal point without taking up much of the room’s footprint.

Scale of Furniture is Also Key

You want to be able to walk from the dining room to the living room without scraping against furniture, so scale is also key. Remember, furniture needs to breathe, pulled off a wall, with space around it. Always allocate for walkway around pieces when you’re planning your furniture layout.

One of the worst things you can do in an open plan living and dining room is have massive, chunky furniture that makes the whole zone feel as closed off as it would if it had walls put back up in it. Always think about your eye gliding over furniture to see beyond it, out the window or door.

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

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 layout. 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. 

This post includes images and/or videos of Metricon display homes and events, reproduced with permission. © Metricon Homes Pty Ltd 2021.

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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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Comments

41 Responses

  1. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

  2. Such great ideas! Thank you for this. We’re still at a loss as to how to make our open lounge look good. Never liked the kitchen along the length of the lounge but unfortunately couldn’t change it when it was being built off the plan. We’ve separated the bathroom door with room dividers but the spread out kitchen is an eyesore. Any ideas would be great! Ta 🙂

    1. Hey Priya. Why don’t you come join my Facebook group so you can post photos and floor plans of the room and we can help you out? Just search for ‘TLC Decorating Junkies- on Facebook and you’ll find me 🙂

  3. All your suggestions are good. However, my partner now has mobility issues and has tripped on an area rug a few times.
    We are moving to a more level apartment and need all new furniture.
    He also has trouble standing up from low dining chairs( getting better).
    How else can I define the areas in a new, open plan living room?
    I will have to put all my beautiful Turkish and Persian rugs away.

    1. Sorry about your partner, hope he gets better. You could try stencilling the area which the rug used to cover.

  4. Found your info very helpful as I’m about to down size and my new home will have a lounge dining room combine. do have other issues to consider as well

  5. Hi, my conundrum is my love of colour and patter, combined with my large open plan room which can quickly become to busy. I have three areas zoned with rugs, have art on the walls, lamps, photos, plants… I love to add interesting pieces, but it can look chaotic. Any advice on how to pull things together without everything being beige and safe?

    1. Hey Kate, a good rule of thumb is to find a colour palette to work with. You might take this from your favourite piece of art or rug, and then make sure you use these colours throughout the rest of the space. If your art has blue, green and grey tones for example, that should inform a lot of your other colour choices throughout the room. You can contrast against these colours, but it’s harder to do well.

  6. Such a great article. I’m changing from carpet to tiles so very helpful to know you should pick one zone for a rug if they’re close together. Some of my furniture is a bit matchy matchy so as I upgrade, I’ll feel free to mix it up a bit more. Thanks so much!

    1. Oh no worries at all Mel. Glad you found the article useful. I like to think by writing these posts I can prevent readers making mistakes (and wasting their money), so I’m very glad you got something out of it.

  7. I really wish I had come across your website and articles earlier. We are one confused lot. In a family of six and all sorts of traditional and modern furniture , I am still struggling to get it right after 25years. We just built a home two years ago and just doesn’t look right after all the effort. Any advice as to how we can get it right. Wish I could just get rid of everything and start all over again.

  8. Hi Chris
    This article has helped me In many ways!
    I have tried my best to follow your rules however I am at crossroads with one area if I may ask you…Is it OK to have a dining table in the Same colour and Style as My entrance/ foyer table (which is only a few metres away from the dining room)??? I’m scared to make the matchy matchy mistake and waste money, but I also feel the dining table will suit my open living space.

    1. Hey Hana, a bit of matching is to be expected and can help carry the look and feel throughout the home. Just don’t go too overboard, you don’t want everything to look like it came from a furniture package.

  9. Hi Chris, just found your site and it’s all I’ve been looking for! We’ve just purchased new messmate dining set and buffet for our small open plan. I am now having anxiety deciding which material coffee table and entertainment unit would complement best. I’m very confused since the buffet and tv unit will be side by side!!! Help!

    1. Hi Narelle, thanks for stopping by! Always great to meet a new reader.

      It’s a delicate balance. Usually, you don’t want everything to look the same as though it all came from the one furniture package set. But you also don’t want it to clash, right?

      Look for complementary wood tones. If the dining set and buffet is a blonde timber with black metal legs, for example, why not try a black coffee table? Or marble with black legs (if it suits your space). It’s all about pulling colours, materials and finishes from the pieces you’re working with and replicating them without being too repetitive.

      You definately do not want to add multiple timber tones to the room unless you feel really confident with what you’re doing (even then….probs not).

  10. Love the ideas and inspirations. I am demolishing my old kitchen and installing a new larger kitchen in my family room. My conundrum is what to do with the small space where my old kitchen used to be. I was going to remove the wall between lounge room and kitchen. Making the dining room where the old kitchen was, but it may be too small. Any ideas?

    1. Hey Karen, it’s hard without looking at your floorplan, but making it into a dining room sounds like a good idea, as long as it will fit the size table you need.

  11. Hi. I have a black dining table with emerald green chairs. Mustard/gold rug.
    Black marble coffee tables.
    What colour lounges match?
    Would a cream/frost lounge with black legs be an eyesore?

  12. Hey Chris, i have to buy a coffee table for a decent size formal living room with champagne colour L shaped big lounge and Cylindrical brass stools and deep brown leather chair. The wall and floor colour is white. I am not interested in glass top table. What do you recommend.

  13. Hi Chris

    We loved reading your articles.

    Can you have a marble dining table 2400 x 1100 in the vicinity of a marble island bench 2800 x 1000 mm, in an L-shaped open plan living area?
    Note: The Dining Area is furthest away from the kitchen.

    Thanks so much!

    Bert & Nicole

  14. Hi Chris, I have a dining room with a very high sloping ceiling. I would like to buy a large piece of artwork to hang above the buffet/sideboard in that room on the sloping wall. Which way should I hang it, horizontally or vertically? AND would it look too strange if I put a 2 or 3 pendant light hanging over the timber dining room table. Hope you understand all this

    1. Hey Rennie. It’s a definite yes to the pendant light over the dining table. There’s no reason why a high sloping ceiling should stop you from doing that. Re the art, I would still do this horizontally. If it’s tall and much thinner than the sideboard beneath the scale will look off. Alternative, a large square piece of art would work really well here too. One that’s almost as wide as the sideboard. Good luck!

  15. Hi Chris,
    We have just moved to new house, and planning to buy modular sofas and dining sets for our living room.
    But I am but skeptical about what size I should go for dining table. 2100mm or 1800mm.
    Also, thinking for U shaped sofa. Can you suggest something how I should start?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Prachi, depends on the space and your needs. Make sure you leave plenty of room around the table, people should be able to walk behind the chairs easily even when people are seated.

      A U shaped sofa will dominate the room so I hope your space is big enough. It will obviously cut off access except by the front. They only work if the room is generously large. You can have them pushed up against the walls of the room, but I don’t recommend it unless this is your only choice and functionally you have to seat a lot of people.

  16. Hi Chris,
    We are moving in ti a new house with an open plan kitchen+dinning+living room. It’s not quite big (5 * 6 mts). We bought a kind of farm house style dinning table ( white legs and creamy grey timber at the top) with a matching buffet , and for the living are we have a coffee table (acacia timber) with a matching tv unit.
    It was very hard to agree in furniture with ny husband so that’s what we could buy. I wonder if they match and how I can make the whole space flow. Can you give me some advise? Thanks!

    1. Hi Valeria, without seeing the space myself, my best tip to tie it all together is to use similar colours in your decorative pieces and tableware. Your placemats and coasters on the dining table should speak to the ones on the coffee table. If you’re styling with books on the coffee table, think about the colours matching your placemats. Try to think of it all as one room and how things would look if they were sitting next to eachother.

  17. Very nicely explained. I am from Amsterdam and recently bought an apartment. I found your ideas very helpful. Thanks.

    Raj

  18. I was about to do buy dining chairs matching the color of the sofa. Good that i came across your article. I have an open plan living/dining and ordered a L-shaped leather sofa in light brown color and have 2 glass door cabinets in oak finish.
    Any suggestion on choosing the color of the dining chairs and table ?

  19. Hi Chris I’m just attempting to purchase new sofas for a recent open plan living space build at coastal mollymook nsw . Found your tips to be very helpful thank you! Yesterday I nearly made an expensive mistake of purchasing lounges with higher backs but felt they would cut off view and not ‘feel right’ in separating lounge and dining spaces so thankfully decided to go home and think about it . Then I read your tips today and this confirmed my amateur gut feeling . Your other tips re connecting but not matching spaces in open plan were very helpful too. Still trying to decide whether to go modular or classic separates ……. Cheers Beth

  20. Hi,
    I am from Norway and came across your article. I have an open plan and ordered a tan color leather sectional. I was about to buy the dining set in brown table and leather chairs but stopped myself. It wold have been very matching with to much of brown everything. Now searching ideas for dining table / chairs to go with the sofa. Any tips on that?

    1. Hi Orjan, hello to you all the way in Norway! Would love to visit there one day.

      Good idea pausing the purchase of the matching chairs. With a leather sofa and brown (wood I assume?) table, you have lots of options for dining chair colours, styles and materials. Just about anything will work. Maybe something armless like this to add another texture and colour to work with?

  21. Hi Chris
    I don’t watch The Block but love all your critiques.
    We are moving into a new apartment off the plan and open plan) Am planning on having dining table with bench seat on one side near the wall and chairs on other side. In time I would like to replace bench seat with a built in banquette. You didn’t mention this type of set up do you think it can work in a small space??

  22. I have a large, open plan living area in our apartment that encompasses kitchen with scullery, dining and living room. My problem is accessories. So a plant on the buffet, and a vase on the dining room table, and a vase under the mirror in the living area. Suddenly I look around and realise I have what to me looks like a florist store on every available surface and I hate it! But no way am I going to put say, a statue in the middle of a dining room table… I have just run out of ideas for making it homey yet not looking like I’m a shop where all these things are for sale!

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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