• How to Decorate  • How to Style an Open Plan Living and Dining Room: 6 Key Tips
freedom leather sofa in open plan living and dining room

How to Style an Open Plan Living and Dining Room: 6 Key Tips

Eager to know how to style a living dining room so it flows and functions beautifully? I have the mistakes to avoid in today’s post so you never get it wrong!

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!

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.

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

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

COMMENTS
  • Fiona - Perth

    REPLY

    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.

    5 July, 2018
  • Priya

    REPLY

    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 🙂

    8 February, 2019
  • Fern Wolfe

    REPLY

    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.

    5 March, 2019
    • Nadia

      REPLY

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

      1 January, 2020
  • Glad Glands

    REPLY

    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

    18 April, 2019
  • Kate

    REPLY

    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 August, 2019
  • Mel

    REPLY

    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!

    15 November, 2019
  • Shalini Sud

    REPLY

    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.

    16 November, 2019
  • Hana

    REPLY

    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.

    28 November, 2019
  • Narelle MacDonald

    REPLY

    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!

    9 January, 2020
  • Karen lane

    REPLY

    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?

    4 March, 2020
  • Edyta Ghannoum

    REPLY

    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?

    9 May, 2020
  • Swati

    REPLY

    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.

    22 June, 2020
  • Bert Goethals

    REPLY

    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

    3 August, 2020
  • Rennie

    REPLY

    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

    15 August, 2020
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